Food, Kibbutz, Letting Go

Supersize It

Our Rabbi (who is also our friend) and her family are coming to Israel in a few weeks on a synagogue-organized trip, with a special stop to our kibbutz. We’re really excited to see them, but their visit presents a moral and ethical dilemma:

How inappropriate is it to ask them to devote an entire suitcase to items we need from the States? And is it even more inappropriate to ask them to forgo an item of luggage so they can instead bring us an IKEA Expedit bookshelf?

I’ve only lived here for six weeks and already I completely understand with great compassion why our Israeli relatives and friends always asked us to buy shoes on or toys from Amazing Savings or tupperware from the Dollar Store to pack in our bags and schlep over here for them. For years, the reason eluded me. Why on earth would my father-in-law need coffee from the States? Is he that picky? Why did our little cousins get so excited by a cruddy little Fisher Price wind-up toy we spent 75 cents on?

Why? Because you have to be an Israeli millionaire before you can afford quality tupperware in this country. You need to be among the upper elite before you can buy a decent gift at Toys RUS. And home goods or kitchen supplies? Ha! What you pay here for a ripoff of a Made in China ripoff is the same as what you’d pay in Williams Sonoma for the Chef Michael Voltaggio brand in the States.

I am not kidding. Ask my mother-in-law. We were joking about it last night, but really not. In fact, we were not joking so hard we were crying real tears.

When she goes back to the States to visit, she brings an extra suitcase. On the last day of her trip, she goes to Costco and fills up that suitcase with everything from Kirkland brand white albacore tuna (you can only get Chunk Light here!) to Swiffer refills to Chinet paper plates.

But, then you return to Israel, and you can’t bring yourself to actually use the Chinet! It is like fine china — reserved for dignitaries and special Shabbat guests only.  I mean, what happens when it’s all gone and you have to go back to using the flimsy plastic plates they sell here?

It’s not like you can ask a friend visiting from the States to bring you over some Chinet.  When a friend asks you if you want anything from “back home,” she expects a “Please bring me a movie-sized bag of M and Ms” or a “Yes, I’d really love the new Michael Chabon book.” Your friend is not expecting you to politely beg her to bring you paper plates in bulk.

When my mother-in-law saw me unpack a bulk-sized Bounty paper towels from one of my kitchen boxes a few weeks ago, she audibly gasped. “Zvi, did you see? Bounty…,” she said longingly. I laughed at the time, but after one trip to SuperPharm, where I bought a pack of the paper towels you get around here, I told my husband, “Hide the Bounty! You are forbidden to use the Bounty for anything less than vomit! Do you understand me?!?”

I think about all the items we liquidated at our weekend-long garage sale right before we moved. Or, the leftover items that were donated to charity. Lord, how I wish I had my rusty old teapot (I can’t seem to find anything but an electric kettle here) or my kids’ less-desired Playmobil (I could have resold it here for a gajillion shekels! Or at least re-gifted it to my kids’ classmates at birthday parties.)

Today we re-bought gardening tools we didn’t realize we’d ever need in Israel.  With the rains over the last few weeks, our backyard has grown so tall, we’ve lost our two-year old. I don’t understand. Never, on any of my trips to Israel, have I ever seen a blade of green grass. I’ve seen sand. I’ve seen dry wisps of what may have once been grass. But never green grass or yards. Whomever would have thought we’d actually get enough of the green stuff to require a weed wacker? And yet, today we needed to buy a new one at Home Center. Don’t ask me what it cost — I had to barter one of my kidneys.

I’m a nice girl. I’ll never ask you to pack me a case of Rice Protein powder from Whole Foods or a family pack of Charmin toilet paper. But if you happen to have a little extra room to spare in your suitcase…consider going up to your attic and rifling through your “donate to charity” pile.  If you see an old teapot or some extra under-the-bed plastic containers, we’ll take ’em.

If not, I’ll gladly accept the remaining pack of travel sized Kleenex you didn’t use on the plane. Or the M-n-Ms.

9 thoughts on “Supersize It”

  1. I’m laughing so hard, tears are rolling down my cheeks.
    Now you understand why the garden hose, the Lysol spray, the ziplock bags, etc….


  2. I have a different way of dealing with this issue. I have adjusted my life to include only things which can be bought here. When I go to the US, I will shop for clothes, but bring back nothing else. And as I don’t go that frequently, I also buy plenty of clothing here. Long-term, it is very difficult to try to live an American lifestyle in Israel.


    1. Hadassah: I have heard that response from a few people, and I too am adjusting accordingly. I am still in my mourning phase, though. I think I’ll mourn for a few more weeks and then finally get on board!


  3. Reminds me of my first few years here. Since then I’ve learned to enjoy light tuna, and like Hadassah, have adjusted to live using local products. It’s not that bad! The things that are really exorbitantly priced here (sneakers, legos, bras…) I reserve for purchase in the US. Good luck – enjoyed the blog!


  4. In the long run, if you are open to using Israeli products you will have a more successful integration into Israeli society. In my humble opinion.


  5. I agree! The hardest adjustment for me is food. On the one hand, I feel lucky to live up North, near a local, organic farm where I get my vegetables. But my family does have a lot of health considerations that require us to buy “specialty” foods like gluten free, additive-free, etc. And those are not easy to find, and are even more expensive to buy here than in the States. So, I think I will likely still be asking my friends and family to schlep stuff from Whole Foods Market (until Eden Teva can match the stock and cost) or until I decide to open up my own little health food shop here on Hannaton. 🙂


  6. The Ikea bookshelf is pushingit to a new level, I must admit but you have to ask people to bring you this stuff! It is part of living overseas. some friends have a special place in my heart forever because of the way they went above and beyond the call of duty in muling us stuff to Beijing.


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