A chaotic scene, characterized by unruly and rude citizens cutting in line to
receive government-subsidized gas masks, resulted in the premature closure of a
dispensary at a Jerusalem mall Wednesday afternoon.
In anticipation of a
potential Syrian chemical weapons strike, the dispensary at the Hadar mall in
Talpiot was supposed to distribute masks between the hours of 11 a.m. to
7 p.m. However, it shut down shortly after 1 p.m. due to the disorderly and
“It was a balagan [mess],” said the owner of an adjacent
women’s clothing store, who requested her name not be published. “People were
given numbers, but no one respected this and just jumped to the head of the
Despite the mayhem that ensued, many of the Israelis who left
empty-handed said they were not overly panicked by the increasingly volatile
situation with Syria.
Retired Rabbi Ruben Landman and his wife Gila, who
made aliya from Silver Springs, Maryland in March, said the present state of
affairs is being presented as far more dire in America’s media than
“The only reason I came [to the mall] was one of my former
congregants from Maryland said he saw the story [of a possible chemical attack
against Israel] on page one of all the papers there,” said Ruben. “They seem
more worried about what’s going on here in the US than they are in
Indeed, Gila said when she and other students in her ulpan
studied Israel’s Hebrew newspapers Wednesday, mention of a chemical attack was
relegated to the back pages.
“What I found really interesting is that the
front page of the newspapers in Israel were all about first-graders starting
school – then maybe on page eight, there was news about Syria and the
repercussions for Israel, including the use of chemical weapons,” she
“So, despite what happened [at the mall] today, the impression I’m
getting is that people aren’t that worried.”
Ruben said he attributed the
preceding commotion to general Israeli impatience and intolerance for waiting in
“My experience being here in Israel is that everywhere you go that
involves waiting on lines there’s always unnecessary pushing and no order –
especially when things are free,” he said. “I don’t think what happened here
today was about panic at all.”
Oren Ilouz, who moved to Israel five years
ago from France and served in the IDF, said that while he was not panicked about
the alarming situation, he did sense a palpable sense of “urgency” among
Israelis to be prepared for the worse.
“People are feeling the urgency to
get the masks because of the situation with Syria, whereas most people didn’t
care that much [about the masks] beforehand,” said Ilouz. “They’re not panicked,
but people definitely think something is going to happen in Israel and they want
to be ready.”
Erica Sender, a 23-year-old who made aliya from Atlanta
less than two months ago, and is presently living in an absorption center with
immigrants from 26 countries, described the experience as “emotional” and
“It’s so strange to go to the mall not to shop, but to get a
gas mask,” she said.
Filipe Sichel, who moved to Israel from Rio de
Janeiro in July, and resides at the same absorption center as Sender, also
appeared calm, despite not being able to acquire a mask.
“I think this is
very unusual, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I’m not terribly
worried. My hope is that we won’t have to use them.”
Alisa Meir Epstein, who was perusing books at a nearby shop, expressed
frustration at the prospect of another conflict.
“I’m not particularly
concerned,” she said. “I’ve lived here since 1969, through at least a dozen
wars, and I’m just pissed off that we have to deal with this again. Been there,
Meir Epstein said she attributed Wednesday’s unruly conduct
to general impatience among Israelis, compounded by a heightened state of
“On one hand, Israelis are pushy as it is,” she said. “But as
soon as something like this happens, it all comes out.”
officials, the dispensary is scheduled to reopen at the same location Thursday
during the same hours, barring any continued disturbances.