Public disorder results in premature closure of Jerusalem gas mask dispensary

Israeli immigrants reflect on a different reality – shopping for gas masks instead of clothes.

IDF soldier fits child with gas mask 370 (photo credit:  	 REUTERS/David Silverman)
IDF soldier fits child with gas mask 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/David Silverman)
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 impatient crowd.
“It was a balagan [mess],” said the owner of an adjacent women’s clothing store, who requested her name not be published.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 line.”
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 Israel’s.
“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 Israel.”
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 said.
“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 lines.
“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 “surreal.”
“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.”
Meanwhile, 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, done that.”
Meir Epstein said she attributed Wednesday’s unruly conduct to general impatience among Israelis, compounded by a heightened state of anxiety.
“On one hand, Israelis are pushy as it is,” she said. “But as soon as something like this happens, it all comes out.”
According to officials, the dispensary is scheduled to reopen at the same location Thursday during the same hours, barring any continued disturbances.