Out There: Fighting for the holiday coriander

I love this part of September.

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
I love this part of September.
I love it because in a few weeks the summer’s unrelenting heat will, all of a sudden and without any prior warning from changing leaves, give way to chilly weather.
I love it because of the holidays; and because it marks the beginning of the American football season; and because it means that the Nobel Prize committee will soon be announcing its yearly awards.
I carefully follow every year to see how many folks of Jewish heritage win the Nobel Prize, as if this were some kind of measure of our worth as a people (it is not).
When, as in 2013, half the laureates were Jews, I was elated and full of pride. And when, like last year, we took only one prize, I cursed the obvious anti-Semites on the selection committee.
I also like this time of year because the Central Bureau of Statistics always issues a report before Rosh Hashana about the country’s population. I watch Israel’s population figures like old-timers used to watch the Kinneret water level, filled with joy and satisfaction when the figures – like the water in the Kinneret – edge upward.
And they do edge upward – well, at least the population numbers do.
When I first came to this country in 1980, there were some 3.9 million people in the land, of whom 3.2 million were Jews. That’s it. That means that a mere 35 years ago this was a land with a population about the same size as the great state of Alabama, the Yellowhammer State, and with only about twice the number of Jews living at that time in New York City.
And this year? Well, this year Israel’s population stands at 8.4 million, of whom there are 6.3 million Jews. Not only does Israel now have 3.5 million more people than Alabama, but it also has more Jews than the entire United States of America. Since 1980 Israel has more than doubled its population, and nearly doubled its number of Jews.
And 1980 is not that long ago. That was the year Ronald Reagan was elected president, John Lennon was shot, Israel replaced the pound with the shekel, and Queen sang “Another one bites the dust.”
Those are events that many of us remember pretty well – this isn’t ancient history. And in the interim the population of Israel swelled.
And from that swelling of the population I have learned two things.
First, even though we are bombarded with stories about how bad everything is in this country, even though we face enormous challenges, even though we complain endlessly, even though we periodically hear about how no one really wants to live here and there is a huge brain drain with Israel’s best and brightest fleeing to Silicon Valley or Berlin, we are in no danger of emigrating ourselves into extinction. More people want to come here than leave – lots more.
And, second, I now understand why the supermarkets are so darned crowded. There are a lot more people shopping for food these days than there were in 1980.
AS MUCH as I love September, I hate supermarkets.
Especially supermarkets in September, when – because and in honor of the holidays – the whole nation goes food shopping. And they all go at the same time.
I’m often taken aback at the siege mentality that grips this country on two occasions most every year: before the holidays, when the stores will be closed for 36 hours – or, in the case of Rosh Hashana, 60 hours – and when there are warnings of an impending snowstorm.
Walk into a store during those periods and it feels like the end of the world is at hand. Some people are checking out with multiple carts brimming over with items, others are haggling with each other just to grab a cart, and everyone seems to be stocking up on everything.
It’s like a country full of chipmunks hoarding their winter nuts. It’s as if the aliens are about to land.
It’s as if the stores won’t ever open their doors again.
The Wife, who carries most of the shopping burden in our home, forgot a few items before Rosh Hashana.
When the unfortunate shortfall was discovered the morning before the holiday began, the requisite fighting in our house started about whose turn it was to run out to the store.
With the Rosh Hashana spirit of generosity already upon me, I volunteered. Besides, I even knew where the eggs, lettuce, 1 percent milk, and coriander that we needed were located in the store.
How difficult can this be? I thought.
Turns out it was not only difficult but actually impossible.
The eggs were gone; only limp, brown lettuce remained; and not a single bag of 1% milk was left in the refrigerator. Even the coriander had disappeared from the shelf.
A run on eggs and lettuce before a holiday I could understand. I could even wrap my head around why there would be a shortage of 1% milk. But fresh out of coriander? What kind of people pick the stores bare of cilantro?
JUST AS I hate supermarkets today, I used to hate banks 35 years ago. Back then you had to go into the bank and up to the teller for everything – to withdraw money, to pay a gas bill, to order new checkbooks. And if you wanted to exchange dollars, you had to go to three different tellers, slowly moving various forms from one clerk to the next.
And then the ATMs appeared and banking changed dramatically. Now I never go into the bank, and life seems a lot sunnier.
The same is about to happen with supermarkets, as online grocery shopping is starting to become more and more prevalent.
Rather than shoehorning the car into a too-small parking lot; fighting for a cart; maneuvering through too-narrow aisles; then waiting to pay – and feeling your life ooze away as the checkout lady slowly gets up from her chair to walk about 60 seconds to the manager to clear a check – now you can just order all the eggs, lettuce, 1% milk and coriander online, and have it delivered to your home.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that if you cut out going to the supermarket; if you take away that regular interaction with hungry people with Jewish and Middle Eastern dispositions who are in a hurry; if you don’t have to wait at the cheese counter, and then wait again at the meat counter; and if you don’t need to seethe in line as the person in front of you holds everything up and waits until after she pays to start bagging her items – then there will be that much less to kvetch about. And then think about how much fun you would be missing.
Two days after the holiday the same supermarket that lacked eggs and lettuce beforehand still lacked them – leading an annoyed customer to yell at one of the store workers.
What kind of operation is this, the man laced into the unfortunate employee, as others gathered around to witness all the commotion. How can there be no eggs? The worker’s reply: the chickens went on strike.
Unamused, the angry customer continued to rant. Luckily, the coriander had been restocked. 
A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com.