Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Letter From Israel

    elinor        אלינור   


New Grocery Store, New Butcher

Our nearest grocery store is shabby, the cashiers are nerky and frequently absent and the management simply doesn't care.  Slimy lettuce leaves on the floor are a constant danger.  I really try not to patronise it because it’s such a trial.

Wandering beyond my new neighbourhood, I discovered a branch of this store but one quite differently managed.  I quickly decided it was a real find, stocked with items I thought were gone from here forever—Quaker Squares, Knorr Kneidlach, even Schweppes Tonic Water without Popsicle flavouring—wow.  I drifted to the back to find a meat counter resembling a newly constructed stage set, completely unattended.  Shortly a nice, round, man in a spotless apron came in from a side door and asked if he could help me. I admired his bristling, white moustaches before remarking on the bargain prices I was seeing in the case.  Meat of any kind is expensive in Israel.

It’s been a long time since I had a kindly, capable butcher.  My former butcher, a native of Brooklyn, exchanged his shift with that of a colleague so as to attend a lecture and got dead in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, many years ago.  So when this man, whom I felt was one of our ‘cousins’, greeted me with warmth, I was happy to have him show me his domain.  The chickens and beef were basically the same as those sold absolutely anywhere in this country, but the showcases were clean and the meat looked fresh and appealing.  I chose some karayim, which are called Maryland in Australia (I don’t know why) and legs-and-thighs or pulkas elsewhere. 

Cut them up for you? he asked.  Yes, please.  Remove the schmaltz?  Yes.  What was that?  Startled, I looked up at the Arab butcher who was surgically removing the fat from my chickens and humming By mir bis du Schoen under his breath.  Um, where do you come from?  Teibeh, a village about half an hour’s drive from here.  Uh huh. 

Hurrying to a doctor’s appointment I did not get the rest of the story but oh boy, when I have time, will I return to my Yiddish-speaking Arab butcher and find out.  Maybe he once was a shabbas goy, as was General Colin Powell in his youth. 

The chicken was very tasty.

cross posted Geoffff's Joint


  1. Our two closest supermarkets here in my inner-city North Philadelphia neighborhood are only good for toothpaste and other such toiletries.

    Do not venture into the Lehigh Avenue Save-A-Lot or the Port Richmond Thriftway unless you're working on a sociological study on the hygienic properties and impromptu public daytime sleeping habits of American heroin addicts.

    The scratch-off lottery tickets at Customer Service are probably the best seller at the latter, in fact. Just an all-around depressing place.

    The produce and meat offerings suck too, of course.

    C'est la vie...

    For now I rely on our fortunately abundant and year-round farmers' markets, coops (KCFC, coming soon to a brick-and-mortar near us!), Reading Terminal Market and the two Whole Foods Markets in town.

    "My former butcher, a native of Brooklyn, exchanged his shift with that of a colleague so as to attend a lecture and got dead in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, many years ago."

    Shit. There's an Israel moment most of us in the West can't imagine, eh?

  2. Here you go, welcome to the River Wards. Sigh. I'm pretty sure I even recognize that guy from on the El.

    Not my neighborhood, as this scene is from SEPTA's Richmond & Westmoreland Bus and Trolley Loop next door in Port Richmond, just above Allegheny Avenue, but yeah. That's the type.

    At least we don't have to worry that he'll blow himself up on the bus, though...

  3. I was wondering how elinor can be so confident that her new butcher has had no prior contact with Susan's Cat.


    1. Elinor emails:

      "Is it possible that Susan's cat ended up in the butcher's chamula (tribe)? Sure. It would be one of an endless chain of possibilities that constantly occur in this unique country. I am reliably informed that 'in Judaism, there is no such thing as coincidence...'"

  4. Those community co-ops are cool. So seventies.

    KCFC looks pretty big scale. Do they work? Do they deliver better prices? Someone has to handle the cash. In my experience that's when the complications set in.

    1. For now, the 'buying club' stage seems to be working well, but I'm not involved on that end. I'll be paying in as a member to bring us closer to a 'brick and mortar' grocery store in the neighborhood (which we sorely need), though.

      The plan is to open a store once 500 members have bought in (the store would be open to everyone - members receive discounts and vote on the types and brands of products carried, etc etc*). Right now it's about 2/3 of the way there, and the site selection process is underway. This is following the successful pattern of other new food coops in town, like two that have just opened in South Philly and West Philly.

      Food politics is one of my main activist areas, and there's a lot of exciting stuff going on in my neighborhood these days. New community gardens; the Lutheran shelter is turning their tiny garden into a full-blown urban farm; the Farm to Families food box program is something even we dirty hippies back in Portland weren't doing! ;)

      (*Woe be upon any BDS shitheads who try to start anything at my future coop!)