Armed with face masks, gloves and shopping carts, dozens of people stood at intervals of two meters outside a supermarket in Tel Aviv, waiting for an opportunity to do some last-minute shopping for the Passover seder which takes place Wednesday evening. They didn’t care about the approaching curfew. All they wanted to know was whether there were any eggs and if the imports from Portugal had arrived.
As in Tel Aviv, throughout the country people stood in long queues outside grocery stores and supermarkets early Tuesday morning, in some cases taking over entire streets. But despite the dystopian vibe, no one shoved or cursed or tried to cut in line. In a few places, supermarket employees handed out water, and everyone waited patiently in the heat. If anything good can be said about the coronavirus, it may be that it has taught Israelis to wait in line..
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One happy customer was a man named Pinhas, who left the supermarket holding two precious flats of eggs. He was instantly surrounded by shoppers in waiting who inquired whether the eggs were Israeli or Spanish, brown or white.
“I waited in line for an hour and a quarter, my brother and I managed to buy everything we needed at home,” he said. “There are eight of us, we’re set through the end of the [weeklong] holiday.”
Yehudit was on her own Passover egg hunt. “My refrigerator is only half-empty, I only need 10 items,” she said, adding that she is at high risk for complications from COVID-19 and is apprehensive about going out to shop. “I tried ordering a delivery, but it would only arrive after the holiday and there are things I need for Passover. I won’t go near anyone and will try to do it as quickly as possible,” she said.
Some stores that did have eggs limited customers to two flats each. “A week ago I bought one flat and I brought it to my mother,” said Orit at a Yochananof Super Shuk branch in Tel Aviv that she heard had eggs in stock. “I ran here but I won’t wait in this line, no way,” she said.
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Anyone who expected to find a melee inside any of these stores would have been disappointed; guards at the doors saw to it that the aisles were never crowded. The only people running around were employees, although some claimed that sales before the holiday were actually slower than last year. “The holiday is less palpable, including at the checkout, it’s more coronavirus-buying than it is Pesach shopping,” said Asher Shimoni, a deputy manager at the Tel Aviv branch of Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing. “We’re on the front lines, our cashiers work nonstop, they deserve more than compliments and kind words.”
As the queues outside the supermarkets grow, so do the number of people who cannot leave their homes to make needed purchases. In Bnei Brak, the army’s Home Front Command opened a base to deliver groceries and toilet paper to people in isolation. In Tel Aviv the city government, in cooperation with the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, distributed 26,000 meals and boxes of groceries.
“People stand in line for food at the supermarket, but I very much hope that everyone will be able to feed their children when this crisis ends,” said Carmen Elmakias of the feminist social movement Ahoti. Last month it established a joint headquarters with two other social activist organizations, Standing Together (“Omdim Beyahad”) and Lo Nehmadot Lo Nehmadim, that aids hundreds of people in need, citizens and foreign nationals alike. “A woman with cancer from Petah Tikva just called me, she said that for her, going out of her house is a death sentence. So a volunteer goes to the supermarket and stands in line and buys the things she needs and we’ll bring them to her. We try to reach as many people as possible,” Elmakias said.
She believes the coronavirus crisis is far from over. “It’s only getting worse because the circle of need only grows,” Elmakias says. “Since this period began, so many families who never before received assistance or needed food boxes have been added. People say they’re embarrassed to ask, it’s heartbreaking. We distributed thousands of food packages and it hasn’t ended.”