Usually our afternoons are home filled with homework, maybe a playdate, and a tutor or two, followed by after-school activities: Simone plays tennis twice weekly and goes to NOAM youth group, while Daniella takes art, an English reading and writing class and teen yoga. When the regularly scheduled Monday afternoon tutor cancelled and then Simone’s tennis was rained out, I decided to shake up our quiet routine and head to the mall. My to-do list was long with one return, one exchange, passport photos, poster board and groceries.
Four months back, on a steamy August Friday afternoon, we drove to the mall in a desperate search for challah before the bakery café closed. I ran in and out to buy it and upon entering the car, Simone said, “At least if we had to move and leave the Westchester we live near another nice mall.” Four years ago, we had become well acquainted with the Raananim’s three floors: the food court and movie and bowling on the bottom level and Castro, Fox, S-Wear, HaMashbir, Sabon and other retailers on the top floors. Little did we know that in the intervening years a Gap had opened and American Eagle was on its way.
At 4:30 on Monday, the girls and I waltzed into the mall with our errands in hand, ready to conquer them one by one. Until, that was, we saw the signs—SALE, 50%, half off second item—in almost every store window.
“It’s like in the States, all the stores having sales after Christmas,” Daniella said, quickly scanning the situation. “Who knew?”
“Let’s just peek in the Gap,” I said, a store I stay away from since the overseas prices are usually so exorbitant. “I just want to see what half off means.”
“Sure, and then let’s go to Zara’s since they also have big sale signs,” said Daniella, my always-ready-to-shop daughter. With purpose, we entered and felt the familiar buzz of friendly salesclerks asking if we needed help, of fellow shoppers perusing, feeling materials, rifling through clothes in search of sizes. I sent the girls to their department in the back and headed straight for the jeans.
After a week in Nice, where the colors and materials and look and feel of fashion bedazzle the eyes, I was hard pressed to feel inspired. But the fabric felt good, well made, akin to a pair of Gap or Lucky jeans stateside, unlike their Israeli counterpart. The blackish-blue “skin” or slim jeans narrowed at the ankles and were exactly what I needed to replace my outdated boot cut Levis.
The truth is I’m not a great shopper. But just because I’ve never been a shopper doesn’t mean I am opposed to retail therapy. Nothing beats buying something when you’re in need of a little pick-me-up. And although the girls and I weren’t down, we’re still holding on tightly, emailing, calling, skyping, anything to connect “back home”. Gap connected us.
“Slicha,” I said to a young woman in her twenties wearing a Gap nametag on a long string around her neck. “Ma be mivsa?” I asked to understand what exactly was on sale. Mivsa was a word I knew well since mivtsa-ah means pelvis, a common word in my yoga life. It took me years to understand we weren’t talking about sales on the mat!
“Ha kol,” she said, pointing to the perimeter of the store, explaining that only the center section was new and regularly priced. Thanking her, I left to browse on my own.
“Mommy, I still need a pair of sweats. Is 89 shekels a lot?” Simone asked as she approached me. I told her that they would be half that and a good deal, for Gap, in Israel, on sale.
I then followed her and together we found her size, while Daniella eyed some cute t-shirt, and I returned to the jeans where the same salesgirl helped me find my size. Clutching our potential purchases, the three of us crammed into one dressing room without having to wait, count our items or take a number.
In the end, Simone decided on grey sweats, Daniella bought herself the t and I chose the best jeans for my body. “Should we look for Abba?” I asked them before heading to the cashier. “If we want him to dress better maybe we should help him.”
Together, we chose two long-sleeve button-down shirts. “How about pants? His are so baggy,” said Simone. We fingered through the rack in search of the slim fit but were unable to find his size.
“Ifshar la’azor lachem?” a different young lady with a heavy Arabic accent asked if we needed assistance. We all answered her yes. Even though she was shorter than Daniella, she reached on her tip toes to the top shelf for the right size. Smiling, she handed us the pants and made it clear that she was available. In all my years of visiting and living here, I cannot think of any other clothing store where I had received such attention, a willingness to help.
Finally, finished, we took our place in line. There were two cashiers open, one ringing up a woman and teenage daughter with piles of clothing for all genders and sizes and another making an exchange.
“Funny! But I have to say up until we got into this line, which doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere, I do feel like I’m in Gap-land, not in Israel. It’s nice actually.” It was all going well, until we realized the line was typical—stuck. After 10 minutes, the same two registers were still serving the same two customers, there were still two others in front of us and behind us a growing line of frustrated, impolite natives was forming.
Happy with my purchases, content to be doing something different on a rainy Monday afternoon with my girls, satisfied with the Israeli Gap experience thus far, I let it go. I let the incompetency of the cashiers and the mounting restlessness behind me slide down, off my shoulders, down my arms, out my fingertips, into the air. We had things to do, but we weren’t in a hurry. And so we waited.
After what seemed like a half hour, it was our turn. In typical Israeli fashion, the clerk asked me if I wanted to join the Gap club. I asked her to explain the benefits, which all sounded familiar with the emails, discounts, sales alerts, and then the cost, since most stores here charge for the club card. When she told me 69 shekels, essentially $20, I said, “Lo toda,” explaining that I no longer felt like I was in New York, where it’s free. I inquired about the return policy and wasn’t surprised to learn that I had 10 days to bring it back with the receipt for a full refund, after which I would only get store credit.
“Mishoo azar lachem ha’yom?” she then asked if anyone had helped me. Taken aback, because no store in Israel credits their clerks, I described the women as best as I could. She pointed to the dressing room area, called out the girl’s name to look and asked me if that was her. I nodded yes.
I thanked her, and she thanked me, handing me the sturdy dark blue and white recognizable shopping bag with Gap written in English. The girls and I smiled, turned around and waltzed back out of the store, the same way we had come in. Even if we never return, it’s nice to know there’s a little bit of home here.