In addition to their weekly sales, Shalom Kosher should advertise the social benefit that the store affords its customers by being a social hub on erev Shabbat. The friend you have been meaning to call, the neighbor that you never get to see because of your busy schedules, the woman that always has the nice word to say during an especially challenging week, and, of course, the person you were avoiding at all costs because of the huge time commitment a discussion next to the cantaloupes entails–– all of these people are there on a Friday afternoon. Men and women push carts up and down the aisles, some in a rush, some looking confused, others with a clear mission and purpose to the trip.
One thing about this humdrum piece of daily living, however, is that there is always something that lies deeper than the groceries in the cart.
I have a reputation for being organized. I have also been called Type A, neurotic and intimidating, so I like the way organized sounds much better. Because of this reputation, it is not simply my imagination when I feel that my shopping cart is occasionally being scrutinized, as if peering into my cart holds some magic secret for meal planning and household organization. I promise I am not making this up as evidenced by the following two incidents.
Several months ago, in the summer, Shabbat was approaching and I was already looking to the week that lay ahead. I realized that my schedule involved travel that commenced on a Sunday, which is particularly challenging for me as a wife and mother of a busy household. Hence, I wanted to get a head start on the next week before this one ended. I shuffled some meetings to free up a small block of time to run to the store and shop for the following week, a task typically completed on Sunday.
So there I was at 2 p.m. on a Friday in Shalom’s. Into my cart went the produce, some dairy items, marinade, meat, chicken, quinoa and barley. Finishing at the freezer section, I threw in a loaf of fish (the closest thing in my house to the aquatic vertebrates that used to swim in our grandparents’ bathtubs), the I-don’t-know-how-I-survived-before-them spice cubes and a couple of boxes of let’s-pretend-I-bake-cookies-from-scratch frozen cookie dough discs. As I deliberated between my husband making a trip to Costco on Sunday versus just buying everything at this one store, a woman rolled her cart next to mine and did a quick inventory of what was in my shopping cart before remarking, “Well I feel so much better! Chani Feldman is also shopping for Shabbos five hours before candle lighting. I am in good company.” There was no reason to share that I was actually shopping for the next Shabbat, and therefore I simply nodded my head and said, “It happens to the best of us!”
Fast forward to a couple of weeks immediately following the busy yom tov (holiday) season. You know those weeks when you don’t know if it is possible to cook one more side dish, let alone food for an entire Shabbat? I had taken a red-eye flight home and arrived at BWI on Friday morning. Needless to say, I was tired from a hard week and even more exhausted at the thought of having no plan for Shabbos preparations. Again, I found myself at the store on a Friday. A quick menu was planned: some chicken and kugel left over from Sukkot pulled out of my freezer and combined with an easy, bake-in-the-oven-so-don’t-need-to-dirty-a-pot rice dish, thrown together a fresh salad or two, microwaved-in-the-bag green beans, a quick cholent (canned potatoes and dried onions–– yes, this is called desperation), and a cake from the bakery. Wouldn’t you know that I ran into a different person in front of the wine racks who also did a quick look into my cart and said, “Knowing you, you are probably getting a head start on next Sukkot!” Needing to rush into line and not having time to explain that I was an exhausted mess, I responded with a smile, “Actually, I am only up to Pesach so far.”
What did I learn from these shopping cart encounters? One thing was clear, and that was that some people aren’t so secure in their shopping/cooking/preparing plans if they are making mental comparisons between their cart into mine. Maybe they wished that they could do it better. Maybe they perceived this as an area where it is an all or nothing, you either have it or you don’t, rather than knowing that everyone lives in both worlds. Even an organized person has weeks where she is completely overwhelmed and tired and does not have it in the slightest bit together. Whatever it is, I am here to tell you that no matter what is in someone’s cart, there is always more than what meets the eye. To run a Jewish household, the shopping list of life is massive. The bags that we carry are big, and sometimes contain a hole or two; in some places they come with a price, and often carry with them the tough decision of paper or plastic. As we load the bags into our car and drive away towards home, the job of unloading and sorting surely is easier when we know we all have similar challenges and struggles. Nobody’s bags are perfect, but each bag is suited to an individual or a family. Hopefully, working together will make the bags feel a tad lighter and a bit easier to unpack.
I want to write this column with the hope that we can all learn from each other, from the super organized to the self-declared scattered, messy, start-making-Shabbos-an-hour-before-lighting types and everybody in between. I want us all to share tips and great ideas, strategies that work and those that fell flat on their faces. Because when our houses are in order, all people living in those houses are much happier and calmer, and in turn are able to be much more productive, and hence able to give back and give to others.
Next column: shopping lists. How do you avoid having to borrow 10 things a day from your neighbors? How to handle multiple stores? Help, my shopping list is on my kid’s homework, and more!