Monday, June 20, 2011

What's on Israel's Mind Right Now? Cottage Cheese

When I lived in the States, I would, like many Jews I know, after first checking my email in the morning, surf on over to the Jerusalem Post and then maybe Ynet just to check on what's going on in Israel. After all, Israel was an important part of my identity, and I wanted to make sure that everything was OK. Then I'd get back to work.
Now that I'm here, I pretty much do the same thing. But, I've recently noticed that these English language sites don't always reflect what's truly going on in Israel. If you really want to know what people are upset about here, it's not Hizballah, and it's not Hamas or Egypt.
They're worked up about cottage cheese.
Food here is actually quite expensive. The same cereal box that you might buy at Target or Walmart for two dollars here usually costs at least 18 shekel (do the math...divide by 3.5 - yes, the dollar is really weak right now...and that's about 5 dollars for a box of Cheerios - minimum!) A quick check of the Meijer's website and I find that they're selling a pound of sour cream for $1.39. So cottage cheese can't be more than two bucks. Here, they don't sell cottage cheese in sizes that large. Not even close. They sell them in small containers, about 200 grams each - which is less than half a pound, for at least 7 and a half shekel. All that means that cottage cheese here costs more than double what it costs in Michigan. And Israelis, who eat a lot of cottage cheese for breakfast, are angry.
So, some guy started a Facebook page encouraging Israelis to boycott cottage cheese in July. When it reached 20,000 people, it got the media's attention. Now its up to 90,000 people, which is a lot in a country of 7 million.
All of this made me wonder: if it's such a big deal here, why doesn't it really appear in the English language press? Then I realized that people in the Diaspora don't really care about the price of cottage cheese here. Why should they? They've got their own economic problems to deal with. News sites understand this. They're about clicks and page views. They write about what people want to read about, and they don't want to read about my grocery bills.
Just take the Yediot Achronot website this morning. In English, the site leads with a startling, troubling article about Hizballah.


But if you click on the Hebrew main page of the very same newspaper, you get a very different story leading the news:


Even if you can't read the Hebrew, you can tell that it's not a scary article about Nasrallah. Nope - it's the doctor's strike, which drones on for yet another week. (I'll write about that in another post soon.) That's because the news about Nasrallah isn't really news, and the article isn't really about anything new or significant.
Oh, and people here don't care much about Nasrallah right now. (He hated us yesterday. He still hates us today. Ho hum.) They care about the price of cottage cheese.
Which brings me back to where I began. When I open the paper and see articles about cottage cheese, I'm actually quite happy. They tell me that life here, while expensive and stressful at times, is relatively normal. Sadly, we all know that sooner or later the websites will have more important things to report, and the articles will be about real security concerns. But as long as things are quiet, life goes on, and we worry about the price of groceries, like the rest of the world.
And that, I think, is good news.