By Nehemia Shtrasler

Today at noon, Jerusalem will hold its breath. The second Israeli branch of Swedish fashion retailer H&M is opening at the Malha Mall. Oh what a celebration there will be, not to mention the lines. But the Jerusalem opening has no chance of overshadowing the insanity that swept Tel Aviv last Thursday.

On that day at 11 A.M., H&M’s first branch opened in the Azrieli Center. Hundreds waited for hours in long lines until the sign was given. Women stormed into the store, baby carriages were trampled, muscular young men wrestled with each other, all striving for the coveted goal – skinny jeans and a floral shirt, which apparently are the latest trends. Some did not hesitate to strip off their top or pants in the middle of the store to try things on. Why waste time waiting in line for the fitting rooms? The chain’s Swedish CEO paled. He had never seen such an assault before.

The entire Azrieli Center caved under the pressure. The entrance was blocked with cars trying to get in and the Ayalon Highway outside turned into one huge traffic jam. Some 100,000 people visited the mall that day, compared with 40,000 on an ordinary day. “Never has there been such a shopping hysteria in Israel,” one pundit said.
What were those 15,000 people looking for on H&M’s opening day? Why couldn’t they wait another week? Naturally they wanted to be the first, the pioneers, the winners of the race. They wanted to be the ones who would tell their friends about their divine experience. After all, it’s a social entry card – once they were there, they were “in.” They touched glory. The long line did not daunt them, nor did the crowds inside. For them it was part of the enjoyment. “The whole fun is to wait hours for the opening,” said Efrat from Rishon Letzion.

“I piled on as much as I could, I paid thousands of shekels, but who’s counting?” added Dudi from Ashdod.

The stampede to H&M is but a symptom of the big consumption disease with which clever marketing people have infected the public. Today people don’t go shopping to fulfill a need. Nobody really needs another shirt and pair of pants. They shop to be part of the right social class, because wearing an H&M shirt is to wear the “right thing,” to be “in.” We shop at H&M because we’ve been brainwashed to think that if we buy a floral shirt for NIS 99.90 we’ll really look good, like the model in the ad.

It’s embarrassing, but the public worships brand names. After the purchase people mention, as though by the way, how much the item cost. Regardless of how big our bank overdraft is, it’s important that good society believes that money is not really a problem for us. So we went to buy a purple sweater and returned with red shoes. So what? We didn’t need either of them.

The marketing people have simply driven the public crazy. They’ve sold them the lie that if they’re in a bad mood, a new top will cheer them up. If they happen to be happy, that’s certainly a good reason to go on a shopping spree.

The salesman sells illusions easily and half cynically. He says the skinny jeans fit us “perfectly” and make us young forever, even though our bellies are almost bursting over the belt. But what’s NIS 249.90 for a sweet illusion?

The promotion and sales people are not selling us a shirt and pants, they’re selling us “happiness,” “youth” and “fitting in.” And who wouldn’t pay for happiness?

Yesterday was International Consumer Day. The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry spoke about the importance of the consumer protection laws and regulations it is issuing. But it’s much more important to have a counterrevolution – to stop the great shopping mania and restore our sanity. To liberate us from the brand-name tyranny and break the advertisers’ chains. To buy according to our real needs. To be a little more individualistic rather than herded, like a stunned mass, to the cashier’s counter. To gain some self-confidence and not cave to social pressure. To find real happiness, not fake happiness in stores and malls.