Forget economic indicators, price indexes, and production figures. Here’s the most salient sign that Israel’s economy is plunging from exuberance into recession: today’s issue of Shamenet (in English the name would be Cream), Ha’aretz’s monthly supplement for conspicuous consumers, runs only 66 pages rather than the usual 80-100. But don’t be depressed—an economy where Shamenet is reduced to skim milk is just what Israel needs.
Once a month I pick up my copy of Ha’aretz from my doorstep and this heavy, glossy magazine falls out. There’s never anything in it for a guy with my limited line of credit, but I leaf through it as an anthropological exercise. What can I discern about the lives of Israel’s top socioeconomic decile from the ads for imported organic Provencal deodorants, diamond-inlaid watches, and high art auction houses? Here I can discover what the simple folk of the garden suburbs north of Tel Aviv do. What they do, it seems, is agonize over what brandy to display in the glass-fronted liquor cabinets in living rooms into which my entire apartment could comfortably fit.
It’s clear this month that times are tough. The article about choosing the right brandy focuses, gasp, on domestic brands. “Herod’s Palace Will Always Be In Fashion,” proclaims the headline over an interview with one of the owners of the swankiest hotel in Eilat. The article reassures us that we need not be embarrassed to show our face there; after all, even Bernie Madoff won’t be making it to San Remo this season.