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.
It gets worse. In her introduction to the issue, Shamenet’s editor, Tzila Schneiderman, complains about the unreliability of charter vacation package deals. Now, it’s true that only a handful of her magazine’s readers have private jets, but I bet that most of them haven’t sat in economy class since the beginning of Bibi’s last administration.
After leafing through it, I quickly dump Shamenet into the garbage. I’d rather have my daughters read Japanese comics than this profoundly sexist magazine. A good 80 percent of its ads and content are aimed at women, and specifically at the idle wives of high-powered businessmen. These women apparently spend most of their time shopping, lunching, and changing outfits. The new economy has brought back old gender roles. For this reason, too, I’m happy to see that Shamenet has fallen on lean times.
But really, that look on my face isn’t schadenfreude. Try as I might, I find it hard to want a snowy leather living room set with a round white coffee table so large that you could run Olympic races around it, or a Dream Health MM-7500 home exercise machine that burns fats without effort. The pleasure I gain from this issue of Shamenet is the thought that maybe the new Israeli economic universe that emerges from the current big crunch will be one in which the country’s wealth is distributed a little more equitably. Perhaps in that future time our society will devote its profits to leveling the playing field in education and employment, and to supporting science and culture. In that Messianic era, there won’t be enough people with money to waste to support a magazine like Shamenet. And that won’t be so bad at all.