'Tis the Season....
The chanukiot are out; the sufganiyot are multiplying; the malls are running sales---it must be time for Chanukkah!
It's shaping up to be a grim season.....lay-offs in high tech are multiplying, which is having a 'scare effect' among Israelis generally. Some people who are still getting their paychecks and still employed in that sector are nonetheless seeing cut-backs: no year-end bonus; a memo that next year there is no car -- need to drive? Buy or lease your own.
Hi-tech certainly doesn't run Israel, but this is a small country and a hit in one area affects everyone. A major appliance repair company has gone bankrupt, putting over 300 repairmen out of work. A leading provider of private tutoring services in Jerusalem has decamped in the middle of the night, leaving tutors without their paychecks and students and parents without the tutoring they've already paid for.
Do you know why an earthquake is so damaging? It isn't the fact that the ground moves. It's the pressure waves that the ground movement sets off that cause the damage.
Here we have similar economic pressures generated from a single event: when hundreds of high-tech workers are laid off, there are fewer people buying or leasing cars; those laid off are spending less on food and only buying necessities; a family whose major breadwinner is suddenly unemployed isn't going out to dinner; the budget-conscious start skipping the Bissli and expensive yoghurts for the kids' lunches; the still-working spouse economizes by making and taking her lunch to work instead of buying a sandwich or a salad at Sambooki.....
It's the trickle-down effect of fear that is putting a crimp in things. One woman, who usually took a cab to shop, was recently told by her husband to take the bus. He still has his job, but is bracing for future cuts and economizing now.
One man, employed as a sales rep for a major food company, watched in dismay as the company laid off a colleague. The colleague has five kids and his wife doesn't work outside the home. "Don't do this," the still-employed fellow begged his supervisor. "If you have to lay someone off, lay me off -- I don't have a family or a mortgage." (They laid off the guy with the family anyway).
I was in Ne'eman Bakery on Friday. Lunch rolls, which had been 5 for 10 shekels, are now 7 for 10 shekels.
Yossi told us that some of the cab drivers who rent their cabs from owners who operate cab fleets, are turning in their cabs and quitting. So few people are taking taxis that these cabbies can't make their daily expenses, much less make money to put food on the table. Yossi owns his own cab, so he doesn't pay rent to anyone, but he told us that every taxi driver still working has to work much longer hours to make the same money he or she made six months ago: what drivers used to earn by four in the afternoon they now don't make until nine or ten o'clock at night.
We talked to the manager/owner of a major coffee shop in the area. The lines that used to crowd their counter at lunch time have vanished. It used to be impossible to find a table at 1:00 pm. Not now. There is seldom a line, and there are plenty of tables.
Stores in Malcha Mall are having huge sales. Several shop owners told us that they're hoping to survive the season -- the sales are to move inventory and generate cash, because no one is buying.
A friend of mine went to Tel Aviv on business last week. He was propositioned in a parking garage as he paid for the parking slip by an attractive young woman who clearly wasn't a professional or drug abuser, but had a lean and hungry look to her. "Listen, motek, I only have 15 shekels," he explained, trying to put her off without offending her. "I'll do you for ten," she responded desperately.
The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Friday stating that economists are predicting that the recession will be over by June. I'm hoping for April.
It's time to hang together. Hang on to your jobs, if you have them. If you can afford it, tip your waitress, your cab-driver, and the kid who delivers the groceries because they're struggling to make it through this period and with less of a margin for error than most of us. If you can afford it, send something to your favorite Israeli charity that provides heat, clothing or food--because we need to watch out for each other right now. Use that tzeddakah box and don't turn away anyone. Assume in these hard times that if someone asks for help, they really need it. Not many of us own fields any more, but if you have gleanings from your paychecks for the poorer among us, now is the time to make them available.