I was living in Israel during 1990/91 at the time when, just after Perestroika, Jews from the Soviet Union, finally free to leave, were flooding into Israel. I studied Hebrew in an Ulpan (language school) where most of the other students were from the former Soviet Union. When we had a tea break, the Soviet students would form a massive queue and each take as many biscuits as they could possibly hold, not caring whether those further back in the queue, or whether non-Soviets (Brits, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, the French and a New Zealander) who refrained from joining the long queue, would get any. To me, it looked ugly. I had little sympathy, even though I understood that for their entire lives until then, they had wasted their days queuing for essentials such as bread, only to get to the front of the queue and find there was nothing left.
The principal of Ulpan Akiva was a woman with a lot of understanding and compassion. Rather than trying to limit the number of biscuits each person could take, or trying to change their behaviour, she simply ordered in more and more boxes of biscuits. It would take time for them to get used to the idea of continuous supply.
And here we are, in the UK, plundering the supermarket shelves with little regard for whether there will be anything left for others. (I haven’t been partaking in the plundering – being temporarily quite itinerant, but I hope I wouldn’t anyway.) And we haven’t been traumatised by having our lives eroded – day after day – forming queues for a loaf of bread or other essentials, only to find nothing left by the time we get to the front of the queue. And it is ugly. When I saw it among the former Soviets, I didn’t expect ever to see such a thing here – Land of Plenty!
My Russian neighbours at that time showed me photos they were sending their friends and relatives back in the former Soviet Union: of supermarket shelves laden with food, deep freezes full of meat. And here are we, on social media, posting photos of supermarket and pharmacy shelves, plundered and empty.