But Rabbis fear mingling Arab and Jewish employees will lead to intermarriage.
Entering a supermarket in the Rami Levy chain is like getting a glimpse of how a peaceful Middle Eastern supermarket was meant to look: Arabs and Jews shopping side by side and working together in harmony.
Rami Levy’s supermarket chain has turned into a symbol of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. At the main branch in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood, Jewish residents of Jerusalem mix together with Arabs from the territories. What brings them together is a good deal.
“In the end, we are the supermarket chain that sells the cheapest in all of the land and has great service too,” Rami Levy, the supermarket chain owner told The Media Line. “That’s what brings all these folks and religions together.”
Arab women in hijabs shop next to Israeli women covering their hair. Jewish men with pistols in their belts and Arab laborers examine slabs of beef at the butcher counter side by side.
“I like the cheap prices and quality goods,” said Jewish shopper Michael Azulay. “There are lots of Arabs here. I’m very delighted that we are all shopping together.”
Cahula and her husband came all the way from the Arab town of Abu Ghosh to shop.
“I really like the atmosphere here and the deals and the way we are treated here,” Cahula said. “You see Jews and Arabs together and that’s OK. Life is good, actually, not like you see on TV.”
Levy’s elderly father Mordechai roamed the aisle seeking out shopper families.
“I treat them so well that I give out sweets to their kids,” the elder Mr. Levy said. “We are like brothers here. We were all born here. They come here and get good service.”
“That’s right,” Cahula interjected. “What you hear is one thing, but if you see it, well it’s something else completely. There’s no pushing here, we are acting like cousins here. It’s the Holy Land.”
Arabs and Jews are not only shopping together. The supermarket chain has brought together thousands who work together in his 22 stores. He opened his first supermarket in 1976. Today, he said, half of his 3,000 employees were Arabs and half were Israeli, and they were living proof coexistence was possible.
“Politicians are always making a mess of things – but the common folks and I want to say that the Arab clientele, are very, very satisfied with us,” Levy said.
Rami Levy has opened three huge supermarkets in post 1967 territories where both Israeli settlers and Palestinians shop together. Palestinian leaders have called on their people to avoid shopping there in order to support the locally made produce.
But not everyone likes the ideal world that Rami Levy has created. Some Rabbis fear that the mingling will lead to intermarriage, particularly leading Jewish girls into the arms of Arab men.
“There is assimilation between Arabs and Jews who work together,” Rabbi Gideon Pearl told The Media Line. “In the past there are places where links were made and a Jew woman married an Arab.”
“These Arab guys are passing themselves off as modern men and they are working together,” Rabbi Pearl said. “When there is love it burns and in the end they marry them and bring them back to their villages. We have to exert great efforts to rescue them from that.”
Pear said that his complaints were against Jews and Arabs working together and not over their shopping together.
“We don’t have any control over that,” said Pearl, the rabbi of the Alon Shvut community.
He also suggested that Rami Levy should give preference to Jews working since it would help employment in the community and keep taxes from reaching the Palestinian Authority.
An attempted boycott never caught on. But even Rami Levy himself was against the idea of intermarriage.
“I am definitely against mix marriages,” Levy said. “We need to respect and understand each other, but you can’t have Jewish women marrying Arab men or the opposite. I don’t want any assimilation happening.”
But in fact, there are several mixed couples. Quietly, some workers confided that a number of workers met on the job and later married. But they asked not to identify the couples.
Rabbi Pearl countered that Levy was a hypocrite.
“Rami Levy may be against assimilation, or say he is, but for him business is business,” Pearl said.
Rami Levy said he planned to expand to the Palestinian Authority with an Arab partner.
“I said, OK, let’s do it,” Levy said. “Put up the name Rami Levy, but he told me the moment he would put up my name they’d burn it down since I was Israeli.”
By the same token, Rami Levi countered that there was no reciprocity when it came to shopping in the Palestinian areas.
“That’s the reality at this moment,” Levy said. “They can come here, but we can’t go there. For now they are not accepting us with love, we are welcoming them with love.”
Some shoppers were oblivious to the unique mix of the crowd.
“I didn’t really notice these things, but that’s cool with me,” said Yael, a visitor from the United States. “I didn’t realize it that but it’s awesome! Yeah!”
Jewish shopper Efraim Schwartz took a more stoic view.
“We exchange words from time to time,” Schwartz said. “Did you see this deal? Perhaps you’ve seen that? But deep discussions don’t come about. Peace isn’t going to come out of it.”