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THE COSTCO SYNDROME

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11/19/2009

THE COSTCO SYNDROME photo

What is it with Jews and Costco?

Apparently there is a tenet of Jewish law, well-known to everyone but me, declaring that thou shalt love Costco and spend thy Sundays patrolling its aisles. Most Jews I know speak of visiting this shoppers’ paradise as if it were a pilgrimage to our ancient homeland. Now comes news that the mega-discount store will sell an illustrated edition of the Torah, specially published for Costco customers.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I am mortified by this evidence that Costco and the Jewish community have a mutual admiration society. If the retailer were not a discount store—or were, better yet, a bookseller—this relationship wouldn’t bother me in the least. However, ever-sensitive to the stereotype of Jews as acquisitive bargain-hunters, I am embarrassed by Jewish America’s love affair with Costco.

Full disclosure: I have shopped at Costco twice. Each time, I bounced like a pinball between boxes of junk food bigger than my head, became mesmerized by row after row of shiny electronics, and got lost in aisles stacked with cases of paper products more spacious than my first apartment. On this last trip, I went in with the intent of buying cases of chicken broth, Diet Coke and tomato paste, but found myself thinking that I really needed new throw pillows, could definitely use a set of perfectly-matching cookware, and that now was as good a time as any to buy Jenna a small refrigerator for college. While I was at it, why not buy one for the upstairs or the basement, or maybe both? And at these prices, how could I not afford to buy my husband a beautiful Movado watch?

Problem was, that watch still cost as much as my monthly mortgage. What’s more, I didn’t actually need new throw pillows or cookware. And there is no earthly reason why I should have a ‘fridge on every floor.

I have read accounts of new immigrants who were utterly overwhelmed by their first trip to a U.S. grocery store.  The sheer bounty proved too much for them to absorb. It was painful for them to see row after row of shelves bursting with food, when not so long ago they had battled starvation. One would think our collective memory of experiencing such profound want would instill respectful restraint rather than gleeful gluttony in our community at large.

Jewish values teach us to be content with what we have. We are encouraged to use our good fortune to give tzedekah rather than to amass more and more worldly goods. But after 30 minutes in Costco, I felt greedy. Which usually isn’t like me. I try to avoid people and places that bring out the worst in me, so I knew I needed to leave. As I weaved my way to the exit, I was nearly trampled by a stampede of patrons racing for free pizza samples. Which probably isn’t what they’re usually like, either. I call it the Costco syndrome.

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