A long-standing but unofficial ban by the Va’ad Harrabonim Lema’an Kedushas Hashabbos against shopping in supermarkets belonging to the bankrupt Mega supermarket chain, including its associated Shefa Shuk and Zol B’Shefa markets, has been lifted after the trustees who will decide the final fate of the chain declared that whatever the final outcome of the bankruptcy process, the stores will no longer be a part of the Dor Alon chain – and that none of its markets will operate on Shabbos.
As a result, the Va’ad issued a letter calling on the public to shop at the Mega chain, including Zol B’Shefa stores, in order to help workers who have been suffering and may soon be out of a job to survive financially.
The final fate of the supermarket chain was postponed last month, after a Tel Aviv court on January 18 granted the chain 30 days of protection from creditors while management searches for a buyer, or financing to allow the chain to continue to operate. The circumstances that led to the crash of the second-largest supermarket chain in Israel are still being debated, with many accusing the chain’s owners – the Blue Square division of the Dor Alon Group – of gouging the chain of income in order to put money into the pockets of management and top shareholders.
The unofficial boycott of the stores by the Torah-observant public for nearly a decade certainly did not help. In 2009, the Va’ad said people should not shop at stores that were a part of the chain, which was owned by the Dor Alon Group – which operates the AM:PM and Alonit convenience-store chains, both of which are open seven days a week, despite local laws against business activities on Shabbos. In interviews given at the time, Dor Alon executives said that it was financially worthwhile for them to keep the stores open and pay fines for violating those laws, because they were making money anyway.
However, what particularly upset many members of the frum community was the fact that Dor Alon also operated a chain aimed specifically at the chareidi public, called Shefa Shuk. After a major campaign among community members to stop shopping there because of the company’s chilul Shabbos befarhesia, the company changed the name of the chain to Zol B’Shefa.
However, sales at that chain did not pick up, as shomrei Shabbos continued to avoid shopping there – and in the meantime, the financial condition of parent chain Mega continued to deteriorate, to the point where last year, Mega declared that it could no longer pay its bills. In January, the company declared that it had run out of cash – and as a result, wholesalers and suppliers stopped supplying it with credit, so it could not buy new products to restock the shelves.
On January 18, the courts gave the trustees that had been appointed after the chain declared bankruptcy a month to sort things out. In an apparent bid to increase sales among the chareidi public, the trustees then contacted the Va’ad to ask for help in encouraging chareidim to once again shop at the chain’s markets: with the chain now officially separated from Dor Alon, it was now a shomer Shabbos chain, and with the fate of 3,500 families in the balance, it would be considered a great chessed to assist the workers.
As a result, the Va’ad issued a letter saying that it supported shopping at Zol B’Shefa and Mega, especially considering the financial straits of workers. With that, Va’ad head Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf said that the Va’ad would closely monitor the situation to ensure that the trustees live up to their promise.
In a new ad campaign, the management of Zol B’Shefa invited consumers to “join us on our new path. Buying at one of our stores will help thousands of workers and their families – many of whom are members of the chareidi community – to continue to support their families.”
As a result of the legal situation, “there is no longer any connection between the chain and AM:PM,” stressed Eyal Eli, chairman of the national workers’ committee of Mega.