More than 6,000 people gathered outside the ice cream store, waiting for a free sample for six hours, from Friday morning until just before Shabbat. Yeshiva students, rabbis, women and children began crowding outside the store at 6 am, waiting for its doors to open.
A secular man who happened to walk by felt as if he had just stepped out of a time machine: "Such a long queue? For ice cream?"
But it turns out that what became a standard commodity in the secular world decades ago is considered a wonder in the haredi world. "Zisalek", strict glatt kosher ice cream, offers 37 flavors, frozen yogurt and American waffles to a public which has never had its own ice cream parlor.
"What is this white, fluffy, sweet thing that looks like a cotton ball?" asked an elderly rabbi holding an ice cream cone for the first time in his life. "Whipped cream," the salesman explained, and the rabbi rushed to a nearby stairwell to lick the delicacy in private, so as not to be seen – God forbid – enjoying one of the pleasures of life.
Like what happened just the day before in Tel Aviv's Azrieli during the H&M opening the day before, in Mea Shearim too babies were crushed by the masses of people, children lost their parents, women blended with men, and all for one small ice cream cone. The police were forced to close the street to traffic in order to prevent a disaster.
The public quickly got attached to the new product. "Don’t destroy the shape, it will be a shame," one woman told the salesman as she watched him approaching a large chunk of Oreo ice cream covered with real chocolate balls in order to move part of it to the cone.
A commotion broke out when Neturei Karta members arrived with loudspeakers and called out to the crowd: "Modesty, gentlemen, modesty. We don't want any mix up here. Women must not be with men."
The ice cream chain's owner, Yaakov Halperin, immediately organized two queues, one for men and one for women. Iron barriers were dispatched to the area and the men and women were separated. Each time, eight men were allowed to enter the store, followed by eight women.
Special delivery to Safed?
The store offers two kinds of ice cream: Dairy and parve (neither meat nor milk). Rabbis have ruled against having tables and chairs inside the store so that men and women would not sit together. The display window has been covered with stickers in order to prevent people from seeing what is going on inside.
The hysteria was the result of the chain's decision to offer a free cone of ice cream in honor of the opening. More than 300 liters of ice cream disappeared within two hours, and a truck had to be sent to the Alfei Menashe factory to bring fresh supplies.
Some yeshiva students put the ice cream in a cup, dropping melted ice cream on their pants. "We have a large family. The girls are helping our mother. We wanted to take some home from them," one of them said.
The store even received a call from an ultra-Orthodox man living in Safed, who asked for a special delivery.
"I'm shocked," said Halperin. "We realized that the haredi public doesn't have ice cream, but who would have thought that all of Mea Shearim would have to be closed to traffic?"
At 2 pm, an announcement was made on the loudspeaker: "It's Shabbat soon. We want to close." It didn't help. People punched the windows, eager to get in. It seems those shopaholics in Tel Aviv still have a lot to learn.