Safe way to conceive at the supermarket

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BEHIND the racks of cucumbers, melons and herbs, in a dark and dank storeroom at the back of a supermarket, a 37-year-old woman was taking her turn on 'the chair', writes Sarah Helm from Ashdod.

Gingerly, Margarite lowered her slender buttocks, leaning forward a little, then back, to find the most comfortable position. 'You have to believe. If you have any doubt, it just won't work,' she said, glancing at her husband, Nissim, his muscles bulging under his white T-shirt, as he gripped the bag of week-end groceries.

'The chair' has magical or mystical properties, say the hundreds of women who queue at the supermarket to sit on it, after doing their shopping. 'Women who have never been able to get pregnant, suddenly find they are pregnant, after sitting on the chair,' explained, Bouchira Vaknin, wife of the store owner.

It all began when Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, a Moroccan sage and authority on Jewish mysticism, came to open the supermarket, run by ultra-orthodox Jews in the port of Ashdod. At some point the rabbi sat down on one of the old office chairs near the check-out. During the months which followed, six supermarket cashiers became pregant, including one who had been trying to have a child for 12 years.

At first the store-owners thought nothing of it. But when they hired replacement cashiers they, too, upped and left on maternity leave. 'It turned out that they had all sat on this one chair,' says Mrs Vaknin. 'The one sat upon by the rabbi.'

Now the chair has been placed in a storeroom and converted into a mini-shrine, where sitters receive instructions from the chair's overseer, Rachel Anijar, on how to perform. Women can only sit on the chair if 'pure' according to Jewish ritual, explains Rachel, which means they must be at least halfway through their menstrual cycle.

It is also best, Rachel says, if the woman has had sex with her husband the night before. The sitting itself should last for 15 to 20 minutes.

The chair also works for men. In cases where male impotence is suspected, the woman can sit on the chair and learn 'intimate things' to say to her husband later, which may help solve the problem, says Rachel. In emergencies, she said, the man may also sit on the chair. 'Men come here and pray. Then they hear that their wife is pregnant.'