Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to Spend a Saturday

Saturday in Israel is really Sunday. What am I talking about? What I mean is that it may come as a surprise to all of you to learn that the work week here in Israel is from Sunday through Thursday and the weekend days are Friday and Saturday. Confusing, I know. But that's just the way it is. Because Israel is a religious place, people throughout the country observe the Sabbath. And since the Sabbath is observed here, it transforms what we Americans know to be the average work week, from Monday to Friday. Things are simply different here and I have found that it is one of the hardest things to get used to. No more Monday morning, it's Sunday morning blues! Wake up bright and early every Sunday morning, hit the alarm clock and get ready for day one of the work week. So much for Maroon 5's catchy tune, "Sunday Morning"; it does not carry the same meaning here. And there are a plethora of others: U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", Craig Morgan's "That's What I Love about Sundays", Rascal Flatts' "Sunday Afternoon" and Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday", among many others. 

So, not only is the Sabbath observed here, but what this means is that the entire city of Jerusalem (and the entire country of Israel really) shuts down from sunset on Friday night to sunset on Saturday night for a full 24 hours. Think of the 'ghost town feeling' that overtakes major U.S. cities on big holidays like Christmas Day. Anything and everything shuts down. Same thing here, except it's every single weekend. The most religious folks take the Sabbath seriously, which means no cooking, no cleaning, no showering, no driving, no laundry and no use of electronic devices. Not only does this mean no phones, no internet and no television, but also, this means you aren't allowed to use an elevator. I think you get the idea here: there's a whole lot of doing nothing to do. Well, the religious crowd wouldn't say it's nothing; it's spending quality time with friends and family, and relaxing and recharging for the week ahead. It's 'observing the Sabbath', they would say.

The solution? In terms of elevators and such, there are special shomer shabbas elevators in almost every single building in Israel that are set to stop on each floor. You must simply be patient and wait for the elevator to arrive. Yes, even if there are 30 floors. No worries, for those who do not keep the Sabbath  (i.e. me), there are regular elevators. Though I do then have to deal with the "tsk, tsk" that I feel from religious men and women eyeing me. Sometimes I feel that they're judging me as well for not covering my hair when I'm married (another Orthodox practice) and for not being covered up from head to toe (perhaps it's just in my head, that's what Rafi says at least). I simply grew up a different way, in a home with reform practices and I'm okay with that. I'm just not sure "they" are okay with that. It is what it is. Additionally, as per Shabbat solutions, all cooking and cleaning must be done ahead of time, and all warm food must be left on hot plates for you to eat later on. Of course, as mentioned, these rules only apply to those who keep them, and as I mentioned, me not being one of them.

So, what's a girl to do during these 24 hours? As luck would have it, there are "American" parts of the city that have open bars and restaurants. Since no buses are running, you will need a car to get around, or else you will find yourself stranded. As for Saturdays, it's a good day to do homework and laundry (if you are a nonobservant student) or if you are like me, you spend this day sleeping in, working out, picnicking in the park, laying out in the sun, watching movies, reading and eating. Not a bad way to spend a free day, if I might say so myself. It's a good excuse to take it easy and relax. Here's where we went today (and it looks like many others had the same splendid idea):

Here are a few of us enjoying the warm November sun, a toasty 75 degrees, at a park near our house:

After lunching at an open cafe adjacent to the park (I had a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich and Rafi opted for quiche) we headed over to Aroma (Israel's version of Starbuck's) for a late afternoon coffee:

Finally, no better way to end a relaxing day than to watch the sunset over beautiful, historic Jerusalem:

The sun beginning to set over the old city
The sun setting over east Jerusalem
The sun continuing to set over west Jerusalem
And with the setting sun, Shabbat has come to an end. The city is finally ready to reopen its doors and the people are ready to begin yet another busy work week. Next weekend, I just have to remember to put on more sunscreen!

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