When I moved to Israel, the biggest change to my life was adjusting to the different workweek and weekend. Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, so its calendar is structured around Jewish holidays and traditions. This means that in order to honour Shabbat—the Jewish holy day of rest that begins every Friday night and ends after sundown on Saturday—Israel’s weekend is Friday and Saturday, rather than Saturday and Sunday.
The Israeli workweek
I’ve lived in Israel for almost a year and a half, but I am still not used to working on Sundays. There’s nothing quite like getting to work early Sunday morning, opening Instagram and seeing that your friends from home are still posting all their Saturday night activities. Even though I’ve had plenty of time to adjust, I still feel an overwhelming feeling of disappointment on Saturday night when I realize I need to go to work the next day.
And even though I’m used to having Fridays off, and I still have two full days off every week, I still feel like my weekend has been cut short abruptly when I have to go to work on Sundays. This is because, despite having the same amount of time off, the structure of the weekend is completely different.
What is Shabbat and how does it affect the Israeli weekend?
Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from sunset on Friday night until nightfall on Saturday night. Those that observe Shabbat must follow certain rules to “keep Shabbat,” including not working, not using electricity, and not conducting any form of business (such as shopping and other forms of exchanging money).
In Israel, Friday is not a day of relaxation. It’s a day to prepare for Shabbat, when everything will be closed.
The state of Israel enacted Shabbat laws that require shops and restaurants to close on Shabbat or pay a 50 per cent increased tax on the profit made during Shabbat hours. Although many Israelis are secular and do not observe the strict guidelines of Shabbat, public transportation stops and most businesses are closed.
In less Orthodox cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, you can find many places that remain open, but ease of travel decreases exponentially as the buses and trains start running. Without a car, your options are limited to taking taxis, biking and walking.
How have my habits changed?
In the U.S., I usually used Saturday to relax, hang out with friends, go to the movies, or chill at home. Sunday was my day to prepare for the week. I ran errands, caught up on any work I’d neglected for school and mentally prepared for the week ahead.
In Israel, Friday is not a day of relaxation. It’s a day to prepare for Shabbat, when everything will be closed. If there are errands that I need to run, I have to do them on Friday before 3:00 pm when the buses stop and everything shuts down. If I need to see a doctor or go to the bank or do anything I wasn’t able to during the workweek, I have only a small window of time.
Friday mornings are hectic all over Israel as people rush to finish grocery shopping and other errands. But then the buses and trains stop, the malls and stores close and a new atmosphere settles over the country as Shabbat begins.
I live in Tel Aviv, where many cafes operate even on Shabbat, so Saturday morning is a great time to go for a walk, run on the beach or go out for brunch. Since there are no buses running, I walk to wherever I’m going, whether it’s a café or a friend’s house, and when the weather’s nice, there is something very peaceful and relaxing about spending the day outside.
In fact, many Israelis will take the opportunity to spend the day in nature. With a car, it’s easy to access beautiful hiking trails all over the country. Since I don’t have a car, I usually stay in Tel Aviv. When the weather is nice, everyone is outside with their kids and their dogs, at the beach or on the main boulevards. Even though people in Tel Aviv largely don’t observe Shabbat in the Orthodox sense and continue to use their electronics, the day of rest and relaxation has spread even to the most secular parts of society.
Sometimes the limitations of Shabbat laws can make me feel as if I’m stuck in one place, especially when trying to navigate the taxi services to get to a different city. When the sun sets and public transportation starts again, I always feel unprepared to go to work on Sunday.
Although I miss being able to have a day to get ready for the week ahead, I’ve learned to appreciate the time that Shabbat forces you to slow down and appreciate the day.Add this article to your reading list