Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week. In the first book of the Bible, it is said that God rested on this day after creating the heavens and the earth in six days. Jewish people also rest on this day to remember the six days of creation and to rest from their six days of work during the week. The Shabbat begins a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening and ends when three stars appear in the sky on Saturday night.

Israel is a democratic state, but is also a Jewish state, and this is why the public institutions are closed, most stores and restaurants are shut and most of the public transportation is stopped during the Shabbat. But what about the people? What does the individual Israeli do during the Shabbat? Well, it depends who you ask. Here is my Shabbat experience.

For me, Shabbat is a perfect time to see friends and family. Most people in Israel don’t work on Saturday because of the Shabbat. Friday is also considered half-a-day, because the Shabbat begins on Friday evening, so most people work only half-a-day on Friday, while others don’t work at all. This means everyone is quite free during the Shabbat.

I take a bus to my parents’ home before the Shabbat enters and stay the weekend. Sometimes we light candles before the entrance of the Shabbat and do a Kiddush (blessing over wine), but mostly we just eat a nice feast that includes meat dishes. The dinner we eat on Friday is the only one that isn’t diary-based. Usually, we eat diary products for dinner.

On other weeks, I stay in my apartment in Jerusalem and meet friends who have a car. I, unfortunately, don’t have a car and it’s a pity, because if I had one, I would have used it during the Shabbat to get out of the city and enjoy a hike in the nature or get to friends who don’t have a car.

When I served in the army, I served with religious people. There are all kinds of religious Jewish people in Israel, some very-very religious and some less religious. Sometimes we stayed in the base for the Shabbat and then I had a chance to experience a bit of the religious Shabbat atmosphere.

According to religion, in Shabbat you need to rest from everything. This means you can’t drive, you can’t be on the phone, you can’t work on the computer, you can’t watch TV… In fact, you can’t use any electronic device. Some rabbis will say that when you use an electronic device you’re actually “lighting it up”, like a fire, and it is forbidden to light a fire during the Shabbat according to religion. But today, in a world that’s based on electricity, the religious laws are changing a bit. For example, in the army we had an electric water drinking boiler that we could use only because it was on “Shabbat mode”. That’s how we could make ourselves tea.

Also, religious Jewish people can’t eat food that is cooked during Shabbat, because if you cook you work and working is forbidden during the Shabbat. So how could we eat? The army kitchen cooks the food before the Shabbat begins and warms it up using electric heating platters (called simply “plata” in Hebrew) that were plugged into the electricity before the Shabbat entered. We also made sure that we had a plata in our office before the Shabbat entered, so that we could heat food outside of the kitchen (because we couldn’t use the microwave on Shabbat).

Because our job involved using the computer, the religious people worked on the computer during the Shabbat. We stayed in the base during the Shabbat because we had to use the computer. It was the mission and it could help the army, so that is why they used the computer. If there’s no important mission connected to the computer, you can’t use it.

I could have used electricity during the Shabbat, because I have no problem with it, but I decided to respect my friends’ Shabbat. It wasn’t hard for me to use the boiler on “Shabbat mode” and heat my food with the plata, so why not respect that? I did use my phone, but not when I was around the religious people. The other non-religious or traditional people did so as well. When we had free time during the Shabbat, we sat with each other, talked about interesting subjects, and played card games. Shabbat is a perfect time to get together and socialize.

My favorite time was when the Shabbat was about to end. Not because it was about to end, but because I loved seeing my religious friends getting ready for the new week to come. There’s this beautiful little ceremony called “Havdalah” (meaning “separation” in Hebrew), that marks the end of the Shabbat and the beginning of the new week, the separation between the two. In the ceremony, we sipped from a cup of wine, lighted a long candle and smelled the wonderful aroma of a spice, that one of the people organized beforehand. I loved the smell of the spice. The leader of the ceremony said a few blessings and the Shabbat came to an end, until the next Shabbat.

This is my Shabbat experience. What’s yours?

Want to take part in a Shabbat experience during your stay in Israel? You can check out the Facebook page of Shabbat Guests or try Shabbat of a Lifetime.

Have a peaceful Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom (:

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