Imagine waking up every weekend and not knowing what day it is. Imagine going to bed at night and not knowing what night it is. That was my experience for probably the first three years after I moved to Israel.
After 38 years of having my weekends begin on Friday night and end on Monday morning, I had to get used to the Israeli week. We start working on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, and the weekend begins on Thursday night.
But it's more than the fact that it is a day earlier than most of the rest of the world. Because Shabbat comes every Friday night and is all day Saturday, it adds a completely different texture and feeling to every weekend.
You see, on Fridays, all the parents get the day off, but the kids still go to school. That's right, kids go to school here six days a week. About 15 years ago, when they were going to pass legislation to go to a five-day school week, the parents revolted. Friday morning was their time! Now, I should mention that kids do get out of school earlier on Friday—it's only a half-day at school.
Thursday night is party night. The restaurants are packed all over Tel Aviv. Bars and pubs stay open till all hours of the night/morning (To be clear, I am in bed long before that! I'm just explaining the culture here.).
This is early Thursday night around 8pm. In two more hours, the streets will packed and I will be home! :-)
Friday morning is sacred. Many Israelis get their weekend newspaper, which is like the Sunday paper in America, and they go to a bet café (coffee shop) and spend hours combing through it. Groups of girlfriends may also gather at one of the bet cafes. Some go to the beach to play matkot. Others who are into sports may go on a biking trip in the nearby mountains. (One of the most amazing things about Tel Aviv is that while you're on the beach, you're only 10 minutes from the Judean foothills. Some of the best mountain biking in the country is only a short drive away)
Tel Aviv becomes a playground for the rest of the country on Friday, as 'tourist' come to the bid city. The parking garage across the street had a line of 20 cars waiting to get in—meaning for someone to leave and a space to open. Because this week was Hanukkah and kids were off, there is a section of Nachalat Benyamin (the inheritance of Benjamin) street, that was blocked off. Cafes put their tables in the streets and kids sat in the middle of the road to watch puppeteers and street performers.
Friday afternoon has a different texture altogether. There is a tension between wanting to have a little bit more fun and getting ready for Shabbat dinner. When Elana and I first moved here, we would often go to lunch at a seaside restaurant called Satera. You never knew who you would meet there. Politicians and entertainers loved to spend Friday afternoon there. In the past, I've run into all sorts of interesting people there—including one prime minister (whose name rhymes with Cece), famous writers, and entertainers. And Satera's has great food with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Once our congregation moved our meeting time to Friday afternoons, lunches at Satera came to an end.
Friday night is even more sacred than Friday morning, and it's Biblical. Families all over Israel gather together for Erev (evening) Shabbat dinner. Israel has some of the best cooks in the world; hence we have some of the best restaurants in the world. That's what happens when you have people that have returned from all over the world—they come with their recipes. But of all the different ethnic groups in Israel, Moroccans are known for their cooking prowess and cuisine. And my wife, though born in Jerusalem, has Moroccan roots.
Even secular families see Friday night as special. There was a period of about three years where our kids had moved back to America. Those were dark years for us on Friday night. Elana and I would just stare at each other, depressed. But at last, they returned. Now, as adults, they also anticipate with great excitement each Friday night family gathering.
For religious families, while the women are cooking, the men are at synagogue. When they come home, there are the Shabbat prayers and a festive meal often followed by hours of sitting around the table singing religious songs (and sometimes drinking Scotch—I'm just the messenger).