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).
For most families, while Friday morning is me time, Saturday morning is family time. In winter, moms cook hamin overnight. The perfect meal for a chilly Shabbat morning. Hamim was created with the Sabbath in mind since you cannot cook after Shabbat begins. Meat, eggs, potatoes, cloves of garlic, beans, rice/quinoa, and lots of spices!
Israelis love to pack into the car and drive to different destinations all over the country. You might want to go to an Arab village in the Galilee for the famous dessert knafeh or to a Druze village in the Golan Heights to pick cherries. Many Israelis go to the central town of Abu Gosh for the best hummus and falafel in the country. Abu Gosh was the only Arab country not to fight Israel in the War of Independence in 1948. Some travel to the Dead Sea area where you can climb Masada or go into the waterfalls of Ein Gedi, not to mention float in the Dead Sea. There's always something to do outdoors in the Holy Land.
The famous greeting Shabbat Shalom starts to be uttered on Thursday. We also say "Sof Shavuah Naim"—have a pleasant weekend. But as the sun goes down on Saturday, no one would ever utter the words, Shabbat Shalom. Shabbat and the weekend are over. Instead, you say, "Shavuah tov"—have a good week.
And this is where I would start to question, “now, what day is it, again??” On Saturday night, we would start getting the kids ready for school, making lunches, and making sure all the homework was done. By the time it was eight o'clock, I was convinced it was Sunday night. That is what parents do on Sunday night!
As the kids would go to bed, I would begin my Sunday night ritual, particularly in the fall, not realizing it was actually Saturday. I couldn't wait to watch a little American NFL football that starts at 8 PM, seven hours ahead of EST. Just watching football made me feel as if the leaves were changing color, even though they don't in Israel's desert climate. It took me back to Virginia. So, you can imagine my shock and devastation when I would turn on the TV and realize that it was only Saturday night.
The same thing would happen to me on Sunday morning. We'd get the kids to school and start our workday. I would go through the whole day thinking it was Monday—who works on Sunday? Of course, the tragedy of that is that I could miss the actual football that would be playing on the actual Sunday night. Fortunately, I always remembered by the end of the day that it was Sunday.
And then I could enjoy my Sunday night ritual—watching football and eating a good steak. Israel has really good steak now, but when we first moved here, despite being the inventive startup nation, our beef was really gross. The cows were just not healthy enough. So when I would be in America, I would buy an entire filet mignon and chop it up into about 20 steaks. I would freeze them overnight and then put them in a freezer bag and throw them in my suitcase. Hence, 24 hours later, when I landed in Israel, they would still be frozen.
So, if I've ever seemed confused to you, now you know why :-)