Shabbat in Jerusalem
June 30, 2017
Here I am in Jerusalem, just arrived this week. It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m thinking about the seminal article about Shabbat by Rabbi Zalman Shachter Shalomi z”l published back in 1973 in the first “Jewish Catalogue.” According to Reb Zalman, the week is broken into two parts:
Waiting for the Sabbath (Observe the Sabbath) Wednesday to Shabbat
And holding onto the Sabbath (Remember the Sabbath) from Saturday to Tuesday.
The waiting for Shabbat/ Anticipation of the Shabbat is particularly intense here in Jerusalem on Fridays. On the one hand, so many people – those in government jobs and office jobs – have off on Fridays and go back to work on Sundays. The cafes are full of people having brunch. The streets are full of people driving to errands or traveling to other parts of the country for Shabbat. Supermarkets are full of people doing last minute grocery shopping: shops and supermarkets are closed on Shabbat, so Israelis stock up for the weekend. There is lots of traffic, honking horns, people arguing and yelling. Markets close by 2:00 after a rush to get that last stick of butter or loaf of bread before everything closes down. And then . . . the miraculous thing happens. Things quiet down. Little by little people go home and prepare for Shabbat – religious and secular people alike. The traffic quiets down. As the sun sets, the traffic all but stops and people are walking along the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. As it gets darker, it gets quieter. Often, after dark, one hears the happy conversations of people all around having dinner, especially now, in the summer, when windows are open.
Years ago, when I was a Jerusalem Fellow, I had an apartment in Jerusalem on Palmach Street. My apartment had a little balcony which faced the busy street. I would sit on the balcony and watch the busy street quiet down. Every week I watched; I wouldn’t miss it. As the weeks went by, my friends would know that this was my pre-Shabbat routine. They would pass by my apartment building and look up to see if I was sitting on my porch, and if so would come up and join me. It was a weekly ritual. Every Friday afternoon people would come and visit, drink wine, and nosh on whatever I prepared. People would even bring snacks or drinks. The street below would become quiet, and the balcony above would become animated with conversation and laughter. It was a kind of weekly salon.
Back in Milwaukee, it’s hard to imagine the shift that happens in Jerusalem as the work week transitions to the Sabbath. It is unforgettable. And after the Sabbath is over, the memory of the pre-Shabbat salon and the peaceful Jerusalem Shabbat would linger on. I’m looking forward to having my first shot of Shabbat tranquility – a tranquility only possible in Jerusalem - this year.