Shabbat in Tel Aviv

July 29, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, July 29, 2016.

Shabbat in Tel Aviv

In Jerusalem (almost) everything stops for Shabbat. In Tel Aviv it’s a different story. While most businesses close on Shabbat, there are still places open for shopping and for eating. There isn’t the panic of trying to get all your groceries bought before everything shuts down. The buildup to Shabbat isn’t as intense. On the other hand, Shabbat in Tel Aviv isn’t the total quiet and peace as it is in Jerusalem. There are restaurants and nightlife places open even in Jerusalem on a Friday night, but they’re isolated and few. In Tel Aviv however, almost every neighborhood has a corner market open if not restaurants.

All this doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no Shabbat in Tel Aviv. On the contrary, there is a special character to Shabbat here too. This is a Jewish country, after all, and it conforms to Jewish rhythms. Often families have a family dinner on Friday night – it is a Shabbat tradition, after all. If a family is secular rather than religious, they might have a lechayim over a glass of wine instead of a Kiddush. All day on Friday, the markets sell challahs... they’re sold out by the time the shops close. Friday night, too, is a time for friends to get together and have a meal together.

And... there are synagogues, of course, and as the sun sets you see people walking to schul. Most spectacularly, during the summer, there are amazing Shabbat prayers next to the Mediterranean Sea at the old Port of Tel Aviv. The port has been transformed into a sort of shopping mall with restaurants and shops. And right along the sea are chairs and a small bimah (stage). A congregation called “The Israeli House of Prayer” conducts services every Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) during the summer. Since they start before the sunset for the Kabbalat Shabbat (Pre-Sabbath ceremony), it’s even permitted by traditional religious law! Hundreds of people attend – Israelis and tourists alike.  Some people go from there to their own synagogues or to Shabbat dinners at home. Some go out to eat and have a Sabbath meal overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. With singing and musical instruments, it’s a spirited experience. Since the congregation faces the sea, we all watch the sun set as we usher in the Sabbath. It’s a spectacular setting, and a spiritual experience, but in a different way than Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom