Most everything in Jerusalem closes by 2:30 in the afternoon on Fridays. It was around 1:30 p.m. as we were making our way to the supermarket one Friday afternoon. Children had been let out of school, the traffic was terrible, people were rushing from here to there, and the supermarket was jammed with folks trying to make their purchases and get home as quickly as possible.
The air was filled with excitement and energy, announcing the coming Shabbat.
When we arrived back at the apartment, I was both exhausted and joyous. It was at that moment that I fully realized I was in a city preparing for the Sabbath. Even if you did not observe Shabbat, you had to take care of tasks before the city practically shut down.
Later that afternoon, I heard the sound of a siren, which made me perk up my ears. I looked at the clock and realized that I was hearing the announcement that Shabbat was beginning. It was time to light the candles.
The next day, we had lunch with cousins who lived in our neighborhood. After returning from lunch, we walked to the park at the top of our street. Many people were walking in the park, children were playing and friends were visiting. A very pleasant scene indeed.
I began reading my book, hardly looking up to see what was happening around me. But at some point, I realized that the noise level had increased significantly. The park was now filled with more walking families, more children playing and more teenagers gathering in groups.
I returned to my book. The next time I looked up, the noise was extremely loud – but happy. People of all ages were in the park. It was then that I realized that Shabbat was nearly over and people had come out of their homes to celebrate the end of Shabbat and to begin a new week.
We were also in Jerusalem for Sukkot. What an experience to see sukkot on porches, the tops of apartment buildings, on sidewalks and at most restaurants!
I have never been in a city or town where all the residents were aware that it was a Jewish holiday or Shabbat. No matter how observant you are or aren’t, it is impossible not to realize that the Jewish calendar is the guiding force in Israel.
MAY-RONNY ZEIDMAN is executive director of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, in Providence.