In Tel Aviv, a Saturday afternoon street party would not even turn heads. Roughly a thousand young people, drinking beer and dancing to live music, plus children blowing bubbles and drawing in chalk on a nearby sidewalk – just another weekend afternoon.

But this is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. In the capital, Saturday street parties are not just cultural events, they are also a protest against the lack of events on Shabbat. That is the idea behind the activist organization Ruah Hadasha’s quasi-monthly Shabbat concerts, featuring well-known bands performing at free street parties in downtown Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon.

“We saw that there’s a lot missing in secular culture, and one of the first things we noticed is that on Shabbat, Jerusalem turns into a ghost city,” said Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) spokeswoman Bar Peled, ahead of the second Shabbat in Jerusalem concert on Saturday featuring Karolina. “Everything is closed and it’s quiet, and that’s also nice, but sometimes students that spent all week learning want to go out.”

But haredi city council member Shlomo Rozenshtein of the Yahadut Hatorah party is scrambling to stop Saturday’s event. “This is bringing bad spirits, not new spirit,” said Rozenshtein. “The beauty of Jerusalem is honoring the status quo.” The status quo is no live music in public on Shabbat, he explained.

“No group can force the city to be its own way, not the haredim who don’t want anyone to drive on Shabbat, and not the secular residents,” he added.

Peled stressed that the organization created the events to fill a void for secular young people, not as a provocation against the ultra- Orthodox. “The goal was not to do a party in Mea She’arim,” she said.

She pointed out that the downtown area has very few residences, and that the area has other businesses open on Shabbat. The few people that do live in the area are usually not religious, Peled added.

But Rozenshtein said the street party stood directly in the path of people from religious neighborhoods such as Shaare Zedek and Rehavia who want to go to the Western Wall on Shabbat afternoon and would be offended by the loud music. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the concerts and that if they continued he expected a number of haredim to demonstrate outside future events.

Last summer Ruah Hadasha sponsored free Saturday afternoon events in the Khan Theater and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. But this year, they wanted to “bring it out into the open,” said Peled.

The first Shabbat event was on March 31.

There were no objections to the concert, she said.

Ruah Hadasha’s Shabbat events are an addition to a summer season in Jerusalem chock full of concerts sponsored by the municipality.

The events include weekly Friday events in different neighborhoods, major concerts and festivals in the city’s parks, and Kabbalat Shabbat services aimed at the city’s secular population featuring music and discussions about the weekly Torah portion connected to current events. Some of the larger summer concerts – including Israel’s largest reggae festival, a Woodstock tribute, and an electronica festival – are expected to draw upwards of 10,000 people. This Friday, the weekly concert will be on Aza Street in the Rehavia neighborhood with artists and activities for children.

Yoram Braverman, who oversees the summer concerts and cultural initiatives for young people at the municipality, said he welcomed Ruah Hadasha’s Shabbat events.

“Every initiative from every organization is a very welcome thing, because it shows that the city is healthy,” he said. While the municipality won’t create any events on Shabbat, they won’t oppose private organizations who do so, Braverman said. “If it happens without hurting another population, it’s great, but if it’s done to hurt or annoy another population, we’re not in favor of that. We need to live and let live.”

A Jerusalem municipality spokesman said the city does not oppose private events on Shabbat as long as the event has the necessary permits and upholds the law.

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