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