Shabbat in Tel Aviv and the death penalty for terrorists

There is a huge gap between the serious and important debates that Israeli civil society is having on these issues and the cynical and shallow way Israeli legislators brought them to parliament.

AM:PM store in Israel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
AM:PM store in Israel
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Paradoxical as it may sound, the moment I realized God exists was the first time I spent Shabbat in Tel Aviv. This past summer on a Friday afternoon, I drove to a friend’s house not far from Dizengoff Center. I consider myself a traditional Jew, though my Shabbat observance may not always meet the strictest standards.
But as someone who grew up in the religious community of Efrat and now a modern-day Jerusalemite, I couldn’t help but feel like an anthropologist among my own people. Shabbat in Tel Aviv felt like a scene out of Steven Spielberg’s film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” As I was cooking for Shabbat and setting up the hot plate, raising the temperature in the already humid and boiling-hot Middle Eastern city, we discovered that we were missing barbeque sauce. It was ten minutes before Shabbat; therefore, to me, it was a lost cause. My friend, however, said to head over to the local AM:PM to buy some.
“I’m from Jerusalem,” I said. “What’s an AM:PM?” AM:PM is a Tel Aviv supermarket franchise that, as its name suggests, is open 24/7, including Shabbat. I walked out of the apartment just before sunset, the hour at which our forefathers say worlds are created. Tel Avivians must have never heard of that. The coffee shops were packed. People were preparing for a Friday night out on the town. Men and women in bathing suits meandered towards the beach passing neighborhood synagogues. I could see the AM:PM from afar, recognizable by the long line of people reaching from the store to the very end of the sidewalk, seemingly giving Black Friday sales a run for their money. All just for a supermarket.
I walked into the store as the sun was setting. As I reached for a bottle of sauce, I somehow shattered the entire row of bottles.
The floor was painted a mixture of colors as liquids splattered the sandal-clad feet of the girls behind me. My first time in Tel Aviv on Shabbat and not only did I ruin the store and embarrass myself, but there was a sacrificial offering tied to the experience, as well. I was about to pay a hefty fee. That was the moment I understood that I deserved whatever I would get for starting Shabbat this way.
Months have passed since I reached that shallow theological conclusion and returned to taking God seriously. What hasn’t changed is the AM:PM. It was recently pushed into the spotlight by the Supermarket Law brought to the Knesset floor by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and Interior Minister Arye Deri. The purported purpose of the law was to close stores such as the AM:PM on Saturdays nationwide.
Israelis were up in arms, decrying that religion was being forced upon them. “What about the Jewish identity of our country?” those in favor queried. Social media and the news debated endlessly.
A very serious and important debate, one would add.
I recently called my friend in Tel Aviv to see if the AM:PM was still open. “Of course,” he responded. All these endless debates and chaos caused by this law, and nothing on the ground had changed? So I did the craziest thing and actually read the fine print. Turns out, this law says nothing at all. A fake law with one purpose – to score political brownie points for the ultra-Orthodox parties of Knesset.
Those opposing the law knew this, of course, but they too were looking to score the very same points with their voters. The opposition and Lieberman are portrayed as the saviors of personal liberty.
The ultra-Orthodox are the saviors of Judaism, while the Likud, the responsible father figure, prays for his children to stop arguing. In other words, our politicians would rather waste time, mislead the public, create more tension and widen the gap between sectors of Israeli society, all for sectorial, cynical political purposes.
THIS IS exactly the same as the law that had passed one week previously: the death penalty for terrorists. Our current defense minister was fulfilling an old campaign promise. Based on how the law was presented to the public, there seemed to be a revolution in Israel’s justice system, permitting authorities to dole out capital punishment toward convicted terrorists with blood on their hands.
Again Israeli society reared its head. But those who have actually read the law and understand the legal system point out that no actual authority was given to the courts.
I must say that if these laws were real and not fake laws, I would be strictly opposed to the death penalty just as I believe it should be outlawed in the rest of the world. When it comes to Shabbat, I completely support the idea of Shabbat in the Jewish state, but would like to maintain and be sensitive to the differing characters of different municipalities, and not impose a way of life on Israeli citizens.
Unfortunately, there is a huge gap between the serious and important debates that Israeli civil society is having on these issues and the cynical and shallow way Israeli legislators brought them to parliament. I believe that Israel, under the leadership of Netanyahu, has reached strategic heights. But there is no excuse for the complete waste of time and the division of the nation caused by these laws. We deserve better. When it comes to Shabbat, I’ve decided I prefer the icy Jerusalem air and the local neighborhood synagogue to Tel Aviv.
Shabbat shalom from the Holy Land! 
Matan Dansker is a student at Shalem College in Jerusalem