What Israel needs is a real weekend

The combination of Shabbat and Sunday would make an incredible difference in our tense, Israeli lives.

People walk down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on a Shabbat afternoon. (photo credit: ONDREJ ŽVÁCEK/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
People walk down Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on a Shabbat afternoon.
When a vital resource has to be shared by different groups of people who each need to use that resource in profoundly different ways, it’s only natural that each group will claim that resource as its own while trying to delegitimize the claims of all others. Great rivalry is sure to ensue as a result of this competition, as each group attempts to prove the validity of its claim by showing how this resource is integrally connected to the group’s value system.
In Israel we have a resource which different groups try to claim as their own – Shabbat. Shabbat is viewed in totally different terms by different groups in our society, who each try to prove to all others – unsuccessfully – that their philosophy of Shabbat is the valid one.
For some, Shabbat is expected to supply all the functions of a “weekend” in a Western society – a day for rest and relaxation, for shopping, for pursuing hobbies, for cultural and social activities, for get-togethers on a family, national and even international level. Then there’s another group that sees Shabbat as a spiritual, regenerative day, a day of turning inward to self, to family, to community. This group feels that the spiritual nature of Shabbat preserves the uniqueness of the Jewish people and is concerned that allowing the official national dilution of the essence of the day will divest the country of all vestiges of spirituality.
There’s clearly little room for compromise or sharing in this situation. But more importantly, it’s not healthy that Israelis should have to choose between one type of day or another. Relaxation, recreation, and spirituality fulfill different needs in a person, and Israelis mustn’t be forced to choose between them; rather they need to be able, if they wish, to choose all of them.
Shabbat is a wonderful spiritual day, but in the reality of our lives today, a relaxed Sunday following Shabbat is a basic necessity for all of us.
What this country needs therefore, is a real weekend, not the excuse of a weekend we have now, which is euphemistically called “sof shavua” but really means a little of Friday and Shabbat. As every Israeli knows, having Friday or part of Friday off is not a rest – Friday is finishing off the week and getting ready for Shabbat; it is a day of intense activity and often of tension. In addition, six months out of the year, Shabbat starts in the afternoon hours. Any attempt to turn Friday into a day of formal recreational activities will just result in additional arguments around activities that start on Friday and continue into Shabbat.
The combination of Shabbat and Sunday would make an incredible difference in our tense, Israeli lives.
People would have a serious break from work, they would be more relaxed, more energized to go back to work on Monday. There would be a day when religious and secular could relax and enjoy each other in natural leisure activity as opposed to the current effort of artificially bringing different kinds of people together for “events” limited in depth and scope. As things stand today, there is no leisure day of the week to hold various national and international conferences and happenings, and so the religious public misses out on countless important experiences and opportunities, while the society at large misses opportunity after opportunity to bridge the religious and cultural divides.
There would be a convenient day to have weddings and assorted smachot, as well as a real weekend for visits to friends and relatives in other parts of the country. There would be a shopping day when malls and kibbutz stores would have an even broader available clientele that would not conflict with the desire to have a national day of rest on Shabbat. Sports players and spectators, religious and secular alike, would be able to pursue their passions, guilt-free. It is also relevant to note that as Sunday is a day of rest in all the Western world and Friday is a regular day of work, this change would bring us more in sync with international business activity. Of course, there are many reasons why this unoriginal suggestion is not practical. Friday is at best a half day of work and accommodation has to be made for Moslems for whom Friday is a day of prayer. Yet because of the social benefits resulting from a two-day weekend, every other Western country has figured out a way to overcome obstacles, which certainly existed in different forms in every country that made the switch.
Ultimately, it’s critical that we decide on priorities. If we maintain the status quo, we ensure the continued fragmentation of our society, as each side pulls in diametrically opposed directions to have Shabbat be its type of day of rest, causing ever-increasing strife and outrage. On the other hand, if we recognize that we all need both types of days, we will be taking the most significant step possible toward a harmonious and respectful co-existence.
The writer is the founder of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Israel. Her great-grandfather, Dr. Samuel Friedman, worked with Samuel Gompers during the years 1920-1930 to achieve the five-day labor week in the United States.