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Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Independence Day to all of you.  

Today is Shabbat or The Sabbath in Jerusalem.  It is a unique and special time. As probably the holiest city on earth, Shabbat in Jerusalem is taken more seriously than in most other major cities in Israel which means that there are implications if you’re visiting Jerusalem over the weekend.

Praying at the Western Wall takes place to begin.  I left before it really got busy.  But as I was walking home, taxi after taxi, and those walking were streaming into the area. 

Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. It starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday evening when the new week begins.Jews do not work during Shabbat and this extends to using electronic equipment, electricity and cooking. If you have an appliance or lights on before the Sabbath you can leave them on.  But you can't turn them off and on. This even goes for the elevator in my building.  You can't push a button for a floor.  There is a dedicated Shabbat Elevator that stops at every floor so you don't have to push any buttons.  They consider the switches as sparks and according to the Torah are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath. They mark the start of the 24 hour period by lighting candles and visiting the synagogue for prayers and to sing traditional liturgical blessings, which is followed by the Shabbat Dinner, a festive family meal. 

On the Shabbat morning, observant Jews return to the synagogue for a morning service, and again in the evening for the Havdalah service to mark the end of Shabbat and the start of the new 

In Jerusalem, Shabbat is a totally unique experience. Starting from early on Friday afternoon, businesses, shops, and most restaurants, begin to close up. 

Public transportation (buses and light railway) do not run at all in Jerusalem during Shabbat, and services end in the hours leading up to sunset. It is amazingly quiet and even eerie. Because the sunset varies throughout the year, so do the closing times before Shabbat on Fridays. In the winter, businesses close around lunchtime, with some restaurants not opening at all for lunch. In the summer, businesses close later, although times vary significantly between businesses.

Saturday evening after Shabbat is termed Motzei Shabbat – and businesses tend to re-open from around one hour after the end of Shabbat until extra-late so people can shop and eat before the start of the new week. Bus services start almost instantly after the end of Shabbat, and the light railway slightly later.  So Sunday is our Monday.

While almost all businesses are closed, Shabbat is a great time to explore Jerusalem with the city much quieter than usual and almost no traffic on the streets.  It is particularly interesting to see the religious Jews all dressed up going to and from Synagogue.

Shabbat is also a family time.  There are many families that come home from other cities to spend time together. All food has to be prepared before the Sabbath, so there no work on these days for the cook of the house. No washing dishes. Even the light in the refrigerator has to turned off.

Not a bad way to become refreshed for the new week.  We could all learn a lesson from their observance of the Sabbath. 

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