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Shabbos in Jerusalem

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HANNAH MIDZUK

But, as soon as the twenty-five-hour hiatus is up, the clock begins ticking once again, and the chaos of the week resumes – as if Shabbos didn’t even pay us a visit.

In Jerusalem, however, Shabbos isn’t merely an interruption; it’s the climax of the week. Living in Israel for the year, I can feel it. I sense the magnificence of Shabbos approaching when the Jerusalem Central Bus Station is abuzz with people rushing to get to their destinations on a Friday afternoon. I begin to smell the familiar aroma of fresh challot rising out the windows of every bakery in Shuk Machane Yehuda. And I hear the Shabbos songs begin to echo through the walls of the Old City.

This year, I have had the greatest privilege of having the most popular synagogue in my backyard – the Western Wall. People from all over the country and around the world flock towards this sacred site to witness for themselves the welcoming of the splendour of Shabbos. To be there for Kabbalat Shabbat is to feel a part of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel). Soldiers holding M16s, men in striemels (fur hats), women in sheitels, tourists with Nikon cameras, children carrying siddurim can all be heard singing “Am Yisrael Chai” together as one.

Every uplifting Friday night, Tefillah is joined by hundreds of feet that are swept away in dance. Throughout the evening, the sweet melodies of zemirot (hymns) and tisches (informal Shabbos gatherings) emerge from houses alive in the pure joy and happiness of this holy day.

Saturdays are no different. Many Israeli communities, rather than sitting silently and unamused while listening to a select few in the choir, are united in song under a single voice. The tunes are upbeat and vibrant, and they never fail to awaken my soul from the sleep of the week. Being in Israel means Jews of all ages are found in shul praying to G-d – in their mother tongue – singing, feeling, and deeply understanding every word.

The serenity of the day is overwhelming, especially when visiting religious yeshuvim (settlements) such as Alon Shvut. Streets become a playground on Shabbos. Young toddlers are free to run around outside, without a hint of fear of a car speeding past. Groups of teenagers are scattered around playfully on the same roads, gathering for late night catch ups with their neighbours and childhood friends.

As Shabbos begins to draw to a close, its holiness is suspended in the Israeli air for just a short while longer. Many people cling onto the sweet familiar taste of the day by delaying Havdallah for just a few extra minutes.

Once the day is up, the week slowly begins to shift into gear. The country begins to count day one since the previous Shabbat. Every day of the next week is used to prepare for the following “day seven”.

In Israel on Shabbat, I no longer feel like an outsider, one of the few (in South Africa) who choose to abstain from the physical world for a day. Here, I am included as a part of the people, religious or secular, who spend a full twenty-five hours in reflection, appreciation, and connection.

  • Hannah Midzuk matriculated last year, and is in Israel this year on Bnei Akiva’s MTA programme, a modern orthodox post-matric year in Israel spent learning, touring, and mastering leadership skills.

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