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International Student's guide to Shabbat

Shabbat is an evocative subject.

Imagine, it is Friday morning, you are at the shopping complex and there is a hustle bustle. Then just as the sun starts to go down, it turns into a ghost town. It can be a confusing experience. However, as you spend more time in Israel, you watch this happening every week. After a while, when you look, you find that the empty shopping complex actually looks like everyone is out there taking it easy.

For an international student though, Shabbat's first impression might be that it is an inconvenience. You can't buy food or groceries, there is no public transport ,you're advised against use of sound speakers, no biking in certain areas and girls may be asked to cover up their sleeves in some neighborhoods. ‘What is going on?!’ you might think.

Here is what is happening-

Israel observes Shabbat on the seventh day of the week as per the Hebrew calendar. In the Hebrew calendar, a new day is from nightfall to nightfall. The first day of the Israeli week is Sunday, so the seventh day, Shabbat starts on Friday sunset and goes on till Saturday sunset. The sun starts to set earlier in the winter (around 2 pm) and 4 pm in Summers. It is the official day of rest in Judaism owing to the Jewish belief that God created Earth in six days and rested on the seventh, being mentioned as:

“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

Genesis 2:3

So, while you explore your feelings towards Shabbat depending on your own sensibilities, know that there are no Shabbat Laws which make it mandatory or anything. But it might be worth a thought while deciding upon a place to live to consider what your weekends would look like. When choosing a flat/ flat mate you might want to know Shabbat rules of the building and whether your roommate observes it. And for yourself, remember that whether or not you can get food home delivered will also depend on your location.

For example, Tel Aviv is more metropolitan, so there are places to eat and shop that are open, but neighborhoods like Bene Brak will see everyone participating in Shabbat religiously, versus Haifa, which has a different attitude towards it.

‘Doing’ Shabbat

Your Shabat experience will be determined by your preparedness, so:

  1. Keep food at home.

  2. Check beforehand if the places you want to go to are open on Shabbat or ask people about things to do. There are so many natural spots that you can go to and enjoy.

  3. When deciding upon a place to live, consider what your weekends would look like, including whether you will have to follow rules at home because your flat mate observes Shabbat and see if that works for you.

  4. There is this list of things you can do on Shabbat around the country

  5. Definitely try and have the full Shabbat experience(I mean, you’re in Israel, come on). It has a restful vibe and a lot of potential. I spent a lot Shabbat s alone and came across this-

“Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the

conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink”

Everything is Waiting for You, David Whyte

6. Try and attend Shabbat dinners or prepare one yourself

7. Say Shabbat Shalom and take advantage of the excuse to talk to everyone

8. I'll update the list as I think of more things---

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