One thing you will notice if you visit Israel is the frank nature of the locals and the apparent lack of friendliness and small talk. For example, if you walk passed a person on the street, make eye contact, and say “Shalom”, do not expect the pleasantry to be returned. When purchasing food at a store and you say “Todah (Thank You)” when you receive your item, do not expect to hear “You’re welcome”. One Israeli friend of mine even joked about the formal nature that Americans’ have when introducing friends to each other. According to the Israelis here, you do not need to be polite or formal, just begin talking. Unless you are from the Northeast, this comes across as rude behavior to most Americans. After spending some time here, it is easy to adapt to this culture and learn that it is not personal, it is just Israel.
With this said, there are two days every week when this culture lifts and the opposite of the norm takes place. Every Friday and Saturday, people great each other with “Shabbat Shalom” which literally means “Peaceful Sabbath” or you can translate this to say, “Have a nice and peaceful Sabbath”. In stores, on the street, and even on buses people transform into friendly faces and warm greeters. To add to this transformation, around 4:00 PM on Friday everything shuts down. The buses stop running, the stores close, people quit doing housework, and the focus for the next 26 hours is on God and family.
For us, we wake up Saturday morning, pack lunches for the day (which is technically prohibited for Jewish people), and walk to worship at our church. After church, we walk to the park usually with other families, and spend the afternoon making our way home. It is difficult to explain how relaxing this is. To spend the entire day walking, relaxing with family and friends, and whole-heartedly holding to the “do not do chores” rule is a nice way to live. It must be a glimpse of how it was in America before someone decided that we must always work and always be productive. Now it seems that if people are not at work, they are involved in organized sporting events, work around the house, frantically driving around town to run errands, or countless other activities that prevent true rest. I even have friends in America who work at churches and never have a day off. They justify it by saying that they rest when they really need it but is that really the point?
The point of resting on the Sabbath is to avoid all human efforts to produce and get further ahead in life. It is about taking time to reflect on God and the blessings that he gives us. I love the Sabbath and I fear my eventual return to America, where we do not even take off once sacred days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, will produce frustration. I know it is a part of the culture that I want to fight against and do all I can to preserve this age-old tradition of focusing on God and Family. If possible, I recommend re-arranging your lives the best you can to do the same and refocus on what matters.