Tel Aviv; the startup capital of the world and Israel’s second largest city. LGBT friendly. Night owl friendly. Overall, a city of sun and fun and after only two weeks in Israel, my roommates and I were itching to visit the beautiful “white city” (named for the worlds largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings).
With a couple hundred shekels in our pockets, we left on an hour long bus ride with sustenance in tow. Hummus, apples, and nuts filled our bags with the hope that our money would be spent on other more important things like alcohol and cab rides. Tel Aviv is known for their amazing night life and ridiculously expensive drinks, but we were prepared and ready to get by on a budget!
The bus ride was comfortably air conditioned with optional charging stations for our highly prized electronics. Surprised? I’m not. Be’er Sheva, along with the rest of Israel, is an extremely modern country despite popular belief. Better than the awesome accommodations was the extremely cute soldier sitting next to my lucky roommate. His looks were one thing, but we couldn’t quite get over the gun strapped across his chest. I’m not sure how long it will take, but I still haven’t gotten used to seeing 18 to 19-year-old men carrying around various artillery in the most public of places.
We made it to our hostel, ready to get changed and head to the beach and after only a 20 minute walk, we were at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The sand beneath our feet was hot and supremely soft. The water sparkled blue and salty in the September sun. That day I crossed another line off my bucket list with my first dip in the Mediterranean. The water was warm like a bath with small, soothing waves that lulled a tired traveller into a late summer haze.
That night we mustered up a dinner consisting of fresh pita, hummus, tomatoes and grapes all of which had been bartered that late afternoon at Carmel Market. Bartering is the Israeli way, especially on Friday night before Shabbat begins. You’ve been considered dooped if you pay full price for ANYTHING.
We left the hostel and spent a night out in Tel Aviv drinking, dancing and plenty of nonlinear conversations that turned out to be more entertaining than any exchange you could have in the light of a sober day. But I digress. Even more substantial than the hazy conversations with foreigners was my experience with the concept of Shabbat, a Jewish observance occurring every week starting from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday. The Sabbath, which means “resting” in Hebrew, requires all Jews to refrain from creating just as G-d did on the seventh day. This refrain can mean a lot of different things to all types of Jews. For some, this means discontinuing use of electricity – no cars, lights or computers. I’ve also come across the term “cell phone Shabbat,” which I consider an “unplugged” version of Sabbath that allows workaholics to stop checking emails, phone calls and texts for 24 hours. Given the six day Israeli work week, I can imagine this is a welcomed break from screens of any kind.
Why talk about Shabbat in the same post as my party trip to Tel Aviv? I suppose it’s the irony of it all. One of the craziest party cities in the Middle East completely shuts down on Saturday for purely religious reasons. Stores stay closed, the streets are fairly empty and public transportation is nonexistent. The market on a Saturday was like a ghost town, with mashed produce and soggy cardboard scattered everywhere. While most secular citizens head to the beach, many practicing Jews head to services where they pray, regroup, eat and rejoice with friends and family. It’s a quaint idea, to completely tune out from the noise of daily life and reflect on the week.
Will I “keep” Shabbat one of these weeks in Israel? Maybe. Will I be affected by Shabbat every week. Definitely. It’s a part of life here. Shabbat is the people and the people are Shabbat. Going to a party city doesn’t change that.
But don’t get me wrong, we had a our fun. We met some interesting people. For instance, we started up a conversation with a couple from New York who made Aliyah (immigration to the land of Israel) a decade ago and they swear they will never move again. Through our small talk, I got connected to someone working in advertising in Tel Aviv. From what I’ve heard and learned, it’s just so Israel. People connect people and that’s all there is to it.
We ate the most flavorful falafel I’ve ever had and better yet, it was only about 2 bucks. We witnessed some of the most eclectic street art I’ve ever seen. The city pulses with culture, food and music. It’s addicting and the more I learn about Israel and its opportunities, the more I consider making Aliyah. It’s just the beginning though. Best not to get wrapped up in the luster of tahini on everything and Israeli soldiers that would make any woman gush.
Looking for a good tune to get you through the week? Here’s one of my favs from the beach. Enjoy!