The thing I missed most about American life, the summer I was living in Jerusalem, was Sundays. (The thing I missed second-most was American-style coffee, which is to say, coffee made in a drip coffeepot. I never came to be a fan of Nescafé -- though I'm entertained by Shoshana Kordova's deconstruction of the brand-name into the Hebrew for "miracle coffee.")
The Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday, which makes preparing for Shabbat much easier -- you have all day on Friday to do your shopping or cooking, get the house ready, and be in a position to be wholly relaxed and celebratory by the time the sun goes down on Friday night. It's an awesome luxury on a spiritual level. And it's also a practical necessity, since if you're in West Jerusalem -- which is where I was -- pretty much everything is closed on Saturdays, in deference to Shabbat. But by the time Shabbat is over, on Saturday night, there isn't much time for anything -- and first thing on Sunday morning, the work-week starts again.
I was only there for a summer. It wasn't long enough to adjust to this uniquely Israeli rhythm. I loved being in a place where Shabbat was built into the fabric of weekly life, and I loved the luxury of getting Fridays off to prepare for Shabbat -- but I always felt strangely cheated on Saturday night when it came time to go to bed early, and on Sunday mornings it was always a struggle to drag myself out of bed to go to school. Something in me yearned for the lazy experience of a morning I could use to do whatever I wanted. I could sleep in and laze around on Saturdays, if I wanted to -- but there were so many different synagogues and minyanim in Jerusalem where I wanted to daven, so Shabbat mornings usually meant waking up early and setting forth with my map and a pair of good walking sandals to find a new community with which to pray.
That whole summer when I was living abroad, I really missed lazy Sundays of reading the New York Times and drinking giant bowls of coffee with milk. And I missed the luxury of having a day to do whatever I pleased after the experience of Shabbat. There's something different about having the day of relaxation after Shabbat, rather than before -- since on Fridays, knowing that Shabbat was coming, I tended to be running around like crazy to arrange for everything before the stores closed.
Sundays have changed since we had a kid. Gone are the days of sleeping until 10 or 11am and then settling in to the couch with the Sunday Times until early afternoon! These days if we get to sleep until 7, that's a rare gift. And the mornings are likelier to include Kai-Lan cartoons and playing with the marble run toy than reading the Times. (The giant cups of American-style brewed coffee are, fortunately, still available.) But I'm still grateful for the simple pleasure of this weekly day of downtime -- a kind of downtime that's different from Shabbat, but still sweet.
I sat down to write a little bit this morning, and this was the natural subject which came to me -- though once I'd drafted the post, I suspected I might have written about it before. Sure enough, I had: Thank God for Sundays, 2008.