Thank God for Sundays
August 24, 2008
If you'd asked me before I went to Jerusalem, I would have said that a two-day weekend is a two-day weekend, regardless of what those two days hold. But it turns out that a Friday-Saturday weekend feels very different to me than a Saturday-Sunday weekend does.
In Jerusalem I could sleep late on Fridays, if I wanted to; it was the first day of the weekend, after all! Though more often I didn't sleep in, because there was so much to accomplish before Shabbat. I would go to Machane Yehuda to buy fruits and vegetables and rugelach, marveling at the crowds and the chaos as I pushed my way past (it seemed) everyone else in town who was trying to do the same thing. Maybe we'd go to the takeout place that's only open on Fridays, next to Beit Avichai, and bring home pre-made food to eat on Saturday. But one way or another, the day always felt frenetic.
On Shabbat itself, I'd wake up early to shower and breakfast before walking to shul, thirty or forty-five minutes on foot (once, early in my visit, a slow limping hour; my feet were blistered from sightseeing and I kept having to stop to replace band-aids.) The davening was often wonderful, and then the afternoon stretched slow and lazy. Once I met a friend at the one place I knew of in West Jerusalem that was actually open on Saturday (the Three Arches café at the YMCA around the orner from our apartment) but since most places were closed, there was little reason to go out. My housemates often napped. I read books, mostly. By evening, the city was waking up again...but I wasn't inclined to go out, since Saturday night was a school night again.
Here in the States, Shabbat comes at the start of the weekend. I have the luxury of a schedule that lets me spend Friday preparing for Shabbat if I need to; then again, my Shabbat observance here also includes cooking and driving, so there's less need to prepare Shabbat's meals in advance. Friday night caps off my week. Saturday morning there's shul, which gives me singing and prayer and community, and then our afternoon activities vary with the season. But one way or another, Shabbat is followed by Sunday: a day to sleep in, have brunch, read choice selections from the New York Times. Soon it'll be football season, so Sunday will be time to ensconce ourselves on the couch with friends. For now, it's a day to work on the house, or explore as-yet-unknown corners of Pittsfield. Either way, it's a day off after Shabbat, not before.
I imagine that if I were really used to the Israeli system, the rhythm of the Friday-Saturday weekend would come to seem normal. But since I was only there for two months, I never stopped feeling a bit jarred when we went straight from havdalah to erev workweek. Today I'm savoring being back in the weekly rhythm I know best: five days of work, Shabbat, and then a day that's completely free.