As followers of Israel know, today was election day. Unlike in the United States, election days at the national level are also national semi-holidays. This means there is no school, most people don’t go to work, and the malls are packed. While I have never heard the reason why the country takes the day off, I suspect Israel has higher voter turnout than America. (Once you’ve removed school and work, where’s the excuse not to vote?)
Today friends from Beit Shemesh drove up to Efrat to visit us. We had a gorgeous spread of pancakes, French toast, bourekas (mashed potato in puff pastry), vegetarian sausage patties, fruit, and a pastry with vanilla custard and chocolate chips for dessert (as if our brunch wasn’t sweet enough). We caught up on the last six months since the Crunch family moved, Peach enjoyed a reunion with her former best friend, and a good time was had by all.
Israel doesn’t have Sunday, so this type of social interaction is rare. Here in Israel, wistful immigrants call Sunday “Shabbat sheni she’ba’galut” (second Sabbath in the Diaspora). Sabbath-observant Jews in the Diaspora have a great luxury of having Saturday sacred, but Sunday free to see movies, visit with friends, go on outings, travel, shop–all of the things Israelis can’t do. In Israel, Friday is a day when people generally don’t work, but spend the day shopping, cooking, cleaning, and preparing for Shabbat. Shabbat is, well, Shabbat. And on Sunday, bright and early, we’re up and out of the house for the new week.
A columnist made the observation a couple of years ago (I believe it was Daniel Gordis) that Israel needs a Sunday to improve relations between religious and non-religious Israelis. Without a neutral day, there is almost no opportunity for them to socialize. I know this to be true, since I have secular friends in Tel Aviv whom I haven’t seen since we made aliyah. I suppose we could if we all took the day off work, kept our kids out of school, and met up at the beach where they and we could all get the food we wanted (they their not-necessarily-kosher salads and sandwiches, and our kids their ice cream from the ubiquitous Strauss dairy freezers). But so far, that hasn’t happened.
I’d take a Sunday anytime for seeing our religious friends, too. Families could get together without cutting into Shabbat preparation time on Friday mornings. We could take our children to the dozens of amazing touristy things which are a short drive from our house without taking them out of school to do it. We could hold simchas (like weddings and bnei mitzvah parties) sometime other than weekday nights. Chol haMoed (the days between the bracketing holidays of Sukkot and Pesach) is a time when many working parents take time off and travel with their families, but Shabbat usually cuts into that, and given that there were 18 festive meals to prepare for the Tishrei holidays this past year, there ain’t a lotta time for seeing the sights even then.
Peach told me tonight how she misses America. While I’m much happier living here in Israel than I ever was living in the United States, I do love our visits there and look forward to our next one. Ahh, Sunday.