14 Apr What do the Locals do on Shabbat?
We’re going to provide you with a brief overview of Shabbat as well as looking at what the locals do on this special day, focused mainly on the Tel Aviv area.
For those of you who are not Israeli or Jewish, Shabbat is a period that can really take you by surprise when you come and visit Israel, especially as most tourists will choose Tel Aviv as their main destination when they come to Israel. Worldwide Tel Aviv is often thought of as a westernized country where anything goes. The idea that religious guidelines are still an integral and respected part of society of this metropolitan city certainly can stop you in your tracks, I know it did for me, coming from Dublin, Ireland where the equivalent of Shabbat over there is Sunday, but long has the religious value of a day of rest been practiced there, for many Sunday is much like any other day and as a traveler to Ireland it’s not exactly something you have to take into consideration.
In Israel on the other hand Shabbat is something you are going to want to have some understanding of, as if you don’t you will find yourself frustrated at the fact you can’t go shopping for new clothes on any day you please and you’ll be left stumped by the fact you didn’t buy what you needed from the grocery store on Friday afternoon and have to wait for Shabbat to end.
Initially, I felt that a progressive country that enforced this law was being ridiculous, but I’ve come to value it and appreciate it. For five main reasons:
- It gives your week structure
- It makes the day more special and relaxed
- It causes you to think ahead, making you more efficient in your decision-making
- It encourages you to take a day off once a week, which, more often than not is a good thing
- It gives you space to dedicate your time and energy to loved ones and to yourself
What do you need to know about Shabbat?
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. It starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday evening when the new week begins (Times vary throughout the year).
How someone defines their Jewish identity will determine what their weekly routines are, but in general, it is a couple of days off for the people and is often celebrated on Friday with a Shabbat dinner. Some people take it as a ceremonial period, whereas the more secular people just see it as a relaxed couple of days with the inclusion of some family time.
What’s Open on Shabbat in Israel?
Not everything is closed on Shabbat, luckily many restaurants, cafes, and convenience shops remain open, not all of them but some of them, so the idea of popping out for a coffee is not entirely out of the question, depending on where you are based in Israel.
So now that I’ve given you the briefest introduction to Shabbat EVER! it’s time to look at what the locals do on Shabbat and in turn what you can do also to make the most out of this awesome time.
What do the Locals do on Shabbat?
Day at the Park
Going to a park is always a great option and if you’re in Tel Aviv there really is no better park to go to then Park Hayarkon. It is a beautiful long stretch of a park, with a small enclosed animal sanctuary filled with beautiful, friendly animals. Boat hire is also available, including peddle boats, motor boats and canoes. The park provides you with a great opportunity to take many great pictures of your trip and people like to spend the day there having a picnic, for which there is plenty of grass space and picnic table areas. With the sun shining you can easily spend an entire day there and forget where the time went.
Another great park you might want to take note of is the Edith Wolfson Park, in Tel Aviv where the Kikar Levana sculpture sits atop a small hill. The sculpture’s name means White Square. It is located at the highest point in Tel Aviv where the city meets nearby Givatayim. It was created by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, who was born in Tel Aviv on December 7, 1930. This interactive sculpture is a one off experience.
Dani Karavan also designed Habima Square, not exactly a park, but a great place to hang out, you will love the sunken garden, the kids certainly do.
Be a Beach Bum
If you don’t know where the beach is, just listen and follow the noise, listen out for the sound of the constant tock tuck, tock tuck, tock tuck. No this isn’t a giant broken clock, this is the cacophony of sounds that comes from countless people at Tel Aviv’s beaches playing a game better known by the locals as Matkot. A game involving two wooden paddles and an unsuspecting rubber ball, the aim of the game is to volley the ball to one another as aggressively as humanely possibly (all in good spirits). Whether it’s the beating of the rubber ball or the sound the game makes I don’t know but this game is surprisingly addictive to play and even just to watch.
If bashing a ball isn’t your thing, you can always catch the locals in a display of folk dancing as they line up in a large group and follow a dance routine. This display always attracts a crowd of people who are just mesmerized by what they are seeing. It’s not that they’ve never seen someone dance before it’s more about the fact you just can’t believe it’s happening and it’s such an uplifting, joyful experience. This happens every week, along the promenade of the beach near the Sheraton hotel in Tel Aviv. You need to see this!
WATCH >>> Israeli folklore dance Gordon Beach Tel Aviv
Of course, if you want the beach is also available for traditional use, such as sunbathing and swimming. Perhaps time your trip to the beach so that you get to watch the sunset.
If you’re staying in Neve Tzedek or just want to check it out, do so. Neve Tzdek is one of Tel Aviv’s most famous neighborhoods and has become the fashionable place to hang out. Filled with renovated buildings, compelling small streets and restaurants and cafes, this place is certainly a great location to spend your day. The world renowned Israeli actress Gal Gadot (Played Wonder Woman in the box office hit Superman V Batman movie) used to own a hotel there with her husband, who they sold to business tycoon Roman Abramovich (Owner of London based, Chelsea Football Club) for $26 million. (Image right, Gal Gadot. Credit: By Gage Skidmore CC BY 2.0)
A notable restaurant in Neve Tzdek is Nanuchka (Georgian Restaurant) and if you really want to know what the locals do, they are known to get happy (tipsy) and dance on top of the bar there. I did it and it was AWESOME, I have a picture to prove it.
HaTachana – The Old Railway Station
Right next to Neve Tzdek is HaTachana – The Old Railway Station. This is a beautifully renovated site with excellent design details, boutique shops, a bookstore and cafes and restaurants. Many people chose this as a place to take wedding photos as they pose beside historic train carts and railway lines. It is a small place but definitely worth a visit. The atmosphere is magical and as you enter, there is a musician playing the most wonderful music on what I would call a highly decorated flute, but I’m sure it has a proper name.
Sarona, seems to be based on the model of the HaTachana – The Old Railway Station, except it’s much bigger and more dynamic with modern planning techniques taking place as they have created an incredible diverse and functional public space with a high class indoor market at the back of it, where you will be delighted with perfect gift ideas for when you return from your travels.
Insider Tip: There is shop in the market run by a German company called Vom Pass, they sell the most unique range, of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and hard spirits you will ever experience. Go in for a cheeky taste test and try everything you can. If you think you are one of those people who won’t buy something, you will buy something here. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! Also one of the stalls in the market sells the best chai latte you will ever have in your life, based on Almond Milk.
Take a Day Trip
Many of us fall into the trap of making Tel Aviv our comfort zone, after all why would you leave Tel Aviv it has everything. This is not true and your vacation will be wasted if you just spend it in Tel Aviv. Israel has so many beautiful natural sites to visit, from the desert lands in the south to the lush mountains of the north. Make a day of it, choose a destination and go. Breath fresh air, pick fresh fruit, take a hike embrace the peace and serenity that comes with leaving the big city. (Image right, Me on a day trip to the Dead Sea, June 16 2010)
The structure and planning of Tel Aviv is pretty much based on its main arterial boulevards, each one lined with a bicycle lane, cafes and some even have juice bars. The boulevard you want to watch out for is Rothschild Boulevard, this is perhaps the most highly decorated out of all the boulevards with the best scenery and selection of restaurants and cafes on either side of it.
Insider Tip: Go to Legenda Ice Cream and get the frozen yogurt with your selection of toppings, go eat it on the boulevard and enjoy some quality people watching.
It’s a hot day in Tel Aviv and we’re enjoying this soy frozen yogurt from #legenda A photo posted by Sea N’ Rent – Unlock TLV (@seanrent_unlocktelaviv) on
Have a Shabbat Meet-up
If you’re looking for an authentic, yet unique Shabbat experience, there is a group run by Gal Friedman called ShabbaTLV.
ShabbaTLV is a meeting of wine, art, and music for the Sabbath. Once a month, Israelis’ young secular Jewish culture is celebrated with a modern and up-to-date Shabbat celebration. The event includes songs, stories, dancing and singing for Shabbat, accompanied by wine, beer and other treats that will be part of the experience. ShabbaTLV hosts intellectuals and artists who will share their knowledge and experience with the participants.
While ShabbaTLV appears to be taking a break from their activities you can keep up to date with them by liking them on Facebook.
Jaffa – The Old City
Perhaps one of the best walking experiences you can take on Shabbat is a perambulation through Jaffa – The Old City. The structure of this place just oozes character and historical value, it truly is a magical experience (especially at night when it is lit up), the sense of place here is like no other and as a major tourist sight it is also full of bars, cafes and restaurants. (Image right, Jaffa Old City. Image credit: israeltourism, CC BY 2.0)
Tel Aviv New Port
While many things will be closed on Shabbat, one thing you can be sure will be open is the awesome views of the Mediterranean sea. In terms of a viewing platform you are spoilt for choice as Tel Aviv has a host of beaches you can choose from, but if you want something a bit more dynamic than a sandy beach, take a trip to the New Port in Tel Aviv.
The New Port was renovated by Mayslits Kassif Architects in 2008, the project received the honorable award of the Best Design of an Outdoor public space in Europe. This giant decked area is interwoven with waves of wood, contouring like hills, making for a unique spatial and visual experience. The New Port is lined with bars and restaurants, and if you’re lucky you may see someone having their wedding photos taken there.
WATCH >>> Shabbat on the beach Tel Aviv 2016
Chilling like a true Tel Avivian
This article is about what the locals do on Shabbat, and if you really want to chill out like a local on Shabbat meandering throughout Tel Aviv, sitting on the park benches and soaking up the chill vibe is where it’s at. Tel Aviv is a great city any day of the week, but it does become that little bit extra special when it’s calmed down, the traffic has eased off, the daily hustle and bustle has died down and it’s just you, your thoughts and Tel Aviv.
Shabbat for many can be and is a wonderful time of the week, as long as you know what you’re doing and know what to expect. Hopefully this overview of what the locals do on Shabbat will help you make the right decisions to make the best out of your Shabbat and contribute to making your time in Israel memorable and beautiful. Whichever way you plan to spend your Shabbat, make sure you stay in a great place on Tel Aviv.
What will you be doing for your next Shabbat experience?
Article by Scott D. Renwick
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