After our lunch at the market, the sun began to go down. When the sun sets on Jerusalem on Friday nights, the city essentially goes to sleep. The people don't, but the city as an institution rests; it's the observance of Shabbat, or the day of rest. For Christians, the day of rest is Sunday. For Muslims, it's Friday.
A cool linguistic tangent about Arabic--the days of the week in Arabic recognize the label of "Shabbat" for Saturday. In Arabic, Saturday is called "يوم السبت" or "yom al-sabt" in transliteration. "Yom" means "day," and "al-sabt" is the label for Saturday. "Sabt" sounds like "Shabbat," and it is the name for Saturday as a reference to the Jewish community that observes Shabbat on Saturdays.
The rest of the days of the week in Arabic are also very interesting. The first day of the week is Sunday, and its name is "yom al-'aHad," which refers to the word for "one": "waaHid." Monday's name, "yom al-ithnayn," is in reference to the number two: "ithnayn." This pattern continues with the words for Tuesday (three), Wednesday (four), and Thursday (five). However, Friday is different. The word for Friday is "yom al-jumea," or "يوم الجمعة."
As mentioned previously, Friday is the day of rest and gathering for Muslims. At a mosque that we went to in Haifa, we learned that when Muslims pray, they always gather as a group to pray; the movements of prayer are in-sync with each other and beautiful, as if it seemed to be the motions of the waves on the ocean.
In Arabic, nouns are made from roots that consist of three letters. Every noun that shares the same three roots have meanings that trace back to a central theme; for example, the nouns that derive from ك-ت-ب, or k-t-b, have meanings that go along the lines of "writing." "Kitaab" means "book," while "muktaba" means library; "muktab" means office, which is a place where people write, and "kaatib" means writer.
The word for Friday, "يوم الجمعة," has the three root letters "ج-م-ع" or "jiim-miim-ayn." Other words that are derived from this root pattern are "mosque" ("جامع" or "jaami3a"), "university" ("جامعة" or "jaamie3at"), "all" ("جميع" or "jamee3a") and "to collect" ("جمع" or "jam3a"), to name a few. All of these have to do with gathering--students gather at a university, observers gather at a mosque, and a collection of things are gathered.
The reason the word for Friday also uses this root is because Friday is one of the most important days for Muslims to gather and pray together (of course, all days are important for prayer for those who follow religion). Arabs congregate for family visits on Friday as well, and thus, Friday is named accordingly.
I hope you found that tangent as fascinating as I did! We are back to Shabbat in Jerusalem, where observant Jews are not allowed to do work. What does "not doing work" mean? A circuit cannot be completed. For example, elevator buttons cannot be pressed, because when the button is pressed, an electrical circuit is completed.
At our hotel, there was an elevator that became a "Shabbat elevator" on Friday night. This meant that no buttons were able to be pressed; instead, the elevator automatically stopped at every floor. It was a slow process to ride that elevator, but it did follow the rules of Shabbat.
On Friday morning at the hotel breakfast, there was a coffee machine where guests could choose for a latte, espresso, cappuccino, or Americano to be made. On Saturday morning, the coffee machine was turned off and covered by a blanket. For those coffee addicts, though, there was a pot of Americano.
At first, I was very confused by how this coffee was made without doing "work." I learned that the hot water used to make the coffee was actually boiled the day before, on Friday before the sun had set. The boiled water would be kept in a thermos-like container (much like the kind my family uses in China to make tea at a minute's notice) overnight, and it would be used to make coffee with pre-ground beans for Saturday morning hotel guests.
One person in our group of students argued that even moving a chair across the carpet is completing a circuit, if we're speaking in terms of physics--we laughed this off as a joke and informally established that they probably meant ~electrical~ circuits cannot be completed on Shabbat. Most observant Jews will not use their phone or drive on Shabbat, and all the public transportation in Jerusalem is not in use either.
Since Tel Aviv is a more secular (and less religiously observant) city than Jerusalem, Shabbat there is very different than Shabbat in Jerusalem. But we'll get there later.
In Jerusalem, restaurants and stores close at sundown on Friday and don't reopen until after sundown on Saturday. When we were at the market for lunch on Friday, we noticed that Jews were frantically gathering groceries--stocking up for the next day, but more importantly, stocking up for Shabbat dinner.
By 2 or 3pm, the energy surround the markets and stores had died down; since the sun sets between 4 and 5pm, people were already getting ready for their 25-26 hours of rest.
Every Friday night in Jerusalem, families gather for Shabbat dinner, which is an important occasion that happens every week. There is something beautiful and ritualistic about the way Shabbat dinner is carried out.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a Shabbat dinner at the house of our guide's friend; we arrived at the Amit family house by walking that night, as our bus driver had gone home to observe Shabbat--and we couldn't use the bus on Shabbat!
We started dinner by reciting prayer--the blessing over wine, which is called Kiddush. It was presented, almost as if singing a hymn, in Hebrew. After it was finished, we washed our hands in the traditional manner and then broke bread with each other at the table.
We were then served some delicious, homemade Israeli food, including couscous, hummus, and chicken. No one used their phones a single time--both out of respect for not using technology and for being fully present at dinner instead of distracted by social media.
At dinner, we went around and introduced ourselves to the host family--and vice versa. The family had many sons, but only one daughter. The mom of the family was originally South America, but she and her husband--the dad of the Amit family--made Aliyah to Israel to raise their children. Their daughter, Leya, was sitting at dinner with us; she had previously studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and gotten her first degree there.
Some of her brothers were in the IDF at the time, and the others had already served their time (all Israeli citizens, no matter what gender, are required to serve in the IDF--girls for at least two years, boys for at least three--upon turning 18 and graduating high school, though there are other options (like community service) to accommodate for people with disabilities/other conditions, or who choose to not join the army in some day). Leya had chosen community service. She plans on going to medical school in the future, and she was currently studying for the MCAT.
Once we learned about our host family, it was our turn to talk. At this point, our group had not really gotten to know each other very well yet, so this introduction helped us just as much as it helped the host family. Keep in mind that we've only been there for a little over 24 hours, though it's already felt like forever.
We were asked "who are you?" by our host family, and each student spoke individually about themselves for a few minutes. It really allowed our group to break the ice with each other, as I learned something new about every person.
Even for a place as diverse as Berkeley, our group was special--it was a slice of the pie that was more diverse than I had ever seen before. We came from all different walks of life. One Caucasian girl had been born in Indonesia and raised their for the first part of her life, which is something I never could have known just by looking at her.
One guy was half Indian and half Jewish-German and had spent years of his life living in India. Another girl, who was Indian as well, had actually been brought to India to live and study there by her parents--as a surprise! She didn't know she was there to stay until she had gotten there already, which was hard at first but ultimately shaped the way she is today.
That was just a few examples of the amazing stories I heard that night, and thanks to this introduction around the dinner table, I began to really start knowing the genuine, curious, and strong people who were with me--for which I am incredibly grateful.
The next morning, while the Jewish sector of Jerusalem was at rest, we explored the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City. Stay tuned, as we will cover that in the next section!