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Even Secular Tel Aviv Shuts Down For Shabbat. It’s A Powerful Antidote To Consumerism.

There are days when it’s possible to feel that Tel Aviv is just any city anywhere in the world. There are quarters that feel like Paris, and one part of town that reminds me of Milan. But not on Fridays, Tel Aviv becomes less sophisticated urban scene and more a demolition derby.

Picture the rush for the buffet at the last wedding you went to. And imagine Pamplona’s yearly running of the bulls. Now you’ve got it.

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At home Shabbat is something we regulate –or not—for ourselves. Here, the government regulates it for us. The law forbids shopkeepers to open on the Sabbath upon pain of penalty, and most close for the duration at between 1 and 4 pm. Mini markets can stay open, but regardless of one’s degree of orthodoxy, nothing says blasphemy like showing up at Shabbat supper with something from the AM PM convenience store.

During last week’s Friday frenzy I saw a woman dash for the door of my local Supershili. She didn’t make it. Set on a timer, the unyielding door clenched her arm like a Doberman with a rag doll. Inside, the closing up crew glanced her way. They’d seen it all before—last Friday and likely all Fridays before that. She could wait. Or more to the point, she would wait.

A little further up the street, I saw yet another shopper try to wedge herself into a shop although the show shutting door left her barely an inch to squeeze through. By setting her foot parallel to the door jamb, she’d managed to get that much of herself inside when a security guard came out a side entrance, grabbed her by the coat collar, lifted her off the ground and set her down a yard from the store.

If this were the only side of Shabbat, you were to see in Israel, you’d have reason to wonder why would want to live in a place where they’re forced to observe it.

But I’ve come to learn that degrees of piety aside, Shabbat offers a chance to shake what I’ve come to consider the Curse of Convenience, to see that convenience comes at the expense of so much that elevates us as a species and distinguishes us as individuals. For the sake of convenience, we have allowed ourselves to be defined, and often come to define ourselves, by our habits as consumers—not just what we buy, but when, where and how.

Deprived of the chance to shop on Shabbat — Israelis live through the day. The tempo of life in my neighborhood slows to the pace of parents patiently walking alongside their toddler, holding her hand and stopping to examine whatever catches her eye. It takes on the temperament of cafes full of families and friends meeting over mezze, pita and shakshuka.

It’s a time to read, to plan, and most important to be — and to be someone other than a consumer.

It’s a day to celebrate the simple richness in life that, if there were not such a day, we might not otherwise know.

Diana Shaw Clark is a writer and activist in Washington, DC. She serves on the Forward Advisory Committee.

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