The First Shabbat

Shabbat in Jerusalem is unlike Shabbat in any other place on earth.  One of the reasons that we chose Jerusalem over Tel Aviv or Haifa as our sabbatical location was because we wanted to give our children the experience of Jerusalem Shabbatot. Everything feels different in the city on Shabbat – there is very little traffic, the stores are shuttered, and nobody is rushing.  We wanted them to know that the communal feeling of Shabbat can be achieved not only at Jewish summer camp, but in an all encompassing way in this sacred city.

For our first Shabbat we began with a wonderful Shabbat dinner at the home of friends from my student days at Hebrew University in the late 90s.  It is terrific each time I come back to Israel to connect with them and for us to encounter one another as our families are growing.

We spent Shabbat morning at the Shira Hadasha minyan, which is just around the corner from our apartment.  Shira Hadasha is an orthodox congregation that pushes the boundaries to allow as much female participation and leadership as is halachically possible.  They call themselves an “orthodox-feminist” minyan.  There is a mechitza (divider), but it is slid open whenever daveninig is suspended for announcements, a d’var torah, etc. Women lead the brachot for an aliyah, a woman was the gabai’it, and a woman read the haftarah.  While I am myself a strong advocate for egalitarian Judaism, I do applaud the leaders of this minyan for their courage in taking these steps within an orthodox framework.

When Israelis from outside Jerusalem talk about the city, they often wince at the perception of it being an ultra-orthodox stranglehold.  There is certainly a strong hareidi presence in the city and religious coercion issues that are annoying at best and infuriating at worst.  But there are also many who are working to bring progressive Jewish life into Jerusalem (like the Shira Hadasha minyan) and those who are trying to make sure that Jerusalem is a city that can be a home for Jews of every persuasion.

As we walked around on Shabbat afternoon, we stumbled upon the new-ish Tachana HaRishona – The “First Station,” which is an old railroad station that has been transformed into a terrific open market with restaurants, shops, a performance stage, and children’s attractions.  It was full of people enjoying Shabbat in their own way.  I hadn’t expected this kind of a secular Shabbat scene in Jerusalem and I was really glad to see that the city had made room for people of all types of observance to enjoy Shabbat.

Below is a video of a flash dance mob at the Tachana HaRishona from a few weeks ago.  Enjoy!