By: Jessica Hochstadt, MS
Growing up in the Diaspora, you are taught that Israel is the holiest place in the world. You come to create this mental image of a land brimming with Torah study and, yes…Israelites. You imagine women covered from head to toe, and not a word of ill-will spoken between neighbors. You picture every window bright with the candles from the chanukiah on Chanukah, and every person kissing the mezuzah upon entering a doorway.
This is not entirely the case in all parts of Israel. In fact, if you pick up any newspaper, you will see that Israel is actually quite a controversial homeland. No two Israelis have the same opinions as the next, especially regarding religion. Not everyone is religious in Israel.
There is one thing that almost everyone in Israel does though, regardless of religious status. On Fridays and Saturdays, everyone will wish you a “Shabbat Shalom.” They will tell you “Shabbat Shalom” when you pay for your groceries on Friday morning before the market closes. They will say “Shabbat Shalom” when they shove past you on the crowded streets. They will introduce you to their distant relatives, who will invite you to Shabbat dinner even though it is the first time you met, and then give you a hug and kiss after you decline the invitation, with a meaningful “Shabbat Shalom.” The cab drivers will wish you a “Shabbat Shalom” as you exit their cabs without giving them a sufficient tip (because tipping a cab driver is a foreign concept here).
I went to a spinning class on a Friday morning. My instructor was a female clad in tight leggings and a sports bra. Rather than sitting on the bike and spinning with the class, she danced in the middle of the room to the techno music playing, while barking orders at us. “Increase your resistance!” “Keep you backs straight!” About every third song, she would stop dancing and raise her hands and face to the ceiling with a huge smile. “SHABBAT SHALOM,” she yells. Even though my quads ache and I have sweat dripping from every part of my body, this always makes me smile.
Shabbat Shalom—this might be the one thing Israelis agree on. They don’t all celebrate or observe Shabbat. They don’t even all know the Shabbat prayers. But they will all, without a doubt, wish you a Shabbat Shalom wherever you are in the land. This is when you know you are in Israel.