Walking through Machne Yehuda – the big open-air market in Jerusalem- on Thursday night, I ran into friends who were the previous tenants of my apartment in the heart of Jerusalem. We were comparingnotes on the quirks of the apartment and how best to maximize the space (I affectionately call this apartment the hobbit home) when we got to the topic of the bodega next door. She couldn’t help but laugh and switch into English to explain:
“Did you see the sign? It says 24/6,” she laughed. “That’s Israel, 24/6”.
In a lot of ways she is right. Sunday through Thursday the market is bustling with people and vendors screaming and bargaining, the streets are clogged with buses and cars, the new train is packed tighter than the New York City subway, and tourists, locals, and protestors alike take to the streets. Over the last two weeks since I returned to Israel, that 24/6 has been packed with constant activity and news worthy events.
After five years of captivity, Gilad Shalit has come home to Israel. Last Tuesday, I walked past the Prime Minister’s house and saw them taking down the tent that has represented the constant battle to bring him home.
Students and Israeli citizens have taken to the streets to fight against the rising cost of living here in Israel. I have seen the tents set up in Gan Sacher. Families with children and old couples opting to live in a tent because they cannot afford the rising price of homes in Jerusalem. I went to a student protest about the price and inaccessibility of the new bus and train payment system in front of the Central Bus Station.
This is to say nothing of the people who continue to live their normal lives. They go to work or school in the morning and come home at night. It is the same as any other city in the world with one unique difference: despite everything else that is going on, as Friday draws to a close and the sun begins to set the entire country begins to get a little quieter. The buses stop running and the cars stop honking, the market shops close and the men hocking their wares stop shouting, people travel home to see family or cook dinner with friends and the frenetic pace of life in Jerusalem calms down even if its just for 24 hours. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or secular, Jewish or not, Friday night to Saturday night the country is calm.
This is what I love about Israel. The true weekend – the option to just unplug the computer, take a deep breath, unwind, reflect on the week, and prepare to move forward. Then Saturday night comes, stores re-open, buses and cars flood the street with a cacophony of honks and motors, people push and shove along the sidewalks, and the 24/6 starts all over again.