Israel should not be afraid of the “S” word

I know what some of you might be thinking. This is going to be a rant in favor of Settlements. Actually, it is going to be a rant in favor of Israel making Sundays an official second day off, in addition to the current Israeli weekend schedule.

I can already hear all the economists screaming: let Israelis work a three day week before we go to a four day week! What about the Muslims? Won’t they feel disenfranchised if Fridays are not a day off? And what about the frum Jews? Why lead people to being mechalel Shabbat if they have to work Fridays? Why follow the pattern of the galut? We have Shabbat and that is enough.

And then I think of the starry eyed looks of all the olim I know that I have suggested this to. They get misty eyed when they think of the prospects of sleeping late on a Sunday morning after post Shabbat late nights on the town; the ability to have a real weekend that includes beach time and time to visit friends and family. It makes everyone salivate. This is a suggestion that has come before Knesset committees and different proposals have been suggested but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere. After all, how can Israel afford to give off Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays?

These are all valid concerns but I think the experience of Jews in America can shed some interesting light. For example, even in New York, there is no question that if you ask any observant Jew what one of the most harrowing experiences is, it is explaining to bosses that yes, the Sabbath does start as early as 4:10pm and yes, Shemini Azeret really is a holiday. That should not be a problem that anybody in Israel should face.

But how then to satisfy everyone’s needs, from frum Jews to Muslims to economists? And here we can follow suit from how some NY-based businesses operate in the summer. They let out as early as 12 noon to allow time for people to travel to the Hamptons or Jersey Shore. But that is only from Memorial Day through labor Day. The rest of the time people work long hours, including on Fridays. And for frum Jews whose offices won’t let out early on Friday (escpecially in the winter), how do they function? They leave work early and make up the time. I know so many lawyers and doctors and wealth management people who observe Shabbat but either come in on Sunday or somehow make up the time.

For it to work in Israel, IMHO, here is a suggestion. The business day on Fridays should end at 1PM (think of all the yeshivot in the diaspora that have early Friday dismissal) in the winter and 3PM in the summer. If Muslims or Jews want the want the whole day off, gezunteheit. However, that would necessitate their working on Sundays. (On the other hand, having Sundays off would be a boon for the Christian community in Israel). Schools should dismiss on Fridays at 1PM and be closed on Saturdays and Sunday. Extend the work and school day by one hour Mondays through Thursdays and workers and students can make up the lost time. Keep the status quo re no public transportation on Shabbat as well as blue laws for businesses that heretefore have been closed on Saturday. But with people having a day off on Sunday and the buses running, then those without cars can get to the beaches, the malls and restaurants, and no one will complain about Shabbat violations.

Just by improving the lot of people without cars or those who are Shomer Shabbat who want to enjoy leisure time activities, we should we say dayenu. Just for lessening the fighting over breaking the status quo, dayenu. Just for lessening pressure for stores to open on Shabbat because they will have increased traffic all day long on Sunday, dayenu.

I can just see it now. Some Israeli entrepreneur will open a Zabars-like store on Sheinkin Street and all the transplanted olim (and probably a new surge of olim, now that they can count on a real weekend if they move to Israel) will find tears welling up in their eyes as they witness long lines on Sunday AM in the smoked fish and bagel sections, with fights breaking out over who gets served first.

Oh it is good to dream! Maybe it can actually come true!

About the Author
Dr. Adena Berkowitz is co-founder/Scholar in Residence of Kol HaNeshamah NYC, an outreach congregation dedicated to reenergizing the spiritual life of affiliated and not yet affiliated Jews. With backgrounds in law and Jewish Studies from Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School and the Jewish Theological Seminary, she is co-author of Shaarei Simcha, a mini prayerbook, the first liturgical work in modern times written by Orthodox women. She is also a visiting lecturer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.