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Saturday in Israel

Whether or not businesses are open on the Sabbath is none of the government's business

“What’s your problem? Let the folks have one day off. It’s no big deal.” I heard this and more of the same last Saturday, when I stood on Rothschild Street with the youth of Yesh Atid, trying to enlist more people to protest against the decision by the Minister of Interior to alter the unique lifestyle of the city by prohibiting stores from operating on Saturdays.

I accept the above argument – a day of rest for everyone is not a privilege, but a right our state must do its best to safeguard, as does every modern country. However, I do not accept that an elected official, esteemed though he may be, takes it upon himself to decide which day would be the day of rest for Israeli citizens.

The claim that working on Saturday is a way to exploit disenfranchised employees is both wrong and misleading – it is an opportunity for the employees to earn more than their usual fees for their day’s work. For some this difference may seem negligible, but there are those among us who must count every shekel they earn as well as those they spend. Denying them the option to earn a higher wage is, in fact, a blow to the weakest sectors of our society.

In addition, the elimination of so many workplaces during the weekend would prevent many students the opportunity to study during the week to make a living and support themselves. The Minister of Interior, who previously served as the Minister of Education, is surely aware that many young people support themselves and pay for their tuition by working in temporary positions and that the only free time they have is the weekend.

Other citizens who walked down the boulevard said that I can shop during the week, as they do. That is true as well. I can, but I don’t always find the time to do it and, most of all – I don’t want anyone dictating when I am to shop at my convenience. Many people work long hours during the week, as I do, and not all wish to stand in line at 10 or 11 pm to have their pick at the supermarket. The option to shop during the weekend, as in any other city in the world, grants us all our freedom of choice.

The social fabric in Tel Aviv is composed of Haredi Jews, religious Zionists, Secular Jews and Arabs, a varied society that owes its decades of existence and development to the acceptance of the other and the freedom of each sector to choose its lifestyle without coercion. This ability, as well as other factors, makes Tel Aviv a worldwide symbol, the city of tourism, freedom and choice – the city that never stops.

This is the status quo that the First Hebrew City maintained for decades, and it is only right for it to continue to do so. Each of us will decide when to work, when to rest, and when to shop. Each of us will decide for themselves and no one else.

About the Author
Dr Adi Koll is a member of Knesset for Yesh Atid. She has an LLM and a JSD in law at Columbia University. She worked as a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and was also a member of faculty at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Koll founded the University of the People, which provides free university courses taught by students at Tel Aviv University.