This piece was written about Shabbos pre-Corona. Until it's safe to do so, please follow all of the directions your program has given regarding going out/staying in for Shabbos. For the next piece in the series, see here.
There’s a classic argument among those taking a gap year in Israel of whether it’s best to explore different places for Shabbos, or stay put in Yeshiva or Seminary as often as possible? Shabbos on your "home base" lets you set your own schedule, prepare for the upcoming week, and learn as much as you want. On the other hand, this year is most likely your only opportunity to really explore and experience the incredible variety of flavors in communities across the country. Which side is right? I strongly feel that you just have to explore the countless once-in-a-lifetime opportunities all over Israel!
Firstly, what makes Shabbos in Israel so special to begin with? There are so many reasons I came up with, but the simple answer is that you have a different mindset. In high school, Shabbos may have felt routine, whether you spent it staying at home or going to a friend’s house. Shabbos may even have felt, dare I say it, boring, 25 hours of "NO's" (Shamor). With this mindset, we are looking forward to return to normal life with social media, work, tv etc.
However, In Israel a person can truly see that it’s not merely about keeping Shabbos, but rather making Shabbos special (Zachor). This means truly enjoying every second to the max without wanting to return to regular life. People are finally able to see Shabbos in a different light and enjoy the whole experience. We start cherishing the gift that we were given of blocking out the distractions from the week and being fully in the moment. It’s an epic feeling when you attempt to give your all to Shabbos and don’t want the vibe of shabbos to end.
Secondly, you start to think about what you want your personal Shabbos to look like for the rest of your life, when you're married and have kiddos of your own. When you run your own house, what will a Shabbos experience look like? When you find yourself at a random Gerrer chassid, kibbutznik, 8th cousin, Rebbe, or friend's apartment, experiencing Shabbos in a totally new way, you look over to your friend and just smile. It’s a Shabbos that opens your eyes up to different types of minhagim and new traditions. Millions of questions will flow through your brain because you are experiencing different people’s Shabbos tables, celebrating in ways that you never had the chance to before. While sitting at the table you think about what you want to take with you for life (and what things are better off staying in this particular home).
My favorite example is the erev Shabbos specially-made potato kugel a friend experienced in Bnei Brak: The family he was staying at, who happened to be third cousins, had everything ready to go by 2 in the afternoon, and called the whole family together for fresh potato kugel to start building excitement for the onset of Shabbos.
So often on these exploratory Shabbatot, you wake up in the morning and are excited to see how the day will play out. Instead of sleeping away the day, like you likely did during high school and might be tempted to do at your Yeshiva or Seminary, you grab a sefer or have a whacky talk with someone you never met before or try a new food - because why not? This Shabbos is supposed to be an opportunity to try something new, so take advantage!
Lastly is the aspect of independence. You start to realize that your Shabbos is dependent upon what you make of it. You have to make the plans and figure out how to get to your destination. This is a great opportunity to start exercising some autonomy and practicing responsibilty. And if you don't plan well and leave too late, or forgot to check when the last bus was... well, that'll probably be a great story once Shabbos is over. There will be epic stories even before Shabbos starts just from traveling. Last year, on the way to my cousins in Raanana for Shabbos, I got stuck in the luggage compartment under the bus, and it drove away with me in it! "Only in Israel" stories will happen all the time; you will ultimately fall in love with the country and want to sit at every single Shabbos table possible. The only question is, are you going to take advantage?
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