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Travel in Israel on Shabbat

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Israel on Shabbat

The country of Israel becomes a ghost town every Saturday morning. The streets are devoid of people, most every business is closed down, and all is quiet. Not even taxis are on the prowl.

As I walked with Chaya through the silent thoroughfares of Eilat, I watched with interest as an empty city gave way to an an empty sea, which met an empty, cloudless sky. Chaya and I, along with a few conspicuous non-Jews, were the only things moving, anywhere.

I watched a group of young black African men leaning together against the base of a sign post on a street corner. They were going nowhere and doing nothing. They watched me as I walked by. I watched them as they stood idle in the inactivity of a wakening Sabbath. There is little to do in Saturday morning Israel save for watching what few people you can find watching you.

I have only known streets so silent on a few previous occasions: Tibet immediately before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Morocco during Ramadan, and Ecuador on a curfew enforced census day. The contrast of a bustling street going silent is much like the unexpected blaring of an air raid siren: the silence becomes startling.


The quiet beaches of Eilat, Israel.

Saturday is the Jewish day of rest — and the defining adjective of this day is taken seriously. Everything that can be considered “work” is finished before nightfall on Friday night, as from sundown to sundown the Sabbath is for relaxation, contemplation, prayer, and family. Food is prepared in advance, cars sit stale in their driveways, the lights in homes are set on timers so that switches do not need to be flicked, and the people are left with little else to do but enjoy their families, debate, sing, and make jokes.

Even the tearing of toilet paper on Shabbat is considered too laborious a practice for the steeper slants of Judaism.

It is interesting how vacant a city can become when people do not go to work. It is also interesting how a deeper range of social demographics can be gazed upon when a large segment of a population is stricken from public view. The streets of Eilat belong to the minorities on these Saturday mornings in Israel. Well, to the minorities, tourists, and the odd old couple walking their poodles.


Israeli child playing in the afternoon on Shabbat.

But the streets began to slowly fill with strollers and families going down to the boardwalk. The shops began to open in the early afternoon, and shoppers began to fill them like good shoppers should. People began to repopulate their city. Though a subdued calm hung in the air, and each motion of the street was enacted with an every present hint at restfulness.


Israeli women leisurely shopping on the Jewish day of rest.

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Israel on Shabbat

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Filed under: Celebrations, Israel, Middle East, Religion

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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