In Israel, we don’t have Sundays. This isn’t to say that Sunday doesn’t appear on the calendar; but it’s a work day, a full blown-make-a-deposit in the bank and what-time-is-your-doctor’s appointment kind of day. When we Westerners complain about this and extol the virtues of a bagel-and-lox kind of Sunday followed by lolling around, hitting some flea-markets, barbecuing with friends and catching a ball-game, the sabra retort usually is, “That’s why we have Fridays!”
For many Israelis, Friday is a day for mall-crawling and cafe brunches. Schools operate half days so couples can enjoy alone-time and squeeze in a few hours of “dating” before returning to full-time parent duty. But for the religiously observant, Fridays just don’t cut it, especially when — like me — one works full time and needs the Friday “day off” to prepare for the sabbath. I love being religious, but on some days, it just doesn’t feel fair.
And so, on a recent Friday, I threw down the soggy dishtowel and shouted, “I want to go to the beach! I. Need. Ocean.” My husband, not easily frightened, appeared shaky as he’d never seen me lose it in such a determined manner. With uncontrolled determination, I threw a chicken in a crock pot, found some passable vegetables and tossed them in as well, covered the mess with an open half-bottle of pinot noir and some spices that I couldn’t remember the names of, covered it, grabbed a blanket for the sand and was out the door. The dutiful husband followed, dragging a plastic chair (which he’d purchased with supermarket coupons) through the parking lot.
The nearest beach to Jerusalem is 60 kilometers away and takes at least an hour to reach during Friday traffic. It was already noon and Shabbos was scheduled to arrive at approximately six o’clock. Did I care? Not on your life. My need for sea and sand was nearly manic, replete with a feeling of entitlement that was both foreign and scary. I knew that only by diving underneath and jumping above the waves could I wash away the nagging feelings of being cheated out of fun and wholesome recreational activities.
We’d forgotten to bring anything to eat in the frenzy to hit the waves, but any thoughts of hunger dissipated the moment I saw the shimmering blue band of water ahead, calling my name.
I don’t own a bathing suit, but basketball shorts and tank tops work just fine, thank you, and the salty brine that washes over pasty city skin doesn’t care if I’m in a bikini, maillot or gym shorts. Only when I’m rolling in the waves or lying wet in the sand do I remember that Jerusalem is the only place I’ve lived that doesn’t abut water. Thus said, as long as the summer weather will hold out, Friday will find us at the beach, happy as clams (groan).
Now that the Friday beach pattern has been established, the only remaining challenge is “which beach?” If we stay too late on a Friday afternoon in Rishon LeTzion, the assault of emerging boom-boxes mars the pre-Shabbos mood; there is an inlet beach near the Herzlia mall that is more upper-class, but the waves are too tame for my liking due to the surrounding jetties.
However, this past week we discovered a patch of shore and water that was so pristine, so beautiful, so inhabited by young and gorgeous people that we had to try it. The only problem was that there was no paved walkway from the parking lot. In order to reach the place, we had to traverse a steep and poorly carved trail down a cliff. It was hard! Halfway down I questioned our sanity but was too far along to turn back. Wearing foolish flip-flops, I nearly lost my footing several times, but the end result was worth it. I’d never been on such a beautiful, unspoiled piece of God’s land. That Ronney and I were at least forty years older than the rest of the crowd only added to the fun.
The return ascent was equally daunting, and I fell once, scraping my knee. The knee hurt far less than my pride, but I remained grateful that we are fit and adventurous enough to embrace this seemingly Holy little corner of Paradise. It makes Shabbos that much sweeter, content with the knowledge that on the other side of a relentless work week, there is respite and abandon.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.