Hungry in Israel
Is Every Day a Holiday?!
I had been warned about the multiple fall holidays in Israel before I arrived, but I didn't realize just how shut down things would be with every holiday.
My first day here was shabbat, or the Jewish sabbath, so there was no food or drink available in the hotel until sundown. We made it to the grocery store the following day, Sunday, and thank goodness we did--Rosh Hashanah was Monday and Tuesday, and everything was closed again. Wednesday was another day of observance, then Saturday was shabbat again, and the following Wednesday was Yom Kippur. The following week was a total wash, with seven days of holidays in a row.
Now, I'm not complaining about the number of holidays or the differing customs of another culture; however, being here to work, and not just as a tourist on vacation, makes finding food tough, and makes quickly adapting to differing cultural norms more complicated.
Traveling performers stay in company allocated hotels, with few transportation options, and our work schedule on days that are not holidays prohibits us from heading to stores during normal business hours. On a typical day, I will be at the venue practicing or performing non-stop for 12 hours, which means I also don't make it to the store.
It was also a surprise to see just how totally closed the city was during the holidays. Although in downtown Tel Aviv, things are more modern and less restricted to state religious expectations, out in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv and where our accommodations were, everything shut down the day before a holiday. Meaning, a business might be open for 2-4 hours, and then shut down for the entire next week. Everything--restuarants, pharmacies, grocery stores, even the hotel bar and restaurant--was totally shut down. We were able to get water bottles from the bar, but the bartender couldn't accept payment because the register was not working without electricity, so we wrote him an "IOU" and paid him a few days later when it was not a holiday.
Although I was aware of the holidays here in Israel, it was still a tremendous cultural shift to scramble to find anything to eat in the midst of just so many holidays and such a total city shut-down. In the States, whole areas close only a few times a year; and, even on those days, you can still find a delivery place or pharmacy open to grab a bag of chips.
Yes, it was annoying to go days without a real meal, especially when working a physically demanding job. However, as my time here is Israel comes to an end, I believe frustrations like these are part of my draw to traveling--fully immersing myself in another culture comes, sometimes, with a challenge in adapting to that immersion.
And, after three weeks of adapting to holiday norms here, I appreciate the dedication so many Israelis have to their faith and cultural customs; but, I'm also looking forward to a big meal :-)