As the Muslim holy Sabbath and the first official day of the weekend, Fridays in Jerusalem are an exciting mix of religious activities, weekend relaxation and bustling markets and restaurants.
As Muslims flock to the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and to numerous other mosques throughout the city of Jerusalem, the atmosphere of a Jerusalem Friday gets off to a spiritual start. As the streets fill with the sound of the Muezzin, the Islamic calling to prayer, worshipers rush to their local mosques to participate in the Friday prayers, the most important of the week.
But Fridays in Jerusalem offer much more than just a day of prayer. The beginning of the Israeli work-weekend, it is a day of relaxation, with overflowing cafes and restaurants, and stores and markets bustling with shoppers.
Fridays in Jerusalem are also the day of preparation for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins on Friday evening at sunset. During the day, religious Jews spend their time preparing for the Holy Sabbath, running errands, cooking and visiting families. They fill the stores and the marketplaces, especially the Machne Yehuda Market, buying groceries for the Sabbath meals. Walking around the city, one can begin to smell the aromas of the home-cooked meals, with each family serving the traditional dishes according to their heritage.
Meanwhile, secular Jews take spend this day relaxing, visiting the restaurants and cafes in areas like the Mamilla Mall, the German Colony, downtown Jerusalem and more. They spend time with their families in the many outdoor areas, enjoying the Jerusalem sunshine, or meet up with friends for a weekly soccer match.
The diversity of Jerusalem is felt more than ever on a Friday. Kicking back in any one of the city's multitude of cafes, one can watch every type of Jerusalem resident walk by within a short period of time. From Muslims clad in their Sabbath finest to Orthodox Jews rushing to prepare for their holy day, from secular families enjoying a day of rest to tourists from around the world participating in the fun and excitement.
As the day progresses, many of the shops and restaurants begin to close down, preparing for the Sabbath. This is a great time to catch last minute deals at the market, as vendors drop their prices to sell the last of their inventory.
Minutes before sunset, a quiet siren sounds all across Jerusalem. This marks the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, and it is followed by a serene quiet that falls on the city. As the Jewish worshipers begin to walk to synagogue, they greet one another in the street with a traditional blessing: "Shabbat Shalom" (have a peaceful Sabbath).
Following the traditional Sabbath dinner, which is celebrated in religious and secular homes, the city begins to come alive again. Friday night is an exciting night in the city's many bars and nightclubs, and many young Jerusalem residents fill the downtown area to kick off the weekend.
From Muslims to Jews, religious to secular, the feeling of a Jerusalem Friday is unique and enjoyed by everyone. For visitors to the city, the day offers a unique opportunity to experience the city's coexistence and special atmosphere.