By Gal Sitty
As the Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath or day of rest which begins sundown on Friday and ends sundown on Saturday) sets in here in Israel the contrast between the calmness of the weekend and the rush of the week is the perfect metaphor for the contrast between the how Israel is portrayed in the media and what Israel is really like.
It is hard to miss the Shabbat in Israel. During the week, this small, crowded country is bustling with commuters going to and from work, students and soldiers packing public transportation to get to their destinations, buses clogging the narrow streets of the densely populated cities and non-stop activity filling all the public spaces. As the sun sets on Friday the traffic thins out, the malls empty and the noise of the masses dissipates. Shabbat is quiet, calm and peaceful; the rest of the week is busy, noisy and hectic.
One thing to note about the above description of life here in Israel is that this is not a violent country. There are no signs of apartheid; there is complete freedom; it is not dangerous here. I realize this may come as a complete shock to many people who have never visited and who only receive their information from a few limited and often skewed sources.
Be it during the week or on Shabbat, life here is what many people abroad would consider normal or perhaps even eclectic. People go to work, students go to school, there is rush hour traffic, restaurants and bars are filled with people looking to enjoy a nice evening out. At any given restaurant you are likely to find people of all backgrounds- Jews, Arabs, Africans, tourists from all over the World, etc. In fact walking through Tel-Aviv I hear English, French, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, Thai and of course Hebrew. In Jerusalem I saw Korean street performers, Bulgarian pilgrims and heard the Muslim call to prayer.
This is what Israel really is. A diverse, modern, free, and tolerant country that respects and values its religious heritage and history while building a thriving and advanced society ready to lead the way to a brighter future.