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Time for Shnatz in Jerusalem’s big sleep-in

Eetta Prince-Gibson
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Published: 12 November 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

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A SLEEP MASK pushed up on his forehead, Roni Sharon, senior military correspondent for Israeli public TV, convened the first public Shnatz in Independence Park in downtown Jerusalem on a balmy Friday afternoon last week.

With feigned pomp and affected pathos, parroting the famous reading of Declaration of Independence by David Ben-Gurion, founding father of the modern Jewish State, Sharon declared: “And so, on this auspicious day, the 23rd of the Hebrew month of MarCheshvan, 5799, the 2nd of November, 2018 –

(At this point, the sacred assembly raucously interrupted him, since the date was actually the 24th of the Hebrew month of MarCheshvan, but Sharon continued, undeterred)

“ --- in the Holy City of Jerusalem, which has been united, and divided, joined and rent asunder, then rejoined, the City of Lights, chasers, market stalls and hummus...We have come together to spread the gospel that will bring peace, love and contentment to the Middle East, the gospel of the city where King David, Jesus and Mohammed took their shnatz.”

Shnatz, for those who have yet to be initiated into this holy ritual, is a well-known acronym of the two Hebrew words for an afternoon nap (“sheinat tzohoraym”).  It’s the Israeli sister to the venerable Italian riposo, or the Spanish siesta.

Ah, but it is so much more...especially on a Friday afternoon, and especially in Jerusalem, as the city winds down in preparation for the Shabbat, and its ancient stones turn a whiter shade of pale pink, reflecting the setting sun.

And, like other Hebrew made-up verbs, shnatz can even be conjugated – I shnatz, you shnatz, he shnatzed.....we all shnatz...

Several dozen Jerusalemites, invited on Facebook and by word of mouth, joined in on the momentous event, which had been organised by the Tahrir Forum.

The Tahrir Forum is named after the bar (named for Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the ill-fated Arab Spring began) where its founders used to hang out. The bar closed a few years ago, but never mind.) Most of those journalists, now in their thirties, as young military correspondents covered the horrors of the second Intifada and its aftermath.

Most of them are Jerusalemites, and they still hang out together, sharing a bro-radery and their own stock of in-jokes, shared only with a few devoted groupies.  And every-so-often, they put together some sort of a quirky, event, combining, in beautiful Hebrew, New Age sensibilities with learned references to venerable Jewish texts and Israeli pop in a quintessentially Jerusalem way.

Somehow, for the first public shnatz in history, they managed to get sponsors who supplied the event with mattresses, sleep masks, poof pillows, starched white sheets, and even coffee and cake for wake up.

Celebrants were invited to bring their jamies, blankies, and comfort (stuffed) doobies (Teddy-bears.)  Quite a few did.

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“Sadly,” the FB invitation read, “over the past few years, shnatz has been exiled from our homeland.  The situation is so severe, that some shnatz-ers are even being persecuted.  This is a slippery slope, and we dare not think to what an awful end this situation could lead.

“If you care about what is happening in Israel, in the Middle East, and in the entire world,” they enticed the hesitant, “come and shnatz together, and we will bring the change. Through deep introspection, and out of genuine concern for this glorious institution, and the severe implications of its absence from public space in Israel, we have reached the conclusion that we must band together, a group of Nachshonites (a reference to Exodus 13:17 -17:16 – they told people to look it up) who will throw themselves into the fray and bring back our days of glory.”

Greeted by lullabies played over a make-shift sound system, the crowd dribbled in slowly – Jerusalemites, it would appear, are late even for public pajama parties. So the Forum Tahrir guys kept talking….

About the difficulty of shnatzing now that we have set back the clocks. About the Talmudic saying that ten measures of beauty were brought to the world and Jerusalem took nine of them – but there can be no beauty without shnatz.

About the famous shnatz-ers of history – Churchill, Ben-Gurion, and some others.  About how our parents came from the ends of the earth as pioneers, and brought with them the illustrious tradition of shnatz and bringing back the shnatz is a Zionist imperative.

Finally, the congregation assembled, quieted down, and laid down, some cuddling their comfort (stuffed) animals, others cuddling one another. After taking the requisite selfies, a few even actually fell asleep.

Half an hour later, they were woken up by soft music, accompanied by instant coffee and rugelach, Jerusalem’s iconic sweet chocolate-filled pasty.

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Even Israel’s President, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, gave the event his blessing.  Paraphrasing and rhyming with Moses’ call to the Israelites, (“May you be strong and have courage”) he posted a new phrase on his FB page: “May you have your afternoon sleep and have courage.”

Thus was born a new watchword and a new ritual in the Holy City of Jerusalem. And after helping to drag the sheets, mattresses, and other paraphernalia out of the park, everyone went home, hopefully invigorated and at peace with themselves and the universe, ready to spread the Word.

Photos: Eetta Prince-Gibson



About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.

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