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If this is Sunday, it must be Monday: getting to know the days of the week in Israel.


I dreamed I was back in Toronto. 

My mother was driving me to her house and I was trying to tell her she was allowed to turn right, which you're only allowed to do in her area when traffic isn't busy.  But I couldn't find the word - in English.  Finally, I blurted out, "It's not... a weekday!"

The word I was trying to remember?  "Weekend," of course.

I said a while ago that this is just something you have to get used to here.  And that we actually DO have something like a weekend, except on Fridays.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to start the week on Sunday.  There’s something abrupt, almost rude, about “putting away” Shabbos the minute it goes out. 

In Canada, we could maybe leave the dishes, not sweep up, whatever it was, until the next day.  The next day was Sunday, and we knew we’d have time to do stuff.

Sunday = Day One

Here, Sunday is not only a regular weekday… it’s the first day of the week.

That may seem obvious.  If you went to Hebrew school, you’ll know already that instead of fun Norse god-based names like Friday and Tuesday, the Hebrew days of the week are droningly simple:  Day One, Day Two, Day Three and… you get the picture.  The only exception is Day Seven, which is called “Shabbat.”

Trouble is that in Canada, in the back of my mind, the days of the week ALSO had numbers.  Very powerful number associations that I really never thought much about. 

Monday… is the first day.  Day One.  Tuesday comes next: Day Two.  And so on.  Friday is Day Five and Sunday… well, Sunday doesn’t really need a number, because it’s a day off.

I had no idea that these numbers were stuck in my head until I moved here and started trying to make appointments in a logical way.  And then, chaos broke loose.

I’d make an appointment for Tuesday (Yom Shlishi) and then turn up on Wednesday.  Or wake up on Sunday dreading something I had to do… on Monday.  For a while, I had no idea what day it was and it’s still a little surreal at the beginning and end of the week. 

(Which is basically always.)

Am I the only one?

Maybe all olim do this.  Do you?

I know it’s not just me – actually, I think it’s all English-speaking olim.  A classmate in ulpan once gave me directions to the shuk (market) near where we live and wrote in big letters at the top of the page, יום חמישי (yom chamishi = the fifth day = Thursday). 

Logically, I showed up on Thursday (I had it there, in front of me, in writing!)… and there was no market.  When is the market?  Why, it takes place every week… on Fridays.  You know, the fifth day of the week.

This hasn’t gone away after a year and a half.  I still have trouble with days of the week.  Not the kind of trouble where I don’t know how to say them; my Hebrew is good enough.  But the kind of trouble where I have to resort to tricks to remember the day of the week.

Two tricks to remember the day

One thing that’s simple but effective:  if I’m making plans, I usually like to double-check by saying the date as well. 

Like as in, “Let’s get together on Thursday, the 19th.”  I also try to put things into my calendar right away, no matter how small and trivial they seem, because I know I can’t trust my memory to steer me right. 

Another crude trick that seems to work, though I have no idea why:

Hold up the number of fingers for the day.  Instinctively, I raise the North American number, but then I force myself to add another.  Tuesday – two fingers go up… so I put up a third and then I know.

Dumb, huh?  Still – you might want to try it.  And if you’re making appointments, either for yourself or with another oleh, you should probably double-check for the first little while, either in English, or by saying the date just to confirm. 

Isn’t it weird how the mind works? 

You don’t even know exactly how you’re programmed until someone (in this case, an entire country) comes along to shift your expectations. 

This isn’t one of those wild shifts in expectations.  Nothing catastrophic, maybe, like some of the Big Changes that come with moving to Israel.    So maybe nobody will tell you about it.  But it’s real.  It’s definitely (as my kid would say) A Thing.

Believe me, 24 hours early or late for an appointment makes a big difference one way or another. 

Figuring out that this was how we’re wired (even as we try diligently, as olim, to rewire ourselves), we can work around the programming a little, and – with little tricks – actually get places at exactly the right day and time.

Any other tricks you can suggest?  Leave them in the Comments!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

1 comment:

  1. I have just the opposite problem, since I was living in the States. Sunday is the first day and begins the week. Living in Germany the week starts on Monday. It is more of a problem with when I talk to others on a Sunday and say this week. When the week is over for them. Saying next week and meaning this Sunday and not the next one.

    Using the date helps, as long as you have the calender in front of you.


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