During your gap year with Aardvark Israel there will be a number of weekends where you are free to do as you please and for many this will be a great opportunity to see more of the country or just get away from your regular apartment.
The great thing about Israel is that there is always a huge amount of variety and this is certainly true when it comes to Shabbat. There are a number of possibilities and regardless of how religious you are or what kind of Shabbat experience you are after you will never be short of options.
For something a bit different you could travel to the town of Tzfat (or Safed). Tzfat is the highest city in the Galilee and is a beautiful location to spend a weekend. The city is known as the centre of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and in general it is a very religious place. However, it also has a great amount of Israeli art to see and the city itself contains a number of beautiful buildings and synagogues. If you are looking for a fairly quiet Shabbat but in a beautiful location then Tzfat is certainly worth a visit.
Another option would be to stay in Ein Gedi or by the Dead Sea. Ein Gedi is one of the most beautiful areas in Israel with a number of lovely walks to go on. There is some very cheap accommodation available and it is a great option for outdoorsy people who are looking for a weekend surrounded by beautiful nature. Similar options include the Golan Heights or even small towns in the Negev where the scenery is very different but equally beautiful.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you are looking for a weekend with the option for noise and cultural activity then the best options are going to be one of the larger cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa or Eilat. Everywhere in Israel quietens down over Shabbat with a significant number of shops, cafes and restaurants closing. However, in all the cities you will still find plenty of places that are open. Each city has its own advantages and plenty to see over a weekend.
In Jerusalem you can still visit the Israel Museum on Shabbat and there are a number of fascinating exhibitions to see. At the same time, in town you will find a large range of restaurants, bars and coffee shops that stay open to provide food, refreshment and a place to hang out with friends.
Tel Aviv is best known for the beach and during the summer months it can seem as if the entire population of the city heads there over the weekend. At the same time a number of the city’s museums stay open, such as the Eretz Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, so it is possible to escape the crowds on the beach. Of course there are also numerous restaurants and coffee shops that stay open.
Eilat is probably the most extreme option; it is primarily a holiday destination and if the beach and noisy bars don’t appeal then you won’t find much to do there. There is an interesting aquarium where you can actually walk under the sea and the city is also home to one of Israel’s few ice rinks but there is very little else in terms of culture.
In some ways Haifa is the most balanced of the city options. It is home to a large population of Christians which means that there are a large number of shops which remain open and it is basically the only place in Israel with public transport running on Shabbat. A huge number of the city’s museums stay open over the weekend as do restaurants and so on. Furthermore, as it is a coastal city, it isn’t too hard to get to the beach, and they are significantly quieter than those in Tel Aviv and Eilat.
This is of course a very brief overview of your options for Shabbat in Israel but it should show that there are numerous possibilities and plenty to do. While on your gap year there will be time to explore all of the above and much more and you are sure to develop your own ideas for how to spend Shabbat as you become more familiar with Israel and all it has to offer.