Protesting the end of daylight savings time in Tel Aviv
Protesting the end of daylight savings time in Tel Aviv. Sign reads 'Staying with Daylight Savings Time' Photo by Alon Ron
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Emil Salman
Eli Yishai Photo by Emil Salman

Never have so many been so unhappy about getting an extra hour of sleep in the morning. But with no choice in the matter, most Israelis, grumbling and complaining, set their clocks back an hour before they went to bed on Saturday night and therefore rolled out of bed later on Sunday morning. Unless, of course, they had stayed up all night protesting the time change.

Over the past few years, it’s become an annual national ritual - the majority of the public, and certainly the media, greeting the end of Daylight Savings Time with loud grumbling and clear resentment. It does feel quite absurd to change clocks to what is popular known as “Winter Time” in the midst of very un-frigid summer temperatures, with many more days in the hot Mediterranean sun to look forward to over the month of October, and often, into November.

The dissatisfaction is nothing new - but the Internet and social networks now offer new and creative ways to give it expression. Many have taken to the Internet to express their unhappiness. An online petition protesting the change garnered more than 400,000 signatures. A Hebrew Facebook group was formed organizing a mass refusal to set their clocks back. A big hit on Facebook has been a picture of Interior Minister Eli Yishai dressed in fur robes as a character in the hit show “Game of Thrones” holding a clock and intoning the show’s tagline “Winter is coming!” Yishai is being cast as the bad guy in the equation - a status he doesn’t completely deserve. The current situation, with daylight saving time beginning in March and ending right before Yom Kippur, is the result of a law that was passed in 2005 with the agreement of nearly every party in the government, in an attempt to end the arguments over the clock. It didn’t work. For the past few years, with growing public unhappiness over the early end of daylight saving, Yishai convened a committee to study the issue. Critics charge that he manipulated the choice of members of the committee- and hence the outcome - to suit his party’s desire to hang onto the status quo.

The arguments are familiar - the thousands, if not millions of shekels that could be saved if Israel fell in line with countries of Europe and ended daylight saving time in a month or so, when winter - or at least, the rainy local version of it, is actually pending. In addition, it has been shown that extending the daylight hours could reduce traffic accidents.

But the practical arguments aren’t really what drives the controversy.

The truth is that it’s a clash over lifestyle and political power to determine that lifestyle. Though it’s mainly a conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, it has little to do with actual religion.

The majority of those pushing to extend summer time are the non-Orthodox who don’t see a reason to put the lights out so early in the evening. With so much over grief to put up with living in the volatile Middle East - let’s face it - the biggest redeeming quality - our compensation if you will, is the sunshine. We may not have peace and tranquility, but at least we have nice weather. Cutting our lovely sunny days short, especially after the worst August heat is over - so early in the evenings feels like a tremendous shame and waste, especially to working parents of young children who work hard to manage to get out of the office early enough to spend time with their kids while it is still daylight. Financial issues aside, there are also personal safety issues - what woman doesn’t feel less safe heading into a parking lot after dark? I think twice about letting my teenage kids walk home from their friend’s house or after-school activity at 7:30 PM if it means doing so in the dark.

The so-called forces of darkness - the pressure to have a shorter daylight saving season comes from the Orthodox parties who seem view the manipulation of the clock as some kind of betrayal of the will of our higher power.

If they could pull together a compelling religious argument for fighting daylight saving time, I think the issue would be settled.

But on the Orthodox side, too, it is a question of personal convenience and lifestyle, not religious dictates. Over the years, their consistent ‘deadline’ for switching back to winter is Yom Kippur, because somehow, it’s supposed to make fasting easier. But one has to point out - fasting isn’t supposed to easy! Isn’t feeling hunger the whole point of the exercise? And how in the world does daylight saving time really affect a fast that is always 25 hours, no matter what?

I understood the other side of the argument better after a conversation with S., an Orthodox friend who is not a fan of daylight saving time, but who didn’t use the Yom Kippur argument. For the Orthodox, she explained the six-day week in Israel means the precious after-Shabbat hours on Saturday night are her time to relax and get ready for their week. So the earlier the Sabbath ends on Saturday, the better. But what about having more time to get ready on Friday? She told me that “the extended hours on Friday, with Shabbat looming, can’t replace Saturday night.” A very intelligent woman, she also pointed out to me that there are challenges to the arguments that daylight saving time saves energy.

And, finally, there are the early mornings, where Orthodox who rise early for prayers before work, must do so when it is still dark out during daylight saving time, especially when it extends into October, and they don’t have enough time for prayer and breakfast before their workday starts.

I would counter that better parenting, fewer road accidents and public safety would trump breakfast - but it wouldn’t do any good. For now, it’s clear which side holds greater political power, and so the rest of the country meekly bent to their will, and changed our clocks to ‘winter time’ on Saturday night. I guess we should count ourselves grateful that we weren’t being forced to take off our bathing suits and put on our sweaters as well.