Sabbath Bus Service Makes Historic Start in Jerusalem

Technically, the new service is private transportation, which is allowed under the law.

Olivier Fitoussi

A Sabbath bus service began operations in Jerusalem on Friday, the work of a cooperative founded on the back of crowdfunding.

The venture is named Shabus, a play on the Yiddish word for Sabbath that stems from the Hebrew word, Shabbat.

The cooperative transports its members for a fee, sidestepping the law that bans public transportation in the capital on the Sabbath. Technically, the new service is private transportation, which is allowed under the law.

Some 100 people used the new service Friday night, most of them students from the French Hill quarter and residents of the Beit Hakerem and Kiryat Yovel neighborhoods.

The buses ran from 8 P.M. Friday to 2 A.M. Saturday between most of the capital’s secular neighborhoods and the entertainment sites in the city center. The service is operated by an East Jerusalem-based transportation company that employs non-Jewish drivers.

The activists recently finished raising 111,000 shekels ($28,770) through Headstart, an Israeli crowdfunding site. The money will finance the service in its early days.

So far some 600 Jerusalemites residents have signed up as subscribers, and the organizers are optimistic the venture can be expanded. Each subscriber pays 50 shekels annually for a share in the cooperative, and 30 shekels monthly for a subscription enabling free bus travel.

“We’ve received an excellent response — people are happy to use the service,” said Hovav Yanai, one of the project’s organizers. “The number of cooperative members soared over the weekend, and if we improve as we intend to do, we’ll be in the black in a short time.”

But several dozen ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated on Jerusalem’s Hanevi’im Street, demanding that the road be closed to traffic on the Sabbath. Such protests have been taking place for a years and are most intense at the beginning of summer, when the days are longer.

Protesters blocked traffic on Hanevi’im and a nearby street on and off for several minutes until police dispersed them.

Café on Shabbat, too

The capital’s secular community chalked up another achievement over the weekend — a large new café about to open in Independence Park. The owners announced that public pressure had paid off and the place would be open on Saturdays.

Initially the café was intended to be open on weekends, but the owners decided to turn it into a kosher establishment to attract religious customers. This would mean the place would be closed on weekends.

But Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch said Thursday the owners had changed their minds.

“After five years of pushing the project forward I’m glad the café will operate on weekends as well,” Berkovitch said. “Step by step Jerusalem is becoming attractive for all its residents, including families and on weekends.”