Lotenschtein: Dispatches from Tel Aviv: Balancing business and Shabbat on the international market

Israel's offset weekend leaves companies that do business internationally out of the look with the rest of the world.

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Lotenschtein: Dispatches from Tel Aviv: Balancing business and Shabbat on the international market

Madison Lotenschtein, Columnist

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Two cars honked at one another while my alarm rang its melodic tune. “Ding, ding, ding,” rudely interrupting my dream in which I was flying a star destroyer. It’s Sunday morning, and Israel’s work week has just begun.

Unlike the United States — and most countries around the world — Israel’s standard work week is Sunday through Thursday instead of Monday through Friday. Because the Jewish holy day of rest, known as Shabbat, begins at sunset on Friday and ends after sunset on Saturday. Being the only Jewish state, I applaud Israel for keeping this 3,000-year-old tradition alive in a 71-year-old modern country.

But many companies in Israel work outside its regional borders, serving the international market. This often leads to a fork in the road: Do they keep their traditional working hours with the risk of falling behind in the international workplace? Is it worth it to change their business hours to fit the demands of their international clientele?

Many companies have grown to reach this fork, choosing to start working on Fridays, with the tech industry making up the bulk of the converts. Coming up behind the tech industry are companies that require direct business with partners and customers overseas. While the steps leading to this grand decision seem minor, I can understand how several drawbacks of time change. (Of course, Israel is already eight hours ahead of Iowa’s time zone.) Working the weekends for urgent matters, not being able to participate in group tasks with company hubs in other countries, staying up late to attend meetings, and so on, can eventually lead businesses to alter their hours.

The “working on Friday” debate has been long-running, with the most adamant objectors being orthodox and devout Jews, who view Shabbat as a day of complete rest.”

Some obstacles are just simply annoying. I was typing away at marketing materials on a Thursday afternoon when I heard co-worker Assaf holding a Skype meeting with potential clients.

“Yes, we’re really excited to start working with you too,” he replied. “Um, it is the weekend in Israel tomorrow. Yes, we can start on Monday instead.”

The “working on Friday” debate has been long-running, with the most adamant objectors being orthodox and devout Jews, who view Shabbat as a day of complete rest. With this widespread belief, an interesting hole in the Israeli market has unveiled itself to the world: Religious people are not available on Friday, meaning they avoid working in the tech industry and don’t apply for positions that require a 24/7 commitment to customers.

Israel, in my opinion, will never switch its market’s hours because, being the only Jewish state and all, you kind of have to be willing to intertwine the “church and state.” Despite its consistent differences from the “normie” international market, Israel has come across some impressive advantages: if there is an urgent matter, having another office in another country helps because they can solve the problem when the Israeli hub is on its weekend. Israel also happens to be located in the center of tech companies worldwide, with Europe to the north, the U.S. to the west, and Asia to the east.

“You learn to cope with the inconsistency of geographics and different time zones,” Assaf told me. “However, having an Israeli hub is great because you can do the handover between business deals much easier. But I think daylight saving should be canceled — that just annoys everyone.”

Whatever decision Israeli companies make, it will never be as simple as many wish it could be.