Yom Kippur: what the holiest day in the Jewish calendar is really like…

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar…or the day the kids take over the streets!

Yom Kippur Tel Aviv

Otherwise known as the Day of Atonement, during which all Jews (or a large majority) fast for an entire day (25 hours), it occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). The whole country closes down – no businesses are open, no TV/radio broadcasts, and even the roads are free of traffic, apart from the odd ambulance…and about four million bicycles.

Yes, bicycles. Oh, and rollerblades, and skateboards, and anything else the kids can get their hands on. There’s no question the kids are the kings of the road on Yom Kippur, and boy do they scare the bejesus out of me. I won’t tell you how many times I’ve winced as I’ve witnessed head-on crashes and so many near-misses. Let’s just say you can see the amazing potential of an Israeli driver-to-be at an early age…

Even though most of the Jewish population in Israel is not particularly religious, Yom Kippur is a special day for all and has retained its unique character. My wife loves Yom Kippur and often recounts tales of bike trips from Yom Kippur days many moons ago. Many Jews who would never usually go the synagogue go to prayer services, and many also observe the fast. I did try once, but gave up when the pangs took over.

If you are visiting Israel during Yom Kippur, try and experience it – go for a walk along Tel Aviv promenade and even visit a synagogue. Just remember that everything is closed, there is no public transport (not even taxis) and the atmosphere is certainly different than on regular days. The spirituality and pure, raw power of the day may surprise you…

Here are the dates for Yom Kippur over the next few years (note that Yom Kippur, like every Jewish holiday, starts on the evening before from sundown):

  • 2014: October 4 (Saturday)
  • 2015: September 23 (Wednesday)
  • 2016: October 12 (Wednesday)
  • 2017: September 30 (Saturday)
  • 2018: September 19 (Wednesday)
  • 2019: October 9 (Wednesday)

And check out this video of the streets of Jerusalem on Yom Kippur – amazing!



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