Yom Kippur in Israel is unlike anywhere else. Celebrating the Day of Atonement means different things to different people. For some the day is spent in fasting and prayer. “On Rosh Hashana [one’s fate for the year] is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed,” the traditional liturgy says, “but repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil from the decree.”
Others choose to disconnect from the busyness of their everyday lives and wholly concentrate on their families. Even many Israelis who skip the lengthy traditional services do not eat or drink for the entire day and stop in to hear the closing service at nightfall, where God’s kingship is reaffirmed among blasts from a ram’s horn (shofar).
For those who are less inclined to worship in synagogue on this day, it is regarded as an excellent day for biking. Why?
In the Jewish sections of the country, no businesses are open. Not a single store or restaurant serves the public. (Emergency crews and hospitals operate with a skeleton crew.) All transport—planes, trains, trucks, busses and cars—are off the roads, making way for pedestrians and cyclists. There are absolutely no cars, so that even on the largest freeway, only bicycles are seen.
In addition to the lovely hush that falls over the generally bustling cities, Yom Kippur is the day of the year with the best air quality. Research has found that airborne pollutants, most often linked to automotive emissions, drop 90-95% for that single day of the year. http://www.greenprophet.com/2010/09/yom-kippur-street/ There is almost zero carbon impact in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa—the country’s three biggest cities.
Within minutes of Yom Kippur’s conclusion, the roads begin to fill up. Within hours, the airport reopens and stores and restaurants begin to receive customers. But for just one day, Israel disconnects, slows down and breathes clean air, both physically and emotionally. Our souls are rejuvenated and ready to begin the new year in earnest.
We hope that those of you celebrating are sealed for a good year.