Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year for Jews all over the world, but there’s something extra special about being in Israel over Yom Kippur.
The whole country “shuts down”
On Yom Kippur in Israel, a few hours before the fast begins, public transportation (buses and trains) finish their routes, and won’t pick up the next day. Most roads are closed to traffic, the radio and television stations fall silent, and Ben Gurion Airport closes- no flights go in or out until after the fast day, even the airspace of Israel is closed to passing planes until the holiday ends. Imagine something more awe-inspiring than seeing!
Israelis not fasting or celebrating the holiday in synagogue take advantage of the closed roadways to bike on the normal bus and car-locked streets and highways. It’s the one day of the year that bicycle riders, runners, and motorcyclists can feel completely safe riding along the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv or Jabotinsky Street in Ramat Gan.
Millions of Jews fill the streets on their way to and from prayer services
If you’re in more religious cities or towns during Yom Kippur, you’ll likely see religious Jews of all types wearing their prayer shawls and walking to and from synagogue with their friends and families. It’s one of the days when you can see the diversity of Israel’s Jewish community all over the country - Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite, Moroccan, Mesorati, Conservative, Reform - you name it! If you’re in Jerusalem for the holiday, many of the intersections are filled with students sitting on the street and singing after night services. So if you’re walking along the empty streets and see a group, join a circle and hum along!
It’s (one of) Magen David Adom’s busiest days
Even without cars on the roads, hundreds of calls come in for Magen David Adom (Israel’s emergency medical services) on Yom Kippur. Not many car accidents are reported, but plenty of bicycle accidents require emergency treatment as thousands of Israelis take advantage of the empty roads. So even without cars, take special care to be careful on the road this Yom Kippur!
A LOT of babies are born
If you’re born on Yom Kippur, you’re not alone. Hundreds of babies are born on this holiday, as mothers in healthy stages of pregnancy are permitted by their doctors to fast, and fasting can induce labor. Make sure to wish some of your friends a happy birthday!
Get ready to start building your Sukkah
As the holiday comes to a close, and millions of Israel’s citizens break their fast and celebrate the closing of a long and meaningful day, hundreds of thousands are also starting to prepare for the next Jewish holiday - Sukkot! Many Israelis have a tradition where just after Yom Kippur ends, they begin to build their sukkot or huts for the Sukkot Festival (Festival of Tabernacles). Another special Israeli sight--all the sukkot on the balconies of apartment buildings all over the country. It’s a must-see!