This evening is the beginning of the one-day festival of Yom Kippur, celebrated by Jews all over the world. In addition to being a day of fasting, reflection and atonement for sins, here in Israel Yom Kippur has an additional dimension: No driving in most of the country.
Since the Yom Kippur War
Started as a custom after the almost-disastrous Yom Kippur War in October 1973, car-less Yom Kippur is also called Yom Ha Offanayim, or Day of Bicycles. For this one magical day, kids and adults all over the country take over the roads in their bikes and skates. And we’re not just talking minor roads, as you can see from these pictures of Yom Kippur past.
A Perfect Secular-Religious Compromise
Because of their interpretation of religious law, observant Jews do not operate automobiles on the holy day. Secular Jews take part in the plan, with the added feature that the now-empty roads are fair game for all manner of walking and riding activities. It’s a beautiful tradition and a great example of how both parts of the Jewish community can agree when they want to.
Putting Cars in Their Place
As the afternoon deepens into early evening, a strange calm descends upon the country. Slowly, one by one, the last cars furtively drive in and park, and then, almost on cue, the kids and adults take over the streets in a massive display of people power. It’s a once-a-year phenomenon of quiet and peace that is truly special in this contentious part of the world. Happy Bike Day!