Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the tenth day in the Jewish new year. It precedes the start of the new academic year here in Israel. Due to all the High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot — new arrivals at the Technion, eager to start postdoctoral fellowships, find themselves sitting things out for a month until university life commences. For those of us already here, this is usually time spent getting job application material together. So it isn’t the most exciting month of the year for us.
There is a silver lining: witnessing first hand the one day (from sunset to sunset) that the streets of Israel are empty of cars. Because Yom Kippur is more than just a legal holiday. Everything is shut down: TV, radio, airports, shops, and public transport. I’ve even heard a third hand story of someone with a minor injury being told to wait until the next day before going in to hospital.
I was in Israel two years ago for Yom Kippur. I went out for an evening jog and, to my pleasant surprise, found the streets full of children tearing downhill on their push bikes being chased by their parents. While observant Israeli’s fast, a lot of secular Israelis — kids in particular — take the opportunity to do some serious cycling. You need to appreciate how unfriendly Israeli roads are to cyclists every other day of the year to understand how magical a time this must be.
This year we went out for a walk around the Carmel center just after sunset to enjoy the empty streets. We spotted this car sitting in the middle of the street, apparently abandoned as the final seconds of the day had passed by.
You can find plenty of videos on youtube of people out cycling on the empty streets, but here is just one of them:
As you can see from the video, it is inaccurate to say that there are absolutely no cars on the road. In this video, at least, the reason is that their route passes through Daliyat al-Karmel , a Druze town, where few people observe the holiday.
Even within Haifa, however, we were still able to spot a few cars on the streets. One in particular had a gang of skateboarders clinging to it. I was just quick enough to take the following picture:
This year I wanted to see the highway deserted, so in the afternoon we walked down from the mountain to the beach, crossing the main road along the coast on the way.
One way or another, this was my last Yom Kippur in Israel. I think it might be the one facet of Israeli life — a day when even the cars stop — that I will miss the most.