Nine days after Jews around the world rang in the New Year on Rosh Hashana, sundown Tuesday marked the beginning of Yom Kippur—the Jewish day of atonement.
Nearly everything in Israel comes to standstill for this day, considered the holiest of the year. No one drives, all stores and restaurants close save for a select few small businesses owned by non-Jewish families.
In the Orthodox tradition, Yom Kippur is spent in synagogue or at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, praying and asking forgiveness for sins committed over the last year, and fasting—an action of self-denial and humility.
Even many secular and less observant Jews revere this day.
Many people wear white, which symbolizes purity and mercy, and alludes to burial shrouds—serving as a reminder of humanity’s mortality.
While Jerusalem tends to have a very historical and old world biblical feel to it with thousands of people flocking to the Western Wall, the vibe on this special day is very different in urban Tel Aviv.
In secular Tel Aviv there is a vibrant spectrum of ways that people observe Yom Kippur. Some go the traditional route while others choose to reflect at home,
The streets may be empty of cars but they are overflowing with people walking and biking, children running around and laughing, and dogs playing.
The city bike rental stations have almost been completely emptied, mobile book carts are set up with lawn chairs where people can read outside, and people pose for selfies on the empty highway. Others use the day as a last chance to hit the beach while the weather is still warm.
Abra Spiciarich, who moved to Tel Aviv four years ago from the US says she’s always wanted to take part in the unique traditions of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.
“I have lived in Tel Aviv for the last four years, but never owned a bike up until a month ago,” she explained to i24news. “It was always a goal of mine to bike though the city on the empty streets and freeways, so when erev Yom Kippur (sundown) came in, I was excited. The city was calming down, but I felt charged, and ready to take on this tradition.” their families, or out in the fresh air of the city’s many parks.
“My plans were to meet up with a few friends at different locations, that way I can see the whole city,” she continued. “Popular streets were crowded with adorable families and children. The quieter streets were awesome to zoom down on. Once it cooled down, I went back out and braved the freeways.”
“It is a unique and indescribable feeling,” she adds. “One that I hope to relive next year.”
"Yom Kippur, like most holidays, in my house when I was growing up in America was very loosely followed and fasting was never enforced," says Oren Sharabi. "However, we were brought up with a very deep connection with the land of Israel and the idea that our identity, culture, food, and family was tied to Judaism."
"Now that I am living in Israel, I feel the connection more than ever, and spend most holidays with family and friends. Yom Kippur, in America less so but in Israel, is important to me today because it is a time when everything stops and all the focus is just as my parents had raised me; on family, food, spending time (fasting or not), and just taking a moment to solely appreciate that we are together in Judaism and in humanity."
Another group of people gathered on the Ayalon — Tel Aviv’s main freeway — to make a human sign that spells out the word peace.
Adar Weinreb of Tel Aviv based Joy Records, who organized the event, told i24news that they wanted to take the chance to bring people together around a common message.
“Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when you can lay across the highway and make a piece of art like this,” Weinreb explains.
“Our goal is uniting people around a common goal and message,” he adds.
This is the second year that they have put this together. Last year 23 people came out to spell “peace” on the Ayalon, and this year they more than doubled that number.
One thing all these people have in common, is they look forward to welcoming in a fresh, new year.
Jessi Satin is an i24news web editor and photographer