So what is so special about Yom Kippur in Israel?

Well, I must admit the first time I experienced the high holy days in Israel, I was shocked. Why? Because everything literally comes to a complete standstill. Every single shop in the entire country is closed, private and government offices, literally everything. Even more remarkable, the normally busy roadways including the main highways are completely deserted.

In our local town and many across the country, it is an opportunity for kids and adults alike to take over the streets with their bicycles.

Yom Kippur in Israel is Truly Special

The Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, and is the most sacred day commemorated in Judaism. Many Jews who don’t consider themselves religious spend several hours praying at their community synagogue. Most Jews in Israel fast on this holy day, and the country literally comes to a standstill for some spiritual time out.

Shofar by slgckgc via Creative Commons

If you have ever been to New York City on the day of atonement, you’d notice many businesses are closed and the pace of the city slows down. Now imagine what happens when everyone and everything comes to a complete standstill.

Running vehicles are a rare sight on the streets, which are literally taken over by kids on their favorite form of non-motorized transportation. In fact, while many spend the day in quiet recluse, some adventurous and definitely less reverent adults scout out the highway slopes of Jerusalem and Haifa to enjoy a very speedy decent. This contrast in people’s choice of leisure time can give you an idea of how diverse people’s opinions on religion can be even in this holy land !

The empty highways of Israel Yom Kippur by Ron Almog on flickr

Wherever you happen to be on this high Holy day, the best way to get a feel for the mood is to spend the evening walking around. It’s not often you can walk anywhere you like, and though the official high holiday is somber, a light festive mood floods the streets very quickly.

Just make sure you plan ahead, as no place of business is open. Since many people fast, you cannot purchase any kind of food or beverage for over 24 hours, so be prepared !

More about Jewish holidays from Israel Travel Secrets

Gmar Chatima Tova is the customary wish on this day – meaning may you have a good inscription in the Lord’s record of atonement.