In America, kids’ favorite holiday is Christmas. Jewish American kids prefer Purim and Hannukah. Purim because of treats and dressing up and Hannukah because of presents. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is the one kids like the least. They have to fast, they skip a day of school for an even longer day at the synagogue. You have to apologize to people. It’s a drag!
However, Israeli kids like the holiday that is the one you’d least expect. They love and eagerly await for Yom Kippur. Why?
Yom Kippur in Israel, and especially in Tel Aviv, becomes something completely different from what it is in the United States; it transcends religion. At sundown on Yom Kippur, all traffic stops. All cars, buses, scooters, and motorcycles stop driving. People, human beings, are no longer restrained by the dangerous snarling and belching metal beasts roving the streets. They spill from the buildings like water down the sidewalks and wash the entire pavement surfaces. They flood the streets on bikes, roller blades, skateboards and on foot. Children of all ages, race on the streets with their parents sitting together and chatting, unafraid of cars. The kids feel the freedom that children in rural areas and suburbs feel every day and they lap it up with the hunger of a released prisoner.
Most Israelis are secular. As such, they don’t go to synagogue to pray and most of them do not fast. They spend the day with their families and explore their city. They sing and they dance at Rabin Square where hundreds of kids ride on bikes on the square and on the streets. They ride skateboards on Rothchild and bikes on Ibn Gvirol. They stay out late into the night even though there are no bars visibly open, but some underground bars are open where people go to drink and have fun as if it was the prohibition.
The holiday extends into the next day. Kids are out unsupervised, riding around all parts of Tel-Aviv, from the African kids in the south near Tahana Merkazit (central bus station), to the wealthy kids in north Ramat Aviv, to the Arab kids of Jaffa. The adults also ride around: some ride their bikes along the tranquil and quiet Ayalon, the main freeway that cuts across Tel Aviv. The generally congested Ayalon is eerily quiet. Every once in a while, an ambulance or police car or a lone car with an emergency, quietly drive along the road, careful to watch out for the bikers and walkers on the wide highway.
Not everywhere are streets empty and shops closed. In Arab Jaffa, some shops are open on Jerushalaem street, in open defiance to the Jewish holiday. Kids ride back and forth on the streets with a tree-lined walking path in the center. For some reason motorcycles and a few cars blasting music also ride up and down the streets flanked by kids on bikes, in an open protest to the Jewish holiday. On the unoccupied walkway in the center, Arab families sit in plastic chairs. The mustached men with long traditional garb and the women with long religious skirts and head-covering. They smoke shisha and drink tea as kids run around them. This is the biggest chaos of Tel Aviv, and yet, it is still peaceful.
As the day comes to a close, Jewish men and women in bright white holiday clothing walk along the Arab streets of Jaffa with tzit-tzit flowing in the quiet wind, tallis under their arms. Their kids trail them on bikes and skateboards. They walk past the Arab kids and shops on their way to the hundreds of synagogues that pock-mark all of Tel-Aviv. The synagogues are packed, standing room only with men near the Torah and women at the back. Everyone is crowded and prays for the last two hours of the Hag (holiday). Everyone is smiling and everyone in the synagogues represents their countrymen as they ask forgiveness for a year’s worth of not asking permission, for a year’s worth of yelling at each other and being generally rude and pushy Israelis from Israel, apathetic Israelis from Russia, always too loud in public Israelis from America and isolated from everyone in their superiority Israelis from France. Together they packed the synagogue in suits and in shorts, in fancy shoes and in flip-flops, in hats and yarmulkes, with beards and shaved faces, with piercings and tattoos.
At 6:30, the city beasts awaken, they creep onto the streets. Kids leave the streets and they are replaced with incessant noise of honks and revving of buses. The peace and quiet are gone, but the feeling remains. Because for 24 hours, Muslim, Christian or Jew, we were all Israelis, we were all one nation experiencing a communal peace and calm, we all felt and experienced a connection to ancient Israel, celebrating Yom Kippur as we did, 2000 years ago.
Am Chai Israel.
Take a look at some pictures in Instagram