For twenty-four hours each year, all cars goes off the road all over Israel in celebration of Yom Kippur, also known as Day of Atonement - the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. And it’s not just cars. All airplanes, trains and all public transportation stop moving. No music plays over the radio, television stops broadcasting, and all shops and businesses remain shut down. For one day, Israel resembles a scene from a post apocalypse movie.
Throughout the country, air pollution plummets a whopping 99% - in some places nearly eliminating the presence of nitrogen oxides, a prominent contaminant in motor vehicle emissions. The air smells good, the visibility gets better and the distant roar of traffic is comfortably absent. Residents take advantage of this day and goes out for walks along the empty city streets. Some take out their bicycles, roller blades and skateboards. The dramatic decline of pollution on Yom Kippur indicates just how polluted the air is the rest of the year.
It is not forbidden to drive on Yom Kippur, however all citizens refrain from driving as it is against tradition. In fact, driving is incredibly dangerous on this day because there are many kids and families who will bike on major roads in Israel.
During Yom Kippur, most devote Jews undergo total fast - abstaining from both food and drink, from sundown to sundown. There is also a prohibition against all physical pleasures, engaging in sexual activity, wearing leather shoes, washing any part of the body including brushing the teeth or applying cosmetic. These restrictions are not enforced by law, but they are universally observed during Yom Kippur, except for emergency services or when a threat to life or health is involved.
Visiting Israel during Yom Kippur can be a surreal experience, but when an entire country stops functioning, the consequences can get dire. Eating out during Yom Kippur can be difficult as so much of the country is fasting. Hotels will run an almost skeleton staff and all leisure services such as gyms will be closed. It is therefore highly unlikely that there will be fresh food or usual food service. Some hotels organize a limited buffet of simple, pre-prepared food for guests who want it, but if you are not staying in a hotel, it is unlikely that they will allow you to eat in their restaurant.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. In fact, many tourist visit Israel during this period to experience, watch the congregants or to participate in this special prayer.
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