My favorite day in Israel (especially in Tel Aviv) has always been Yom Kippur. A day of national quiet. The kind of quiet that allows for reflection and introspection, even for secular Jews who don’t express their Jewishness through synagogue prayer.
A day of absolute rest for cars, trains, planes and other fossil fuel-burning vehicles. A day for bicycles and rollerblades and feet on otherwise empty streets and highways. So much so that some Israeli environmentalists have started to embrace the day as an example of what societies can do to reduce their carbon footprint.
But perhaps what’s most amazing is that the quiet of Yom Kippur has been achieved without the intrusion of religion into politics, without legislative fiat. True, laws have been passed that keep businesses closed and buses off the streets on Yom Kippur, but that’s the case for Shabbat in Israel as well, when the roads are still inundated with private cars, cabs and the shared sherut taxis.
Compare the near-unanimous, unlegislated and largely harmonious observance of this automotive abstinence by Israel’s Jewish public with the yearly tensions generated around other holidays – e.g., when ultra-orthodox politicians seek to prevent all Israelis from eating hametz on Passover by coercive means (by banning its sale in stores), not persuasion. Rather than encouraging a “kosher Passover”, the ultra-orthodox diktat promotes hostility, resentment and resistance.
As Israeli Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, of Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, noted in the Forward recently, “if [religious] coercion were removed,” far from undermining Jewish identity in Israel, “new springs of Jewish creativity and growth would bloom”. Amen.
Meanwhile, if you can’t be there, enjoy this video of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.
G’mar Hatima Tova