By: Molly Winik
Yom Kippur is one of the holiest days of the year in Israel, along with Rosh Hashanah, which usually falls a week before. Unlike Rosh Hashanah, a holiday celebrating the start of a sweet new year, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year focusing on repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.
Although this sounds like a bit of a downer, spending Yom Kippur in Israel is a surreal, unforgettable experience that offers a lot more than just an opportunity to sit around and reflect on all the bad things you did the past year. The entire country — stores, restaurants, bars, attractions, streets and so on — may shut down, but that just means more room for pedestrians and bikes and more time to do all those small things that usually get pushed out of the picture by commerce and work.
This year, Yom Kippur begins on the evening of Tuesday, October 11 and ends at sundown on Wednesday, October 12. Here’s some suggestions for taking advantage of this unique holiday…
11 Ways to Pass the Time on Yom Kippur
Rent a bike
Renting a bike and riding around the city is one of the most popular things to do in Tel Aviv during Yom Kippur. Busy streets like Ibn Gabriol or King George will be car free, allowing bikers to cruise easily around the city. Ride from Tel Aviv University to Jaffa and everywhere in between. If you don’t have your own bike, definitely rent a bike beforehand. Not only will all the stores be closed on Yom Kippur, but also rental places might sell out as the holiday gets closer.
Do whatever you want on the highway
Just like the city streets, the highways are ghost towns on Yom Kippur. Except for the occasional ambulance or police car, there are no cars on the highway, leaving it completely car-free on Yom Kippur. Walking, biking, or rollerblading on Ayalon, a major highway in Israel which runs right through Tel Aviv, is a must do on Yom Kippur. You can even sunbathe, as long as you make yourself apparent to cyclists and rollerbladers.
Go to the beach
Tel Aviv is a beach city, so it goes without saying that many Israelis choose to go to the beach and relax with friends on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur usually falls in late September when it is still warm and beautiful in Israel. All of the beaches in Tel Aviv are great; Gordon Beach is one of the popular ones.
However, you might want to refrain from playing matkot (beach paddle ball), both on Yom Kippur and in general.
Hangout in HaYarkon Park
Another great way to spend the holiday is to grab a good book and head to HaYarkon Park. Located in northern Tel Aviv, HaYarkon Park is filled with green lawns, a little sanctuary in the city. It’s big enough that even on a really crowded day you will be able to have some privacy and your own space. Find a shady place under a tree and start reading.
Be your own personal chef
If you’re not observing the fast, then you’ll probably want to eat, but this is the one day of the year you’re not going to get out of making your own food by going out to a restaurant or ordering delivery, so why not make the most out of it? Just remember to buy your food a day or two before to make sure you’re stocked up for whatever feast you decide to cook up.
Go to Jaffa
If you’d like to find some action, head to Jaffa, where a good portion of the population is Muslim and does not observe the holiday. It will certainly be less busy than usual, but you’ll be able to find some shops, restaurants and grocery stores open and people out and about as on any other day.
Besides all the stores and restaurants closing down, there is nothing on cable on Yom Kippur. If you turn on the TV, you will just see a broadcast message informing you that the network has been suspended until the end of the holiday. So (“legally”) download some movies in advance or fill up your Netflix queue in preparation.
Yom Kippur is for lovers — Go on a date!
You know all those times your too busy to go on a date? Well, this is one day when nobody has any excuses!
Invite that special somebody over for a home-cooked meal with a bottle of wine and a movie marathon or on a day-trip to Jaffa, a romantic walk on the beach or even a couples bike ride (if you’re one of those active people).
Go to a synagogue
The nice thing about Tel Aviv is that there is a good mixture of religious and nonreligious people there. Many Israelis will split Yom Kippur, going to the beach or the park for part of the day and spending the other half in synagogue. Finding a synagogue to go to in Tel Aviv shouldn’t be hard, but make sure you get there early as it could get crowded as the day goes on.
For most holidays, Israelis, especially elementary students wear white. Because Yom Kippur is one of the most holy days of the year in Israel, many Israelis will wear white as they bike or walk on the streets. Throw on a white t-shirt to blend in and take part in the celebration!
If you run out of activities on Yom Kippur, your best bet is to relax and take a nap, especially if you are fasting or if you need a nice food nap after that mighty feast you’ve cooked and devoured.
Play board or card games
One of the best ways to spend the holiday is stay home with family and friends and play board or card games. Taki is a popular card came in Israel, similar to Uno, and you can always take a page from your grandparents book and play some rummy.