The main reason why I like to stay in Israel during the High Holidays is Yom Kippur. When we got back to Israel after spending many years in the US, I was delighted to discover that Yom Kippur was no longer the dreary holiday of my childhood, it has totally changed and gained a uniquely Israeli interpretation as a national bicycling day.
That year, about two weeks before the High Holidays, our daughters informed us that they absolutely had to have bicycles for Yom Kippur, all their friends had them. That is how we first learnt about the new tradition.
Imagine a big city where on a regular day the streets are packed with noisy cars and buses, and then all of a sudden, as though by magic — everything comes to a halt and there is silence.
Earlier today I checked and saw that on this year Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv starts shortly before 6 pm. When I got on my bike around that time there were still some cars. But few minutes later everything stopped. While riding I saw families in white walking toward the synagogue, and some very well dressed young children with their parents on tricycles, and scooters.
When I rode back the busy Hatayasim highway was totally empty of cars and filled with older children on their bicycles. Later tonight I expect to see the streets become even fuller with people, this is the night when everybody goes outside.
Tomorrow, like most Tel Avivians, we will ride our bicycles, in previous years we headed to the sea and rode along the shore before finally arriving to Hayarkon river and then back home. It is literally a once in a year experience. For me this is also the only day that I feel confident enough to ride on the roads and don’t have to worry about being run over by a car.
I don’t know who invented Bicycling Day and whether s/he works in the bicycling business, but she is clearly a genius. Naturally every year before Yom Kippur the sales of bicycles increase tremendously.
Probably for many Orthodox Jews the practice of observing the holiest day of the year has not changed much throughout the years, but for me as a secular Jew the holiday has become meaningful once it stopped belonging only to Orthodox Jews. As a child every Yom Kippur we hid at home and I remember my mother asking us to eat quietly and not to make noise because the neighbors were passing by our kitchen window on their way back from Shul.
Bicycling has changed all that, Yom Kippur stopped being a holiday that had nothing to do with me or my life style and became a favorite holiday, one which I could enjoy as an Israeli, if not as an observant Jew.
On that same Yom Kippur when we returned to Israel we were walking at night behind our two cycling daughters. Dizengof street was quiet and there were no cars. All of a sudden an old and noisy Volkswagen beetle came toward us with all its windows open. We saw that the driver of that car was the poet David Avidan.
It never occurred to me before, but perhaps Avidan did not realize that Yom Kippur has changed and wanted to protest. As one of the greatest poets of secularization I believe that he would have loved the new Israeli holiday of Bicycling Day.