Aryeh Myers


“I want to ride my bicycle,” sang Queen, in yet another of the musical moments of genius.

“On Yom Kippur!” add a vocal and victorious group of Tel Aviv residents, despite not realising that there aren’t enough syllables to fit the original piece of music.

“Consensus!” yells yet another group. “Status Quo!”

“Democratic rights!”

“Jewish State!”

“State for Jews!”

The debate, in one form or another, has raged since the earliest days of the State of Israel; in fact, since before its establishment. Conflict has arisen on a myriad of subjects where religion and state don’t meet eye to eye: public transport on Shabbat, bread availability on Pesach and, of course, military service.

The latest battlefield has been the cycle-hire scheme in Tel Aviv – Tel-O-Fun (a shockingly poor, but official translation, based on the name Tel Aviv and the Hebrew for a bicycle)a similar idea to London’s Boris Bikes (and several years ahead of it, too). 

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting, repentance and prayer, is observed, at least to some degree, by many irreligious Jews too. Some will spend all day in prayer, others take the opportunity to reflect quietly at home. It has also, over the years, become synonymous with bicycles being seen all over Israel as children and adults take advantage of the eerily quiet roads.

Coincidentally, it is one of the busiest days of the year for MDA, the national ambulance service, as they deal not only with people suffering from the effects of the prolonged fast, but also with more bicycle injuries than any other day of the year. Funny how that happens, right?

A sense of holiness permeates the land for Yom Kippur, a day utilised by so many for introspection and an opportunity for many to reconnect with their often withering Jewish roots.

Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is fighting a battle for its own identity as the most open, pluralistic, accepting, democratic and open-minded city in Israel.

However, being open-minded is a two way street.

The balancing act is almost impossible. Those calling for the Tel-O-Fun (have I mentioned yet the poor choice of English-language branding?) to be open will accept nothing less than the full service the expect every other day of the year. Those calling for the scheme to close decry the fact that employees will be forced to work on a day that is both a national and religious holiday, as well as the fact that as part of the public transport of Tel Aviv, the scheme should be covered by the same rules and regulations.

There is more at stake here than just yet another argument between two sides who will never meet in the middle. The status quo exists not because there is no disagreement, but because compromises have been reached that allow for acceptance. At stake here, however, is not just a national identity, in everpresent crisis. At stake is our own personal identity, each and every one of us.

At stake is the future of the red lines that were, in the early days marked out in indellible ink, but today are redrawn with pencil. A little like the red lines around the ever-too-shallow Kinneret where reaching the lowest possible point is solved by marking a new point somewhat lower.

The argument of those who hold that Israel is a state for Jews, that State and Religion should be separated, may well have a strong and valid case, at least in some aspects, but in this case it threatens to leave us in a state that we don’t know who we are, where we’ve come from, and what it is that holds us together as a nation.

Some days are not just holy, they are sacred.

It seems that the Tel Aviv municipality has agreed.

Anyone hiring a bicycle prior to Yom Kippur, albeit limited to those who already have an annual subscription to the service, will be able to return it after the day is over without being charged for the duration. No one who works in the control centre will have to do so. No one will be encouraged, however indirectly, to use a public service that is not necessary on Yom Kippur.

It’s a compromise where private choice remains relatively unhindered, whilst public image and Jewish identity is preserved. It may not be an ideal solution for either side of the argument, but at least it proves one thing:

Dialogue is still possible.

About the Author
An Israeli who's returned home after ten years serving the London public as a Paramedic. Author of