The Day of Atonement and Bicycles

In a few days Israel will shut down.  No TV, no movies, no entertainment of any kind.  No cars on the streets, absolutely no business open for any reason.  Evening comes and in synagogues all over the country the mournful notes Kol Nidre will herald the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, holiest day in Jewish calendar. Jews all over the country will go and pray to their god, asking for forgiveness and for another year to live in which they’ll be able to do whatever it is that they do.  For twenty-five hours they’ll pray and they’ll fast and the ones that do it for real may even find peace.

In a few days Israel will shut down.  No TV, no movies, no entertainment of any kind.  No cars on the streets, absolut… wait, no cars on the streets?  REALLY?  That means that I could ride my bike in the streets, up and down the highways and not be mowed down by the notoriously aggressive Israeli drivers, doesn’t it?  Yes, it does. The greatest part of this whole deal is that there is no law that prohibits using a car during Yom Kippur, it’s just something that we all sort of agreed we wouldn’t do. I like that.

And there you have it folks, the religious fault lines of Israeli society out where everybody can see them.  That thing with the bikes is a beautiful sight to behold.  As night falls more and more kids take to the streets; hundreds and  hundreds of them. There are the newbies, small kids that got their bike just a day or two ago moving slowly and weaving erratically. Down the road, on the highway, there is a wolfpack of serious riders pedaling for all they are worth on the one day when they can really break loose. Small groups and large, families with kids and gaggles of teens, they are all there.  A couple of years back our family took a long trip from Kiryat Ono where we live down to the Tel Aviv beach and back, roughly 18 miles all in all.  Along the way we saw all twelve tribes having a ball.  My kids love to ride a bike so needless to say they await Yom Kippur breathlessly.

And god you ask?  Well, were you to ask my boys they’d tell you in all honesty that it would be god-damned shame to waste perfectly good, empty roads on the one day when you can really enjoy them.

Some time ago, just before Yom Kippur I told a friend of mine how much my children were looking forward to the holiday.  My buddy is a deeply observant orthodox Jew that moved from the States to Israel so that he could practice his religion to the full.  He looked at me all funny, thoroughly confused.  It took us a couple of minutes to figure it out that he had no idea that the biking thing took place.  For him the very thought that a Jew would do anything else during Yom Kippur other than fast and pray was totally alien.  

So I was shocked by his ignorance, and he was shocked by my… well, by me.

So if you want to see Israel in all of its multiple-personality glory, come by on Friday, just in time for Yom Kippur.  Lunch’s on me.

About the Author
Benjamin Levy is the CEO of IsItYou, Ltd; an Israeli start-up specializing in mobile face recognition; He was born forty-six years ago in Mexico City and lived for a long time in California. Today he is married to an Israeli and the proud father of three. To date, he’s managed to fit in getting three degrees, launch a democratic school, hold eight proper jobs, completed over eighty consulting assignments, and worked in 61 countries, and fourteen of the world’s time zones at last count; His favorite line of poetry comes from Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.”