On Yom Kip­pur, Tel Aviv be­comes bi­cy­clists’ haven

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Joshua Mit­nick Joshua Mit­nick is a free­lance writer.

TEL AVIV — As af­ter­noon dims into dusk on the eve of Yom Kip­pur, an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing hap­pens in this sec­u­lar me­trop­o­lis: Is­rael’s city that rarely sleeps grinds to a stand­still and is en­veloped in a strange and won­der­ful si­lence.

Traf­fic thins and even­tu­ally dis­ap­pears. Stores are shut­tered as last-minute shop­pers line up to buy pro­vi­sions to last the 25hour hol­i­day, the holi­est day on the Jewish cal­en­dar.

While re­li­gious Jews dressed in hol­i­day whites hurry to syn­a­gogue to start aton­ing for the past year’s sins, a sec­u­lar rit­ual is also be­gin­ning.

Par­ents lug bi­cy­cles out of base­ment bomb shel­ters. Chil­dren pop their heads out in between parked cars to see if it is fi­nally safe to go into the road. The echo of car horns is re­placed by the ping­ing of bi­cy­cle bells.

Such is the odd spir­i­tual yin and yang of Jewish ob­ser­vance in Tel Aviv.

Is­rael has no law ban­ning driv­ing on Yom Kip­pur, but the only ve­hi­cles on the roads are am­bu­lan- ces and po­lice cars. That turns the city into an enor­mous play­ground for bi­cy­cle rid­ers, skate­board­ers, pedes­tri­ans and dogs.

“It’s a vol­un­tary thing that no one drives on Yom Kip­pur,” says Avishai Amir, a re­tiree strolling up a tree-lined boule­vard with his pure­bred Akita. “It’s a spark of Jewish sol­i­dar­ity with the ultra-Ortho­dox. If they passed a ban, all of the sec­u­lar peo­ple would drive.”

After dark, Habima Square fills with hun­dreds of fam­i­lies. Par­ents so­cial­ize as chil­dren wob­ble along on train­ing wheels and teenagers plan noc­tur­nal bi­cy­cle rides to neigh­bor­ing ci­ties.

“Yom Kip­pur means free­dom,” says Tom In­bar, a sev­enth grader chat­ting with two girls about their route and who would be join­ing. “It’s an ex­pe­ri­ence. You can ride in the roads, just once a year.”

Sev­eral blocks away, about 50 Ortho­dox Jews sit in an in­ter­sec­tion and chant praise to God as bi­cy­cles go around them. Wear­ing a long white beard and a prayer shawl, Rabbi Bet­za­lel Tsur says the bikes do not dis­rupt the solemni- ty of the hol­i­day.

“The divi­sion between re­li­gious and sec­u­lar dur­ing the year is un­im­por­tant,” he said. “On Yom Kip­pur we’re all hu­mans.”

Other more lib­eral rab­bis view the bi­cy­cle fes­tiv­i­ties in the con­text of the hol­i­day’s em­pha­sis on com­mu­nity and get­ting along with neigh­bors.

Ultra-re­li­gious Jews are less for­giv­ing. As on the Sab­bath, when work and cre­ative ac­tiv­ity are banned, rid­ing bikes on Yom Kip­pur is for­bid­den in their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Jewish law.

It is “a des­e­cra­tion of the holy day,” one ultra-Ortho­dox rabbi told the on­line Walla news ser­vice.

That view ap­pears to be in the mi­nor­ity, at least in Tel Aviv.

The next morn­ing, Ran Sprin­zak, a lawyer and his 4-year-old daugh­ter Dafna ride side-by-side down Rokach Boule­vard. “Zion­ism was sec­u­lar,” Sprin­zak says. “The peo­ple who came here left re­li­gion, and did things to spite their par­ents and the old way of life. This might be part of it.” Ultra-Ortho­dox Jews look out over the Mediter­ranean Sea this week in Her­zliya, Is­rael.

JACK GUEZ/GETTY-AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.