On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Israel shuts down. It is quite amazing to witness. Other than emergency vehicles, there is no traffic on our roads. Children take their bikes to the highway. In secular neighborhoods, families walk throughout the city on car-less streets, greeting one another. All local television comes to a cease. Religious Jews spend nearly the whole time in the synagogue. (In Israel, there is always a local synagogue within walking distance, as the orthodox do not drive on the Sabbath.)
After living here a couples years, I wanted to see what happens in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur. That would be a challenge since I live about 17 kilometers north of Tel Aviv and driving was not an option. Most Israelis have no idea what the rest of the country is doing on this sacred day, as no one can leave their city—expect by foot or bike.
I decided I would do what the kids do. In those days, before someone stole all the bikes in our building (they were stored in one place), I was biking nearly everyday for about 45 minutes. However, I was hesitant to make this bike trip for two reasons.
1) I would be fasting and I didn’t know if I could bike all the way to Tel Aviv and back on an empty stomach.
2) I didn’t want to violate the spirit of such a sacred day. I am quite sure that when Moses shared with the children of Israel about Yom Kippur, he didn’t envision Israelites going on long distance bike rides.
In the end, the curiosity in me won out. I allowed myself to drink, but fasted food. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating days of my life. I was surprised to see the beaches full with secular Israelis and Russian immigrants. But it was surreal to bike down the Ayalon (the main highway through Tel Aviv) with no fear of traffic. There were also many serious cyclists with several thousand dollar bikes who clearly saw Yom Kippur merely as a day to get out on the highways, as well as hundreds of children on their two wheel contraptions.
I was also surprised at how much energy I had—I was tempted to think it was supernatural until I turned around to bike home. It if funny—the word in Hebrew for Spirit and wind are the same—Ruach. It was the Ruach, just not the one I was hoping for, that helped me bike south. The wind had been at my back all day. The ride home into the wind was grueling. I made it to Herzliya—one city before mine—and collapsed on the side of the road. I had no energy left.
Somehow I gathered myself and with one final push, I was able to go the last few kilometers to get back to Ra’anana, shower, rest and then go with Elana and the girls to the local synagogue before breaking the fast with our neighbors. (Messianic congregations typically don’t meet on Yom Kippur because of the ban of driving.)
Of course I took my camera to document the day. The most interesting picture I took was of a group of secular Jewish kids on their bikes talking to a group of religious Jewish children, who were not allowed to ride their bikes.
In addition to the fact that my mountain bike was stolen (did I mention that?), I now spend the day fasting in a more respectful way, asking God to open up the eyes of this country to the fact that forgiveness is found in Yeshua alone, praying in agreement with Romans 11:26, that all Israel would be saved. Still, Yom Kippur 2005 is the most memorable one I have ever experienced.