How Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is Observed in Israel: Traditions and Customs.

a stone arch on the beach with the ocean in the background
By Daniel Goodman

Published September 30, 2023.

Yom kippur shofar blowing

Yom Kippur, referred to additionally as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and significant day in the Jewish calendar. A time for deep reflection, repentance, and seeking forgiveness for one's sins. In this blog post, we'll explore the meaning and traditions of Yom Kippur, its significance in Judaism, and how it's observed in the Holy Land, Israel.

When is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 27, and ends at sundown on Thursday, September 28.

What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur falls on the seventh month in the Jewish calendar and marks the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance that begin with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is the most significant day in the Jewish Calendar and is marked by fasting, prayer, and introspection, allowing individuals to engage in meaningful self-reflection and seek spiritual renewal.

The Importance of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement):

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is a day when Jews seek atonement and reconciliation with God. It is believed that God inscribes each individual's course for the coming year in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Jewish high holidays” or “high holy days" and are a journey of introspection, self-examination, and the sincere quest for forgiveness.

How is Yom Kippur celebrated?

1. Fasting and Prayer on Yom Kippur:

One of the most well-known aspects of Yom Kippur is the 25-hour fast. This fast includes abstaining from food, drink, and other physical comforts.

What is the purpose of the fast?

Spiritual Focus: The fast serves as a means to redirect one's attention away from physical needs and desires and toward spiritual matters.

Symbol of Repentance: Fasting is a tangible expression of sincere repentance and remorse for one's sins.

Physical and Spiritual Detoxification: The fast serves as a form of purification, both physically and spiritually.

Fasting on Yom Kippur serves a profound purpose with multiple dimensions. It stands as a powerful symbol of one's dedication to both physical and mental repentance, enabling an individual to create a sacred space for spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and divine reconciliation.

2. Reflection and Forgiveness:

The essence of Yom Kippur is self-reflection and seeking forgiveness. Jews use this time to examine their actions over the past year, make amends with those they've wronged, and resolve to improve in the coming year.

3. Synagogue Services:

Yom Kippur radiates with spiritual intensity as worshippers gather for a day of profound and intense synagogue services.

On Yom Kippur, two central prayers hold profound significance for Jewish worshippers:

Kol Nidre: This solemn and deeply meaningful prayer is recited during the evening service. It serves as a heartfelt plea for the annulment of vows and promises made to God, allowing individuals to approach the Day of Atonement with a clean slate and a spirit of repentance.

Al Chet Confession: Following Kol Nidre, a full day of prayer unfolds, featuring the "Al Chet" confession. In this solemn act, a comprehensive list of sins is enumerated, and worshippers earnestly seek forgiveness, collectively embracing spiritual renewal and divine grace.

These two prayers together reveal the heart of Yom Kippur, a day of profound transformation. Here, in the embrace of introspection, sincere repentance, and the quest for divine mercy, individuals are empowered to embark on a journey of spiritual renewal and personal growth.

How is Yom Kippur celebrated in Israel?

Yom Kippur in Israel is a special festival which is celebrated/respected by all levels of religiosity.

Yom Kippur in Israel marks a unique pause in the rhythm of everyday life. On this day, the nation comes to a standstill, with businesses, restaurants, and recreational venues closing their doors. Transportation, including Ben Gurion Airport, grinds to a halt, and public roads, usually bustling, become remarkably empty.

Additionally, Throughout Yom Kippur Day, when the highways are empty, it has become more and more common to see kids and their families take to the desolate roads to ride their bikes, scooters and skateboards on what would be some of the busiest roads in Israel.

Meaningful Activities on Yom Kippur.

As Yom Kippur holds a profound spiritual significance for Jews, Christian visitors in Israel on this sacred day use it as an opportunity for their own quiet reflection and spiritual contemplation by seeking out a serene and peaceful natural setting or by visiting one of Israel's many historic and religious sites, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the tranquil shores of the Sea of Galilee, or the sacred waters of the Jordan River. It's a moment to pause, reflect, and draw from the wellspring of spiritual energy that permeates the Holy Land on this extraordinary day. Yom Kippur transcends religious boundaries, offering a universal invitation to all who seek moments of inner peace, renewal, and connection with the divine. It's a day where anyone, regardless of their faith, can find solace and inspiration.

For those who want a fully immersive experience of the Holy Land where Jesus walked, our Artza subscription box is designed to do just that. Delivered quarterly, each locally sourced Artza box is packed with up to eight stunning handcrafted gifts, local foods, spices, art, scripture, ceramics, and so much more - each carefully chosen from the local artisans and charities of that specific region - with the aim of bringing the Holy Land to life in the most meaningful and immersive way possible.