JEB SHARP: The revelations of Iran's nuclear facility and its missile tests may have made the holiest day of the Jewish calendar more somber than usual in Israel. Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. It began at sundown yesterday. TV and radio stations in Israel went off the air. There were no flights in and out of Israel's international airport. And nearly all businesses closed. But The World's Matthew Bell reports that not all of Israel came to a halt.
MATTHEW BELL: Hundreds of Jews gathered to pray in front of the western wall in Jersualem's old city hours before the start of Yom Kippur. They were mostly men and boys. The women and girls were cordoned off to one side. They all faced the holiest site on earth for Jews, the Temple Mount. Many rocked back and forth as they recited from books of scripture. It was an example of the kind of religious devotion that makes Jerusalem Israel's most pious place. On the other side of Israel, less than an hour's drive away, a different kind of preparation for the holiday took place, at bicycle shops. Six-year-old Itimar was with his dad to pick up a few last-minute items. Itimar wasn't exaggerating. Traffic in most of Israel completely stops for Yom Kippur. And so the holiday has turned into a festival of bicycles for children, especially in and around Tel Aviv. Karen Brima and her husband assembled a new Spiderman bike with training wheels for their three-year-old son. They got it ready just in time for the big day.
BRIMA: Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv might seem like a carnival, with all the kids on bikes. But it's also a solemn day. This is when we fast and repent, and it's the most important day of the year for the Jewish people.
BELL: But for the young kids, who don't fast, Yom Kippur is mostly about having fun. By sundown, the normally traffic-clogged streets of Tel Aviv were free of cars. That's when the kids took over. These kids say the best things about Yom Kippur are being able to ride as fast as they want, pop wheelies in the middle of the street, and stay up past their bedtime. Lots of people in
Tel Aviv also go to the beach on this holiday. But many secular Israelis here still fast and go to synagogue on Yom Kippur, even if they aren't especially observant throughout the year. Some people see all the bikes and the people at the beach, and are saddened by the growing secularization of Tel Aviv, but Raafi thinks it great.
RAAFI: It is a very, very special atmosphere that suddenly, the city stops all the usual daily activity and becomes a unique capsule of quietness. And the kids and the noise of laughter and all that is not something that is continuing the daily aspect. Because it's very, very different. Usually, you have cars and the kids have to be very afraid and suddenly everything opens. It's an amazing experience.
BELL: Raafi says there's something else that makes Yom Kippur special this year. 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the official founding of Tel Aviv.
RAAFI: We are really a fantastic place. And every week almost you have an event that is happening here that is exciting, artistic, whatever. You walk in the streets and see all the paintings. So it's a very exciting year, very strong acknowledgement of how far Tel Aviv came in terms of simply love of life and happiness and optimistic view of the future. And Yom Kippur is simply part of the fun in that sense.
BELL: The holiday ended tonight for many families with a meal to break the fast. Tomorrow, Tel Aviv returns to the faster rhythms of modern-day city life. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell in Tel Aviv.