Why Israel Breathes Easy On Car-free Yom Kippur Day


Israel’s green campaigners note the quiet streets and clear skies on Yom Kippur Day

Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism and begins this Friday. For non-Jews in Israel it is a day when the streets are quiet, peaceful and vacant of anything but feet.

But beyond urban tranquility, green campaigners in Israel have noticed an unexpected benefit to the Jewish day of prayer and fasting: the country’s ecological footprint is significantly reduced.


Traffic in Israel effectively comes to a halt on Yom Kippur. Standing in the middle of the street watching the clouds pass, one will notice the skies are even clearer as air traffic is put to a stop. There is no use of electricity and most gadgets and gizmos that may cause pollution are turned off. Indeed, instead of the usual hustle and bustle on the streets one will more likely find groups of bicyclists and pedestrians roaming the streets of Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur boasts the lowest carbon emissions of any date on the Israeli calendar. The day has become a catalyst for the ever-growing Israeli green movement.

“On Yom Kippur pollution is collapsing,” Eran Ben-Yemini, chairman of Israel’s Green Movement told The Media Line. “Since 90 percent of pollution is by car, there is improved air quality all day.”

“The decrease in average concentrations of nitrogen-dioxide was more than 90 percent and for nitrogen-oxide 95 percent,” according to an Environment Ministry report written by Dr. Aryeh Wanger and Dr. Eliezer Ganor.

“Decreases in the average concentration for carbon monoxide reached 50 to 75 percent, based on the naturally high background concentrations of this pollutant while concentrations of respirable particles (PM10) decreased by 50 percent,” the report continued.

Pedestrians take the streets back

In addition to the environmental benefits, Yom Kippur alters every aspect of life in Jerusalem for the duration of the 25-hour fast.

“The entire urban environment is transformed, and the normally car-choked streets are returned to the people,” said Dr. Jeremy Benstein, deputy director of The Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership.

“Though only for a single day, this magical change manifests itself in tangibly less pollution, less noise, and feelings of expansiveness and community,” Benstein said.

Ben-Yemini, chairman of the Green Movement attests that the lack of transportation is the most dramatic element of the day, but that the increased sense of community should not be underestimated.

“The people are reclaiming the streets via Yom Kippur,” Ben-Yemini told The Media Line.

Of Israelis, 63 percent will be observing Yom Kippur by fasting on September 18. An even greater number will be abstaining from driving and use of other pollutant-causing mechanisms.

The over one million people living in the greater Jerusalem area will effectively have the smallest carbon footprint of any major city on September 18.

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