Since Rosh Hashannah, many of Israel's Egged buses have had the computerized signs above the driver alternating between the vehicles' destination and the words "Chatima Tova" - "be sealed for a good year".
Israel radio closes its broadcasts preceding the Yom Kippur fast with the same words, said by one announcer to another and to all of Israel.
That is one of the special things about Israel. With all its differences and tensions between the secular and religious, the State of Israel is essentially closed down on Yom Kippur, with no public transportation or electronic broadcasts, and practically no open stores or services. The trains stop at 11, buses several hours later, and the IDF shuts off Palestinian Arab entrances to Jewish areas. Everyone tells everyone "chatima tova" as the phone lines jam. Even the airspace is closed.
This day, highest of the High Holidays – Yom Kippur – is to begin on Tuesday night, and Jews around the world will fast for 25 hours on the solemn day that ends the Ten Days of Penitence.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a Divinely-designated day that the Torah explains “will atone for you [plural] to purify you from all your sins before G-d.” Such atonement, however, is not automatic and must be accompanied by teshuvah, a serious process that must include introspection, admission of sins, remorse, and a commitment not to repeat them.
One must also appease and ask forgiveness from those he has harmed or insulted over the year. One must also forgive those who are sorry for hurting us. To err is human and can be forgiven, the refusal to forgive, however, is not forgivable.
Many people visit the graves of their parents on the days before Yom Kippur, in preparation for the Yizkor service memorializing lost parents which is said during the fast.
The prayers for Yom Kippur, which begin with the Kol Nidre prayer said at night, then take up most of the day, are replete with the various concepts of teshuvah, as well as acknowledgement of G-d’s goodness in affording mortals this opportunity to exonerate and improve themselves.
One of the dramatic prayers is a review of the High Priest's preparations and yearly entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple, during which the each member of the congregation prostrates himself before G-d.
There is also a piyyut, liturgical poem, recalling the ten martyrs killed by the Romans, one of whom was Rabbi Akiva.
The fast begins just before sundown on Tuesday and ends some 25 hours later, after the special Ne’ilah (locking, signifying that the gates of heaven are to be locked at the end of the fast) prayer, said standing. At the prayer's end, the Shma Yisrael - Hear O Israel the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One - is recited aloud by the entire congregation, followed by another two verses, including sevenfold loud repetition of the words "G-d is the Lord".
The end of the fast is signalled by a dramatic, lone shofar-blast and the immediate singing of "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem". In many Israeli synagogues, this is a signal for joyous dancing as the fast's end signals a lightening of spirits.
In addition to eating and drinking, also forbidden on this day are wearing leather shoes, washing up, make-up and perfumes, and marital relations.
The prohibitions notwithstanding, the day is also onsidered a festive day, in that we celebrate G-d’s beneficence in going against natural law and allowing us to revoke and nullify our misdeeds. It is also a “day of friendship and love," according to the prayer liturgy.
The day of the eve of Yom Kippur, the 9th of the Jewish month of Tishrei, is also considered a special day, and we are required to eat and drink even more than we normally do. "Whoever eats and drinks on the 9th,” the Talmud states enigmatically, “is as [meritorious as] if he had fasted on both the 9th and the 10th." The custom of kaparot is done on the 9th.
Bicycling on main roads and city streets has become a popular pastime on the holy day, to the dismay of many, as there is no motor-vehicle traffic to be seen.
Even more prevalent on this day are prayer services. Organizations make arrangements for secular-friendly prayer services around the country, which have become extremely popular and well-attended in recent years. The PR Ministry has arranged for tens of thousands of Yom Kippur prayer books, called machzorim, to be given free to those attending its scores of special services (link is in Hebrew) for the secular. The Ayelet Hashachar organization has arranged scores of services on kibbutzim that are user-friendly to the secular. Chabad is doing the same in hundreds of spots throughout Israel.
Israelis who are old enough to remember Yom Kippur 1973, recall how people were shocked to see cars driving down the streets in the early afternoon. They were rounding up soldiers as the Yom Kippur War had broken out during the day - almost all of the soldiers, religious and secular, were at their local synagogues and army cars went from synagogue to synagogue with lists, while sirens wailed shortly afterwards in Jerusalem and worshipers raced to shelters.
Memorial services for the war's fallen soldiers will be held on Thursday.
One of the most dramatic prayers in the Ashkenazi machzor on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur is Unetane Tokef, written by Rabbi Amnon of Mayence in the Middle Ages, which includes the words: "You, the Almighty, recall everything we have forgotten, and the book You open has our lives before You...the angels tremble and say 'Today is the Day of Judgment'.. Who will live and who will die..who by water and who by fire..." (Note: The video of the IDF choir singing the prayer was not recorded on the holiday).
For more detailed information on Yom Kippur, click here.
May we and all Israel be inscribed for a happy, healthy and blessed new year.