A child rides his bike along a deserted highw
A child rides his bike along a deserted highw Reuters

Once again this year, Israelis were able to breathe easier on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on which Jews pray to be forgiven for and "cleansed" of their sins. Data collected during the day by sensors indicated that air pollution levels fell between 77% and 99% throughout Israel, depending on the location.

On Yom Kippur Israel effectively shuts down, with all places of business, entertainment, and even Ben Gurion Airport shut tight for well over 24 hours. While driving is not illegal in most cities, the vast majority of Israelis respect the sanctity of the day – or at least their neighbors' feelings - and refrain from driving or public activities, even if they do not keep the holiday themselves. Many secular Israelis who do not observe all the laws of the day nevertheless fast and refrain from working or driving - opting instead for more environmentally-friendly modes of transport such as bicycles.

As a result, pollution levels were dramatically lower than on a normal business day or weekend.

The level of pollution reduction followed patterns of where Jews largely live, versus where Arabs live. In the Tel Aviv area, a fall of 99% in pollution levels was recorded, with the same reduction in Jerusalem. Although many of Jerusalem's residents are Muslim, a large number do not have cars; in addition, Saturday marked a Muslim festival, with Jerusalem Muslims attending services in mosques or visiting families.

In Haifa and northern Israel, pollution was down 77%, likely due to the fact that more people – such as residents of Arab neighborhoods and Galilee villages – were driving.  

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