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We didn’t plan it that way. When we set the date for our trip to Jordan and Israel, we had no idea that two of the world’s most famous religious events would collide back-to-back.

Only once every 30 years does the end of the Islamic Ramadan coincide with the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur? Fate had planned our journey during this rare and sacred coincidence.

Islam’s holiest month, Ramadan represents the cycle of the moon when Muhammad first received revelations from God in 610 AD.


Our Muslim guide observed the required daily fast and refused to eat or drink anything all day, but his abstinence seriously affected his tour duties.

As we explored Petra and its adjacent ancient gorges in intense sunlight and high temperatures, he suffered from dehydration, became weak and dizzy, and often left the group to lead the way while he recovered in the shadows.

The sighting of the new moon determines whether Ramadan ends on the 29th or 30th. No one will ever know for sure. On the evening of the 29th of the month, we joined a Muslim family in Amman, Jordan at their television before the Imam officially announced that the crescent moon had risen in Mecca.



The dining table was covered with fine china, and the smell of stewed chicken wafted from the kitchen. When a religious leader announced that he had seen the moon, a wild celebration broke out, ending Ramadan with a celebration called Eid-u-Fitr.

It was followed by the distribution of gifts and a big party. The family’s 15-year-old daughter Adara grabbed the gifts.

Strange, uneasy feelings ran through the non-Muslims in our room, shocked that a religious holiday was being announced on television. “How do Muslims in a TV-free world find out?” I wondered.

“What if the new moon doesn’t appear or it’s covered in clouds?” I asked Adara.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to watch TV to see if the Star of Bethlehem had appeared. But the family celebration, the gift delivery, the party so heavy that both Adara and her mother had to carry a bowl of food to the table, the warm feeling of sharing their special customs with the guests created a scene like our Christian Christmas. Activity.


However, we were not so different back then.


In the morning we went to the Israeli border and found out that celebrating Yom Kippur would start later that day. A quick internet search revealed that this date corresponded to the 10th day of the month of Tishrei in the year 5771 of the Jewish lunisolar calendar.

It falls on the same day that Moses received the second set of Ten Commandments from God, which represent the atonement of the Israelites’ sins with the help of the Golden Calf. Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, penance and prayer, illustrates the contrasts and similarities between Judaism and Islam, which sometimes collide.

Unless we arrived in Israel from Jordan before 1pm, the Israeli Immigration Office was closed and not reopened until the following evening. For 25 hours, starting 20 minutes before sunset until sunset the next day, all community activity in every Jewish community stops.


The long queues at the border checks snake back and forth. Worried passengers with frantic faces clutched their credentials and squirmed as they calculated how long it would take to get through the gate. An Israeli guard marched back and forth to maintain order and check travel documents.


He spied our trusty navy blue US passports and directed us through the chaotic line to a separate entrance. Citizenship of an allied country that provides military assistance seems to be a long way to go. In a few minutes we were on Israeli soil.


We arrived in Jerusalem around 5pm. It was an unexpected privilege to experience the holiest Jewish holy days in the holiest city of the Jews. There is no better way for pagans to understand what this religious holiday means.

Reading about the practices practiced during this grace and atonement cannot prepare a person to be there in person. At first we laughed at the stories of all businesses shutting down, all services shutting down, and all transportation shutting down. As perfect indolence progressed, respect for Jewish devotion to the Day of Atonement grew.


Some pedestrians rushed as if approaching a deadline, merchants rolled down security gates and traffic slowed. When we got to the hotel parking lot, the electric trolley suddenly stopped in the middle of the block. All the passengers and the conductor left the car and ran in different directions, leaving the car without a crew. “Was this the beginning of the total closure of the city’s Jewish sector?” I wondered.

After a quick and efficient check-in at the hotel, the attendant informed us that the elevator was ready for Shabbat service for the next 25 hours. No buttons to press as contact with any type of electrical equipment is not recommended.


The only elevator in operation stops automatically at each floor and requires no personal contact with the mechanism.


Preparing the mind for Yom Kippur for this “day of rest” allows the individual to willingly withhold personal comfort, distress the body while nourishing the soul.

The focus is on confession, penance and personal reflection. The five official prohibitions for this period—no eating or drinking, wearing “comfortable” leather shoes, no bathing or washing, no applying ointments or perfumes, and no marriage—help the penitent to concentrate on prayer.

In our hotel room, a basket of wrapped cookies and crackers, jam, juice cartons, and a checkered tablecloth awaited tomorrow’s breakfast. The position excludes hotel and kitchen staff. How worshipers faithful to the teachings of Judaism have established themselves.

I looked out the window at the now deserted street below. Not a car, nor a taxi, nor shoppers, nor an open door, nor a working traffic light, nor the noise of the city.


A lonely and secular cyclist has passed. Jewish men rush to prayers at the Temple or the Wailing Wall in special Yom Kippur attire: white robes covered with black-and-white striped square prayer shawls called tallits topped with yarmulkes or yarmulkes.

We took the sidewalk steps and stopped to feel an incredible silence. We felt loneliness, we saw pity and we saw a city that looked like a scene from the movie ‘The Day the Earth Stood still’.


The prayer of the faithful asked us to walk through the deserted alleys of the Jewish quarter of ancient Jerusalem, hidden behind thick stone walls. Signs prevented tourists from entering the square in front of the Western Wall during this religious celebration.

As we embraced the rocky vista, we looked down at throngs of Hasidic men bobbing their black-hatted heads in prayer, waving long fingers at each nod. Hunched against the wall and immersed in his own atonement, each confessor seemed oblivious to the intrusion of believers into every inch of space.

Fewer women wearing headscarves have taken their marginalized place behind men. The muffled buzz of prayers rivaled the whisper of the light wind as the only sound to be heard.


25 hours of stoic inertia in any capital city is almost unimaginable. Being in Jerusalem during Yom Kippur cleared all doubts. When I got up the next morning, I was sure the determination would fade and activity would return. But no, nothing moved, nothing opened, and the still space remained intact without cracks.

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