Israel closed its borders in preparation for holiest day

Israel prepared Wednesday to lock down for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, when borders close, streets empty of traffic and Jews fast, pray and ask for forgiveness.

Security forces were on high alert for the holiday. Armed guards were to be posted at synagogues and police said extra officers would be on duty at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest shrine, where thousands were expected to gather in prayer at midnight.

The 25-hour fast begins at sunset and ends an hour after sundown on Thursday.

In the days leading up to the fast, known in English as the Day of Atonement, many observant Jews perform the ritual of caparot, where a live chicken is swung over the penitent's head to absorb the person's sins, then slaughtered on the spot.

Dina Gottlieb, a 74-year-old Holocaust survivor shopping in Jerusalem's main produce market Wednesday said she performed caparot the day before.

"In this world someone always has to pay," she said. "Better it should be the chicken than me."

For the more squeamish, young religious men set up stalls giving the observant the option of expunging their sins through a cash donation to charity.

According to a poll in the Yediot Ahronot daily, 70 percent of Israeli Jews said they intended to observe the fast, with residents of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish spiritual life, way above the national average at 89 percent. The paper did not say how many people were polled or what was the margin of error.

Newspapers and TV programs offered tips for the fast, advising heavy coffee drinkers to start gradually cutting down at least three days ahead.

People were urged to avoid eating fried or spicy food at their pre-fast meal and to drink plenty of water and eat fruit before the holiday, where no food or drink is taken and the observant may not perform any physical labor, use electricity, answer the phone or operate any kind of machinery.

The ban on drinking water hits especially hard in Israel where daytime temperatures throughout the country on Thursday are forecast to top 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

From early afternoon Wednesday all public transport will cease and airports will shut down. Border points to Egypt and Jordan and crossings into the West Bank will also close.

In most Jewish neighborhoods, even the nonreligious do not drive. Israeli radio and TV channels go off the air, while shops, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and all places of entertainment shut down.


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