kotel - Daniel Bar-On - September 19, 2010
The Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Silence fell over Israel at around 5 P.M. on Friday, as the Yom Kippur fast began. Air traffic to and from Israel halted from 1 P.M. on Friday and is not scheduled to begin again until 9:30 P.M. on Saturday, while the border crossings to Jordan and Gaza have been closed down.

The weather forecast bodes well for fasters, with comfortable temperatures. Saturday will be slightly warmer than Friday but not more humid, so the heat stress will not rise - good news for fasters.

Public opinion surveys over the past few years show most Jews in Israel observe Yom Kippur. A survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2009 found 26 percent of Israeli Jews who describe themselves as "secular" or "not religious" fast on Yom Kippur and 24 percent of them have attended prayers at a synagogue.

A number of organizations will be holding mass prayers, intended for people who do not frequent synagogues on a regular basis, as part of a custom developed in the past years.

The Tzohar Rabbis' organization is expecting about 40,000 worshippers to attend some 200 prayer sessions the group is organizing together with the Association of Community Centers for people who do not pray regularly.

The organization will also hold gatherings of religious and secular people in Petah Tikva, Bat Yam, Zichron Yaakov, Ra'anana and Haifa.

The Conservative and Reform communities will hold mass prayer sessions, open to the public at large, throughout the country.

United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent non-profit fully volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS ) Organization, has asked synagogue managers to make sure a telephone is handy in case of emergency and that a rescue personnel member is close by or among the worshippers.