Once every 33 years, the religious holidays coincide so that one of the biggest feast days of the year for Muslims falls on the biggest fast day of the year for Jews.
This year, Yom Kippur will coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the second most important holiday in the Muslim calendar, and the faiths radically opposed ways of marking their holidays have some worried that interfaith tensions may rise even higher than in past years.
Eid al-Adha means “The Feast of the Sacrifice” and commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. The festival is often marked with the slaughter of a goat or sheep, and families travel to get together in a celebratory mood.
Yom Kippur, on the other hand, the Jewish day of judgement, is marked by fasting and prayer. Secular Jews mark the day by refraining from driving cars, in what has become an inseparable cultural aspect to the holy day.
The phenomenon of a shared date happens once every 33 years - in 1948, in 1981, and in 2014. Due to the quirks of the Jewish leap year and the fact that the faiths use different lunar calendars, it will also happen again next year.
Tensions are already high between Arabs and Jews after the war in Gaza this summer and near-constant rioting in East Jerusalem.
The confluence of the two holidays has some worried that any interaction or misunderstanding between Jews and Arabs could quickly degenerate into widespread violence as it has in years past.
Police aren’t taking any chances. National Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the police will increase their presence in mixed cities, especially in Jerusalem and Acre.
The police try to limit their patrols in cars on Yom Kippur but will have more policemen patrolling the area on foot. The Old City is an area of special concern. “There are tensions, but police officers have met with leaders in different communities to coordinate the fact that holidays are falling at the same time,” Rosenfeld said.
In Acre, which saw riots on Yom Kippur in 2008 when an Arab resident drove through an observant Jewish neighbourhood blaring music from his car stereo, local Muslim official Abbas Zakur said an agreement had been reached between the two communities on the timing of celebrations. Muslims would celebrate and feast on Sunday, but from Saturday small electric cars will be provided for those wishing to go to the mosque to pray.
The electric cars would create less noise than motorized vehicles and would be less likely to upset religious Jews, Zakur explained. The old city of Acre would be closed to all traffic, he added.
In the city of Hebron, which sees daily confrontations between Jewish settlers and Palestinians — or between Palestinians and police — soldiers will be manning dozens of checkpoints.
The IDF said it would implement a general closure of the West Bank and Gaza starting at midnight Thursday night and lasting until Saturday night. Palestinians will only be allowed into Israel for humanitarian reasons or for emergencies.
Each religions’ customs for celebrating their holy day could also lead to increased tensions.
“The way that the Jews celebrate [Yom Kippur] is very internal,” explained Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former MK who is also the chairperson of Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation, a group promoting religious tolerance and understanding across the Middle East. “We go inside ourselves on Yom Kippur, looking at our relationships and ourselves. As opposed to other [Jewish] festivals, we go into our homes and into our synagogues, it’s not a day of external celebrations.”
Read more: Leaders bid to downplay tensions as Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha clash | The Times of Israel timesofisrael.com