A skateboard pilgrimage to Haifa on Yom Kippur

This year, on Yom Kippur, hundreds of skateboarders traveled to Haifa on an annual pilgrimage, as a unique way of personal reflection before signing their names into the Book of Life.

A skateboard pilgrimage to Haifa on Yom Kippur. (photo credit: TAL MIJAELA ROSENZVAIG)
A skateboard pilgrimage to Haifa on Yom Kippur.
Haifa has become a pilgrimage site for a community of about 100 skateboard fans on Yom Kippur, opening new possibilities to celebrate the most austere day in Judaism. There are no shops open, no car nor bus on the street, and to a point, it almost starts to feel like a ghost town in your own neighborhood. However, there is something special about Yom Kippur which produces a truly peculiar and unique feeling in the air.
With the streets devoid of traffic, families are free to walk around, and children can zoom casually without overanxious parents. There is a sense of freedom in the air, on a day of reflection. Free from day-to-day life, free to reflect, free from your past mistakes and even free to walk on the highway.
Israel is known for taking to the streets with bicycles once the High Holy Day starts, but there is a another group nabbing attention for the way they commemorate the day. Across the country, skaters congregate in skate spots that are normally not available for them to conquer on a normal day, but on a day without cars, this is a special opportunity.
Skaters from around the world and across Israel come to Haifa to participate in an annual underground event.
“They say Yom Kippur in Haifa is one of the seven wonders of the skateboard world, people come from abroad to experience it, there is no such thing [like it] anywhere else,” says Karmiel native skater Noa Katz and a member of the Jerusalem Skater Girls group. “The roads are empty, it’s really a holiday for us.”
Taking place every year on the eve of Yom Kippur, co-founder and Haifa native Tommy Boyarchik has seen the event grow since its grassroots beginning. In recent years, it’s been gaining media attention due to its scale and unique context.
The skaters start the day by climbing Har HaKarmel (The Carmel Mountain) in Beit Oren, close to Damon Prison. They then descend the mountain, about 50 skaters at a time. Most describe the experience as exhilarating and scary, with an innate sense of freedom attached to the descent.
Before sundown, all the skaters make their way into the center of Haifa, toward the Carmel Center.
Some people falter (always getting back up), and some succeed, but the importance of this descent to these skaters is almost as important as a religious family going to synagogue on this day, and they articulate this as such.
“It’s a unique feeling to be involved in such an event,” says Paola Ruiloba co-founder of the Jerusalem Skater Girls group, “Yom Kippur is the day you release everything you did last year, a day you are more connected to yourself; for me skateboarding is my release, it helps connect my mind to my body. My skateboard is the pen I use to sign my name into the Book of Life.”
Ruiloba says the annual event creates a large amount of hype. Last year, she was followed by a news crew throughout the entirety of the event. Ruiloba is an activist for female skaters across the country – she and her team, the Jerusalem Skater Girls, “help find female skaters the support they need to be successful skaters, while helping these girls find themselves and be themselves in a country where sometimes being yourself isn’t all that popular.”
From religious to secular, Muslim to Jewish, skating and being a female are the only commonalities needed to be a member.
All-in-all this is a day of togetherness for this small community, from the descent of Har HaKarmel in Beit Oren, to the skate competitions in the Carmel Center of Haifa. What would normally be a solemn day for the rest of the country, this small group takes advantage of the freedom it allows to connect. Each year the event grows as a free-spirited alternative to celebrating Yom Kippur, even for those opting to keep their wheels.