Yom Kippur the holiest day of the Jewish year, ended last night with the shrill blast of the shofar, the ram's horn signaling the end of the Day of Atonement in synagogues throughout Israel.
At the 2,000-year-old Wailing Wall, the Western Wall of the Second Temple, hundreds of Jews chanted penitenitial prayers until sundown, and then broke into joyous singing to mark the end of the holy day.
Yesterday was the fifth Yom Kippur since the Egyptian 3rd Army, ostensibly conducting autumn manuvers, suddenly crossed the Suez Canal and attacked in the Sinai, plunging Israel into its fourth war in its brief history.
In contrast, Jews throughout Israel last night celebrated not only the end of the Yom Kippur fast, but also the expectation of peace as negotiations for Israel and Egypt prepared to negotiate a peace treaty.
The anticipation of peace continued to fascinate Israelis, even mind the solemnity of Yom Kippur. At first funable to grasp the immensity of the prospect of peace with Egypt for the first time in the country's 30-year history, Israelis added prayers of thanks to their pentinence yesterday for the unexpected turn of events following the Camp David summit conference.
Sermons in synagogues dwelled on peace, as did conversations in the street.
"If we really get peace, I will remember this Yom Kippur above all others. Do you know what peace really means to us?" said one worshipper on his way to the Wailing Wall services.
Orthodox Jews draped in prayer shawls crowded the massive Western Wall, as thousands of other Israelis filled the broad plaza to witness the colorful ritual and listen to the steadily rising chant of the slichot - the prayers of pentinence. Shortly before sundown, the Arabic calls to prayer from a nearby mosque in the Old City mingle dwith the din of the Jewish prayers.
Then, almost at the precise moment of the sounding of the shofar, several hundred Yeshiva students from the rebuilt Jewish quarter of the Old City poured down the steep steps into the plaza. Singing gaily and dancing in the traditional parade.
The sacred day began just before sundown on Tuesday with the plaintive chanting of Kol Nidre sounding from synagogues throughout the city, and ended with the strident, confident melody of the Neila prayers.
In between, Israel was at a virtual standstill. Traffic disappeared from the streets and the occasional unthinking motorist who ventured out did so at the risk of becoming the target of stones thrown by ultraorthodox Jews.
The city took on an eerie quality, devoid of its usual bustle and noise, bringing to mind the doomsday scenes of a barren San Francisco in the film, "On the Beach."
All government offices, businesses and places of entertainment closed - even those which normally remain open on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Israel's state-owned radio and television stations were blacked out leaving Arab stations with a monopoly of th airwaves for a day.
An emergency radio team was standing by, however, because on Yom Kippur in 1973 many Israeli soldiers did not hear the coded callup alert until after the holiday ended. The government had broadcast the alert, but many reservists, assuming the airwaves were dead, did not bother to turn on their radios.
All highways leading from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Jewish territory were sealed off yesterday. Israeli police and army officials preceded the holiday with repeated warnings to the public to be wary of suspicious objects that could contain explosives.
The only signs of life were small groups of worshippers walking down the center of deserted streets on their way to synagogues, many dressed in white as a symbol of purity and wearing rubber or cloth shoes in keeping with belief that leather "afflicts the soul."
Jews of varying orthodoxy observed many other ancient religious customs, some as simple as sending gifts to the poor and begging forgiveness of acquaintances they have offended, and others regarded by secular Jews as bizarre.
One of the less common is a flogging of 39 lashes with a leather thong, performed after the midday Minha worship service and supposedly representing temporal punishment for sinful acts that in ancient biblical times called for corporal punishment.
Another is the Kapparot ritual, in which live chickens are swung over the head and symbolically invested with the sins of the purchaser. The chickens are then killed and given to the needy. Mea Shearim and othe Hasidic neighborhoods were alive with crates of white chickens the day before the holiday, for use in the ritual.
But for the majority of Jews in Israel, the day was simply one of fasting and praying.
Polls have shown that three out of four Israelis attend Yom Kippur services, in sharp contrast to the empty seats normally found during regular Sabbeth services in an increasingly secular country.