The Israeli “Holiday Season” lasts for just over three weeks and comes out in the early fall. Since the dates are based on the Hebrew calendar, the corresponding Civil Gregorian calendar dates vary. Rosh Ha’shana which literally means “Head of the Year” is observed for 2 days. However, the holiday ambiance starts one month earlier, as the “Shofar” or “ram’s horn” is sounded every morning in synagogues.
Jews of eastern origin known as “Sephardic” Jews start to recite special late night or early morning prayers called “Slichot”. Although Ashkenazik Jews of European ancestry only start to recite “Slichot” on the week preceding Rosh Ha’shana, tourists won’t want to miss the heart-wrenching melodies of the High Holidays! Tours that leave before the crack of dawn to Jerusalem’s eclectic Nahlaot neighborhood are especially popular. While visiting the “Kotel” or “Western Wall” is on every tourist’s itinerary, the unique ambiance of the recitation of the Slichot prayers at the Kotel is not to be missed.
The 10 day period starting with the two days of Rosh Ha’shana and ending with Yom Kippur or “the Day of Atonement” is known as the “10 Days of Repentance” or the “Days of Awe”. The focus of this time of year is “Tshuva” which literally means “returning”. People ask forgiveness from one another. The traditional greeting of “Gamar Hatima Tova” literally means “a complete good inscription” and is based on the idea that God judges everyone on Rosh Ha’shana as either completely righteous or completely wicked. But since most people are somewhere in the middle, we have until Yom Kippur to tip the scales and be inscribed with the righteous in the “Book of Life”.
On Yom Kippur in Israel, LITERALLY the entire country shuts down for the holiest day of the year with the 25-hour fast. Starting from a few hours before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur, Israel is the only country in the world where all TV and radio stations and public transportation including the airport come to a halt. All roads are closed to non-emergency vehicles and this is the only day when it’s safe to ride bicycles in the middle of the roads and highways. Although synagogues across the country fill to maximum capacity for all-day prayers, some secular Israelis observe Yom Kippur as “Bike Day”.
Many Ashkenazik Jewish males wear a white robe over their clothes known as a “Kittel” on Yom Kippur. The Kittel reminds us of the shroud in which we will be buried when we leave this world, which leads people to think of the important questions of life. As Yom Kippur goes out at nightfall, the blast of the “Shofar” is once again sounded followed by the joyous singing of “Next Year in Jerusalem”!
With the “High Holidays” behind us, Israelis have just 4 days to prepare for the next 7-Day Holiday of Sukkot. On the most joyous festival of the year, we leave the material comforts of our permanent homes and enter the “Sukkah” or “booth” where our forefathers lived in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt.
Every day of Sukkot, the “4 species” including the myrtle branch, citron, willow branch and palm branch are held together and shaken based on Leviticus 23:40. In the evenings, joyous festivities are held throughout the country. Since all children are off school and most adults are off work, Sukkot is a popular time for Israelis to travel around the country. National parks and attractions quickly fill to full capacity during Sukkot as they do in the Spring during the 7-day holiday of Passover.
At the very end of Sukkot comes the holiday of “Simhat Torah” or “Rejoicing with the Torah”. In synagogues, people dance in circles with Torah scrolls and children are given flags and candy. On Simhat Torah, we read the last verses of the Torah and immediately go back to the beginning. A wedding canopy is held over all of the children who recite the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah known as the “Aliyah of the youth”. Later, the eldest member of the community is also given a special honor of being called to the Torah as the first verses of Genesis are read. In many synagogues, festive meals are served for the entire community.
With the incredible ambiance and roller-coaster of emotions created by 3-week string of holidays, it’s no wonder that the Israeli term for “procrastination” is “after the holidays”.
Want to visit Israel during the Holiday Season? Let Holy Land Escape make your Israel adventure unforgettable. Book soon, as space fills up quickly!