High Holidays in Israel - a Local's Perspective
What's it like to celebrate the high holidays in Israel
There’s nothing quite like the high holidays in Israel. From the first night of Rosh Hashana to the end of Sukkot, the atmosphere all across the country simply feels different. In the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana, everyone parts ways with a friendly “Shana Tova!” (Happy New Year) which, even though I’ve been living in Israel for over ten years, never gets old. Apples and honey are on sale everywhere and companies all across the country have a haramat cosit (literally raising a glass or a toast) to welcome the New Year and hand out gifts to all of their employees. Who doesn’t like getting gifts?
The hot Israeli summer is slowly winding down and the locals are welcoming the brief but refreshing fall season. Days are getting shorter, sleeves are getting longer, blankets are getting thicker and you can truly feel the transition into the new year all around you.
Birthright Israel groups are no longer in the country, though the few participants that extended their trips this long may still be wandering the Tel Aviv streets. The lucky few that are still around will get to see the entire country shut down on Yom Kippur and experience this Day of Atonement like never before. It can be an incredibly spiritual day, and with synagogues on pretty much every corner, there’s no shortage of places to pray, atone for one’s sins, and take in the feeling of community. It can also be a very freeing day. No stores, no TV or radio stations, and no restaurants or cafes are open. There are no cars on the streets except for the occasional ambulance or police patrol car. Kids and adults alike take to the streets with their bikes and ride carefree throughout the cities around the country. One of the most popular and challenging routes done on this day is riding on the usually extremely busy Road 1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A favorite spot for selfies is on the completely empty Ayalon Highway which is usually filled with bumper to bumper traffic.
Finally, Sukkot is another holiday that is not to be missed in Israel. Not only do families, both religious and secular, build a sukkah in their yard or even in the small area in front of their apartment building, but also restaurants and coffee shops add one to their outdoor seating area. Since it’s considered a mitzvah to dwell inside of a sukkah during the holiday, there’s no shortage of sukkot (the plural of sukkah) to sit in and feast in. You see parents walking with their children to synagogue with their lulav and etrog in hand, and you just can’t help to get into the holiday spirit. This is also a time where there is no school, so the week of Sukkot, families are taking advantage of the holiday and hiking or having a picnic in one of Israel’s hundreds of national parks.
The high holidays are an incredibly unique time in Israel, and even if you can’t make it here this year, you should definitely try to experience it once in your lifetime.