Israeli and Jewish holidays
There are two kinds of holidays in Israel – Jewish religious holidays and national holidays. They all have interesting historical roots and many are mentioned in the bible.
The Jewish calendar has 12 lunar months which based on the seasons of the year. Since the lunar calendar is not completely synchronized with the sun and seasons, every fourth year is a leap year – a 13 months year. The additional month called Adar B and it comes between Adar A and Nisan (in the spring).
Another impact of the lunar calendar is the beginning of the day – in the Judaism, a day begins with begins with sunset and ends with the next day’s sunset. That means every holiday (religious or national) starts late afternoon and ends the next day.
The counting of the year starts with month “Tishrei” (coordinates with the beginning of the moon cycle in September).
In that month Rosh-ha-Shana – the Jewish New Year – is celebrated in Israel with a big feast and traditional dishes as fish head (the common greeting is ‘to be the head and not the tail’), pomegranate (the seeds symbols a handful of good qualities), apple dipped in honey (for a sweet year) and others.
10 days after occur “Yom Kippur” – Day of Atonement – which is the most sacred day of the year. The Jewish tradition believes that in those 10 days person’s destiny is decided by god, and Yom Kippurs 25 hours of fast and praying is the time of atonement of all year’s religious sins.
During the day, which begins like all holidays in Israel with the previous day’s sunset, all businesses are closed (note that and plan ahead because there is no place to purchase any kind of food), and there is absolutely no traffic beside emergency vehicles. Literally, the whole country takes a spiritual time-off.
Since there is nothing else to do but praying, many spend the evening wandering around and gathering in the streets in contrast to the gloomy mood of the meaning of that day.
If you lucky to get bikes or roller-blades, you could join the kids (and not a few adults), riding the non-motorized roads.
After the soul was has been purified and had a good inscription in the Lord’s record of atonement in Yom Kippur, the Israelis starts preparing to Sukkot holyday by building a square hut named “Sukkah”. The next 7 days it is customary to spend most of the day in the sukkah and the strong believers even spend the night in it, as a remembrance to the big escape of the Jewish people from Egypt and the 40-year wondering in the desert.
Proximity with Christmas, on Jewish month Kislev, Israelis celebrate Hanukah.
The holiday is celebrated for 8 days and 8 months and known also as the Jewish festival of lights. Hanukah commemorates the Maccabees victory over the Greek Syrians and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Next is Purim – a festive Jewish holiday that simply celebrates Jewish survival. On Purim it is customary to gift each other a sweet food basket (“Mishloah Manot”), eat hamantashen pastries (“Ozney Haman”) and to dress up in vibrant costumes.
In every city there is a big festive parade named “Adloyada”. The biggest is the national Purim Parade which occurs every year in Holon and attracts hundreds of thousands of celebrants.
In April occurs Pesach (Passover) – This holiday commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and God’s redemption of our ancestors from bitter slavery.
During the 7 days of Pesach, it is customary not to eat any kind of bread, wheat, barley, oats etc. Instead there is a traditional “Matza” – sort of un-leaved bread – as a remembrance to the Jewish peoples hurry to leave Egypt.
In May, Israelis celebrate Shavuot, which in addition to being a harvest festival commemorates the Giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai.
On Shavuot, Israelis decorate with greenery, eat dairy food, study Torah, and attend prayer services. The less devout believers concentrate on celebrating the harvest and earth’s gifts.
On national holydays, unlike the religious ones, transportations is usually available and many businesses are open as usual, but government offices and services are closed or limited.
Yom Ha-Shoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) – That day, usually on late April, Israel remembers the horrors of the holocaust and the 6 million victims.
In every city there are special ceremonies, but the central one takes place in Jerusalem with the participation of ministers and honorable men.
The fallen are honored by a 2 minute siren at 10:00 AM in the morning.
Yom Ha-Zikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day occurs a week after. This is a day of mourning devoted to the memory of those who have given their lives so the State of Israel can exist today. Ceremonies are held throughout the country at schools, cemeteries, and memorial sites and the fallen are honored with two sirens – one on 20:00 PM, which starts the ceremonies across the nation and the other on 11:00 AM the next morning.
Note that even it is not a religious holyday, all businesses are closed from afternoon and the chances to find a place to purchase any food or beverage are very low.
Despite the difficulty, the next evening occursf Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). It is celebrated all across the country with big parties, parades and fireworks all night long.
Although it is not an official tradition, on the next morning millions overcrowding every available peace of grass and gather for BBQ and bear.
Few Tips for Holydays in Israel
- If you are a communicative person and met few friendly locals, be prepared for an invitation for a gathering and a feast. A souvenir is not a must, but a bottle of fine wine is always welcomed.
- Since most of the holydays are religious and long, note that on the first and last days of the holyday there is no public transportation and most government offices and services are closed. In mid-days of long holydays the public transportation is available but government offices are closed or limited.
- The attractions are very crowded on holydays. It is much recommended to arrive as early as possible.
- If you know you will visit during a holyday, try planning your trip to Israel in a way you will get a chance to spend at least one day in Jerusalem – the capital of Israel and the holy city is a great opportunity to feel the merry atmosphere of the holyday.
Here is an updated time table to help you with your plan.
(Happy holyday in Hebrew)