Israelis live from holiday to holiday – and that’s not from the US’s Fourth of July to Thanksgiving or from China’s National Day to New Year’s Day. It’s from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah and is full of diverse Jewish traditions from around the world; which all come together in Israel creating something truly unique as Israelis invent new and creative ways to celebrate.
I know that celebrating your first Chaggim away from home can be a lonely and isolating experience, but, it doesn’t have to be. This is the perfect time to reach out to friends that you haven’t spoken to in awhile, try out a new place in Israel to spend the Chag, or just take the time to reflect on just how amazing it is to be able to spend these extraordinary and powerful Chaggim in Israel.
I hope that these tips on how to spend the Chaggim away from home will help you get the most out of your year in Israel.
Just ten days after Rosh Hashanah ( which you have already managed to survive: awesome job). Israel essentially stops in its tracks for Yom Kippur. From sundown on the evening before stores and restaurants close down, cars stop driving, and a gentle quiet settles over Israel. You can walk down the middle of the street along with a multitude of Israelis coming out to experience the incredible stillness all around you.
In my own personal experience I have never seen anything quite like this in my life, the entire city literally stops! The meaning of Yom Kippur becomes so clear once you have celebrated this most meaningful day in Israel.
Most seminaries and yeshivot request that students spend the holiest day of the year, as an intense group experience in your own school. Each school usually does their own minyanim and are often joined by alumnae (and their spouses and children!) for an unforgettable Tefila. After Kol Nidrei and Arvit, most seminaries give you the chance to participate in a series of shiurim, to help give you a deeper understanding of Yom Kippur. Imagine during the day, singing and davening go that can begin early in the morning until the end of the fast. And we can’t forget to break our fast with an incredible seuda.
Once Yom Kippur end, Sukkot is on its way. Sukkot in Israel is an experience like no other, for an entire week Sukkas appear on porches, in yards, and outside restaurants around the country. You will most likely get a nice vacation from school; this is a great time for you to travel and visit with family and friends. Just like you’re on vacation; be prepared that Sukkot in Israel is a time when everyone takes off from school and work and travel all over Israel; so get ready for tons of parties and really fun special activities all over the country. FYI the first and last days are National Holidays (meaning essentially everything is will be closed).
After seven days of sukkah hopping, you guessed it, it’s time for it is time for Simchat Torah, when you will most definitely see people dancing in the streets with a Torah! Many Israelis are on vacation between Sukkot and Simchat Torah. This makes it a great time of year for festivals and fairs – it is hard to choose what to do first! Some popular events include the Jerusalem March and the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival.
The highlight of Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing in the Law” in Hebrew) are the hakafot, where everyone marches and dances with the Torah scrolls around the synagogue. These hafakot are usually held on the eve of Simchat Torah, and the following morning, on Simchat Torah itself.
In Israel, Simchat Torah celebrations are usually confined to one day, the twenty-second day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, directly after Sukkot; outside Israel they usually last two days.
I know that change can be difficult, but, hey think of this as just another awesome part of your gap year. Embrace the new with the new year and know that you have an entire country behind you!
Let me know how you choose to spend your Chaggim.