Experiencing the High Holiday Season in Israel
The High Holiday season in Israel unites every Jewish citizen. This season includes Rosh HaShannah (New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (The Festival of Booths). It is a time when we come together in joy and fortitude with the intention of becoming better individuals and fostering out bonds with others and of course, God.
Rosh HaShannah to Yom Kippur is a time to carry out chesbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. It is devoted to repentance, spiritual renewal and the recapture of faith. Yom Kippur is the culmination of this introspection in which we fast and seek our final forgiveness from God before the Book of Life is closed for another year.
Five days later begins the festival of Sukkot. This holiday is joyous and honors the period the Israelites spent in temporary dwellings in the wilderness, it also celebrates the fall harvest. Hence, it is a time to thank God for Israel – having a permanent home and the abundance it gives us. An important tradition is to build a Sukkah for the purpose for praying, eating, socializing and sleeping during the week-long festival.
These most holy of days are like none other in Israel and to personally experience them is something to be treasured. If you are fortunately enough to visit Israel during this exciting time here are some experiences that could be in store for you.
The frenzied planning for the holidays as everyday life takes on an electric atmosphere… the rush in the supermarkets as everyone stocks up before the country closes down for three days of holiday… the smell and feel of the challah just out of the oven at the bakery… seeing car loads of extra folding tables and chairs for the crowds of family and friends coming to the festive new year’s meal.
The shofar’s 100 blasts emanating from every synagogue in every neighborhood in the country on Rosh HaShannah. No matter where you stand your heart as well as your ears becomes alert as the airwaves become heavy and light at the same time, overflowing with spiritual meaning, awaking our souls.
The whole county falling silent on Yom Kippur, cars are not driven, stores are shuttered, and the only movement is of those walking to the synagogue. In the bigger cities just the sweet sounds remain of children too young to fast playing out in the streets because there is no danger from cars. It is the most holy day of all.
The marketplaces which are erected just for Sukkot for the sole purpose of selling the Four Species -- Lulav (date palm frond), Hadas (myrtle tree branch), Aravah (willow tree branch), and Etrog (citron fruit). There are very particular attributes for each and these are carefully selected. Sukkah kits are sold in stores and on street corners. Children have a wonderful time selecting and creating colorful ornaments and streamers to decorate the interior of the Sukkah.
The sudden appearance of Sukkot in house yards and apartment balconies immediately before the holiday begins. Children are excited to eat and sleep in the Sukkah as it like camping out. One of the requirements of the Sukkah is that the roof is not solid so in Israel it is usually constructed of palm branches. It is a remarkably peaceful feeling to view the twinkling stars though the lattice of palm fronds.
During the High Holiday season we prepare, we contemplate, we examine, we rejoice and above all we experience our personal relationship with God. We emerge from this busy time refreshed and stronger, ready to move forward with another year. We are blessed to have experienced this special time.
We wish you shana tova ve’metukah, a good and sweet year!