If you have ever been in Israel around the Chagim (Holidays), you know how the country transforms in just a matter of days. Jews from all over the world flock to the Jewish homeland in droves, the markets and shops fill with tourists, and the country seems to double in size. Returning to Israel for the holidays is a tradition that dates back all the way to Temple times. However, Jews today don’t come back just for tradition. During the holidays, the county is a unique and incredibly special place. On Pesach, shops transform their stores to sell Kosher for Passover foods. On Chanukah, homes across the country are illuminated by the Chanukah menorah. On Sukkot, the streets are filled with locals selling Arba Minim (Four Species) and supplies for the Sukkah. The entire country comes together in celebration when Jewish holidays come around. In Israel, Jewish holidays are national holidays and shops, schools and businesses all close down. Even those who live in very religious neighborhoods abroad know that their experience in Chul (outside of Israel) isn’t quite the same as in Israel, where the whole country celebrates the Chag in unison. That’s why so many Jews from abroad invest in property in Israel, even though they don’t live there throughout most of the year. Having property in Israel enables them to easily come to Israel during the holiday season and experience these festivals in a special way with the rest of the Jewish country. For the upcoming High Holidays, we don’t know what to expect with the new variant on the rise and COVID numbers growing. We do hope and pray that after more than a year of COVID restrictions, closed airports, and quarantines, that Jews will be able to travel and come together in celebration. Pending restrictions, here’s what you need to know about celebrating the High Holidays and Sukkot in Jerusalem.
Rosh Hashanah In Jerusalem
Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as the Jewish New Year, is one of the most special and meaningful times of the year in Jerusalem. The entire country shuts down for two days to reflect on the past year, they join together in Synagogue for prayer, and envision the year to come. Prior to the holiday, bakeries around the city will start selling sweet challot (braided breads) and honey cakes to symbolize a sweet new year ahead and shops will stock their shelves with honey and native fruits like pomegranates, which are also traditional to use during the new year.
Prayer in the synagogues are special to this time of year, with many Synagogues reciting liturgical pieces and hymns that are hundreds of years old. In Jerusalem, you will find a wide and diverse selection of prayer services to attend, ranging from services steeped in Sefaradi tradition, intense and focused Chasidic prayers, and more modern Ashkenazi shuls. Some services are very Israeli in style, while others offer more American, French, and Morrocan styled services for both Olim (Immigrants to Israel) and those visiting for the holiday. Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, is well known for hosting world renowned Cantors and accompanying choirs for their high holiday services. Coupled with the Synagogue’s beautiful interior design, stained glass windows, and historic mezuzah display at the entrance, it’s really quite the experience on Rosh Hashanah. With dozens of synagogues to choose from during the high holidays, everyone can find a style that suits them.
No matter what service you attend though, you will undoubtedly hear the sound of the Shofar echo throughout the city. It’s a big part of what makes Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem so special. After a year of COVID restrictions, where many missed Rosh Hashanah services for the first time in their lives, this year, we hope that this year for Rosh Hashanah, people will be able to attend services in person for a meaningful service. With the new Delta variant on the rise, we can not say for certain what restrictions will be in place. All we hope is that the upcoming year will be filled with good health and be a sweet new year for the entire Jewish nation.
Photo credit: (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yom Kippur In Jerusalem
Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish year. For many Jews around the world, it only makes sense to spend it in the holiest city in the world; Jerusalem. Yom Kippur is a holiday that everyone must experience in Israel. For most other holidays, the country does shut down, but you will still see secular Israelis driving, a minority of restaurants and bars remaining open, and some going about their business as normal. On Yom Kippur in Israel, everything shuts down. There are no radio or television broadcasts, there is no public transportation, and all shops are closed. Even the airport is closed. This is the one day of the year where you can watch the entire country shut down. It is really an incredible site. With such quiet and peacefulness, you can really feel the holiness of the day.
Photo credit: Getty Images
In Jerusalem, you will also see the streets filled with men and women all dressed in white (a custom more prominent in Israel than in Jewish communities abroad) going and coming to services, adding to the special feeling of the day. You can walk in the middle of the busiest streets and not need to worry about vehicles driving through. You may notice many Israelis on bicycles as well. For secular Israelis who wish to respect the holiness of the day and not drive on Yom Kippur, the day has traditionally become a Yom Ophanayim (bicycle day) where they can ride in the middle of the street without having to worry about oncoming traffic.
Of course, we must mention The Kotel, Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which is filled with hundreds and hundreds of Jews on Yom Kippur. Being around so many Jews all dressed in white praying and singing the Yom Kippur prayers is an experience like no other. With the day coming to an end and the sound of the shofar echoing throughout the city, you will find Synagogues erupting in dance and chanting ‘L’shana Haba B’yerushalayim’. It’s special no matter where you are praying in the world, but it has a different feel coming from Jerusalem.
Sukkot In Jerusalem
While Sukkot in Jerusalem is just a few days after the High Holidays, the vibe couldn’t be more different. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are very serious and intense days, Sukkot is fun, joyous, and a time for celebration in Israel. The days leading up to Sukkot in Jerusalem are some of the most beautiful days of the year for the city. The streets are filled with people getting ready for the holiday. You will see many carrying S’chach (material for the roof of the Sukkah) and other materials they need for the construction of their Sukkah, tables on the streets filled with Arbah Minim (Four species) and Etrogim (Yellow Citron) with buyers looking for the perfect Lulav and sellers negotiating a fair price, and others shopping for all the meats and food that they plan to eat over the holiday. You can see and feel the festivity in the air. Just when you think the city couldn’t be any more beautiful, the holiday arrives, and you get to see everyone’s finished Sukkah on display across the city and you get to watch Jews from all parts of life coming to and from Synagogue holding their Arbah Minim and dressed in holiday garb.
Chol Hamoed (the weekdays of the holiday) is equally as exciting and fun as the Chag (the holiday) itself. In Jerusalem, there are usually concerts almost every night and museums and local organizations put on special shows and exhibits throughout the week. Every year, the city municipality puts on an epic light show and festival in the Old City with music, incredible light displays, and reenactments from Jewish History. Derech Beit Lechem, one of the main streets in the Baka community, is closed off to host a festival of its own with street vendors, music, arts and crafts for children, and food trucks from local restaurants. The First Station has bikes for rent and segway tours available upon request and really the whole city is filled with fun events for tourists and locals alike. Sukkot is also a great time to explore the beautiful land and nature in Israel. Just outside of the city there are a number of great hikes and springs for those who enjoy the outdoors and Sukkot weather in Jerusalem is often perfect for hiking.
The holiday comes to a close with Simchat Torah, which is yet another remarkable experience to have in the city of Jerusalem. The streets fill with people dancing and singing with the Torah and it is truly the perfect way to cap off the holiday of Sukkot and the High Holidays. Of course, the only true way to understand Sukkot in Jerusalem is to experience it yourselves, so you better book your tickets ASAP!
Photo credit (Perry Easy)
Experience The Chagim in Jerusalem Every Year
If you’re searching for hotels or Airbnbs for this upcoming season you may already be too late. By the time you’re reading this post, most rooms and rentals will already be booked, as this time of year is super popular for tourists and Jews abroad wishing to visit. And if you’ve got this far in the article you already know why. This is why so many Jews have invested in their own property in Jerusalem. Being able to return year after year for the holidays and experience the Chagim in Jerusalem is priceless. Asden Israel has been working for years to plan, build, and sell beautiful and luxurious apartments in the most desirable areas of Jerusalem, so that Jewish people from around the globe can experience all the Chagim with the rest of the Jewish country. No longer do you have to visit Israel as a tourist. With Asden, you can make Jerusalem your home.
Now would be a great time to join the special group of families that have purchased a beautiful Jerusalem home in The Mesila project, in the heart of the German Colony, which is expected to be completed by spring of 2023, less than 2 years away. With over 50% of the apartments sold, this opportunity will soon be gone. Imagine spending this beautiful time of year with your family in Jerusalem every year!
As we like to say at the end of Yom Kippur services, L’shana Haba B’yerushalayim!