Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday that celebrates the gathering of the harvest. But most importantly, it reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt. During the Exodus, GOD took care of the Israelites and provided them shelter while walking in the desert. In the Bible, it clearly says: “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:42) According to some commentators, those booths were temporary dwellings with a roof made of unprocessed natural vegetation. That is why we dwell in those booths every Sukkot.
If you’re planning to visit Israel on Sukkot, I’ve gathered 5 ways to celebrate Sukkot in Israel. Just keep in mind that public transportation does not operate during the first two days of the holiday.
Recommended read >> Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.
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When is Sukkot celebrated?
This year (2023), Sukkot will begin at sundown on 29 September and end at nightfall on 6 October. Every year, the date is slightly different. That’s because we celebrate our holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different from the widely used Gregorian calendar. Sukkot begins every year on the 15th day of the seventh Hebrew month, Tishrei. Usually, this day falls in October.
5 ways to celebrate Sukkot in Israel
Visit a Four Species Market
The Four Species are four plants used during Sukkot – an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm branch), a hadas (myrtle twig), and an arava (willow twig). A few days before Sukkot, people come to the Four Species Market to get the finest Four Species for the holiday. There are several markets all around Israel. In Jerusalem, you can find a large market in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, near Shabbat Square (Kikar HaShabbat) or near Machane Yehuda Market. Outside Jerusalem, there’s a huge Four Species market in Bnei Brak, the largest Ultra-Orthodox city in Israel.
The Four Species represent the different people of the Jewish nation:
- The etrog has both smell and taste, so it represents Jews who study the Torah and have good deeds.
- The lulav has taste but no smell, so it represents Jews who study the Torah but do not do good deeds.
- The hadas has smell but no taste, so it represents Jews who have good deeds but do not study the Torah.
- The arava doesn’t have taste nor smell, so it represents Jews with no good deeds and no Torah.
Religious people will tie the Four Species together and wave them in a special ceremony on each day of the holiday, not including Shabbat. They do this because it is written in the Torah. It shows that even though not all of us are the same, we are still united. If you want to see the ceremony during Sukkot, go to a nearby synagogue in the morning. If you’re in Jerusalem, you can also go to the Western Wall.
Spend time in a sukkah
The sukkah is the booth in which GOD ordered the Israelites to live for seven days. In the plural, a sukkah is called “sukkot,” hence the name of the holiday. The religious people make sure to eat all their meals in the sukkah, and some even sleep in it.
When in Israel, you’ll see the sukkot everywhere – on the street, next to restaurants, on people’s porches. People start building the sukkot right after Rosh Hashanah, so you will notice them a few days before the holiday.
Another important part of Sukkot is the Ushpizin, the guests. It is a mitzvah, a divine commandment, to host as many guests as possible in your sukkah because true joy is only shared joy, and it’s important to be joyful during the holiday. Many people host the needy and the lonely. But even if you’re not needy or lonely, you can find a sukkah that will welcome you. As I said, there are sukkot everywhere. If you see an open sukkah, you can glance inside or even stay a bit to experience the holiday spirit. Find all the open sukkahs on opensukkah.com.
In this opportunity, I also want to recommend a great movie, “Ushpizin”. It talks about an Ultra-Orthodox couple who celebrate Sukkot and accidentally host two escaped convicts as their Ushpizin. I’ve watched it twice already and love it! You can rent “Ushpizin” on Amazon.
Here is a video of a sukkah building by the IDF:
Visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem
Sukkot is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals together with Passover and Shavuot. During these festivals, the Jewish people used to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Temple doesn’t exist anymore, but you can still visit the Western Wall, the last remnant of the temple complex. Thousands of people visit the Western Wall during this time of year.
The Western Wall is open 24/7. There’s security at the entrance, and then you can come near the wall. At the central part of the Western Wall, women and men have separate areas of prayer. If you want to pray next to the opposite sex, you can do so in the smaller prayer area, south of the central one, called Ezrat Yisrael. The entrance is before the security, to the right.
To respect the holy place, please come in modest clothes, and cover your shoulders and legs.
Go hiking on the Israel National Trail
As I said, Sukkot is meant to remind us of the Exodus. When the Israelites left Egypt, they walked for 40 years through the desert until they finally entered the Promised Land. Well, 40 years is a long time, so instead, you can hike for several days on the Israel National Trail. This way, you can experience a bit of what the Israelites felt when they went from one place to another. Also, you can take a tent, and camp along the way, which is kind of like staying in a temporary dwelling, isn’t it?
Late September is usually the start of the fall hiking season, but the weather might still be hot during Sukkot, so make sure to check the forecast before the hike. The Israel National Trail usually takes about two months to complete, but you don’t have to hike all of it in one go. Seven days could definitely be efficient. Learn more about the Israel National Trail in my ultimate preparation guide.
Go camping for a few days
If you don’t like hiking but still want to stay in a tent, you can camp in one of Israel’s many campgrounds. Many of them are free of charge but don’t have any facilities. If you want toilets, electricity, and other facilities, it might be worth paying a bit to stay in an organized campground. There are even some good campgrounds in the Israeli desert! Then, you can camp for a few days, cook outdoors, and try to imagine how the Israelites felt when they dwelled in temporary booths in the desert. Learn more by reading my post – Camping in Israel: The Basics.
Sukkot is one of the longest Jewish holidays. That’s why it’s a great time to hang out with family, friends, or strangers you meet during your travels. Whether you choose to learn more about the traditions of the holiday or explore the Israeli wildlife, I’m sure you’re going to have an awesome time! Happy Sukkot!
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