Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel

In Israel, we celebrate many holidays throughout the year. Not only Jewish but also Christian, Muslim, and public holidays, all changing the atmosphere in the country for a day or two and sometimes more. In Israel, holidays are about people, families, food. Israelis usually use the holidays to get together with their families. If possible, they also go out to see and explore the wonderful sites of our country.. So… what are the major holidays in Israel?

I’ll start from what I know best:

Jewish Holidays:

Jewish holidays are celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which most of us know and use on a daily basis, the Hebrew calendar is based on the moon. To make sure that the Jewish holidays are celebrated in the same season every year, intercalary months are added. But, it is important to remember that the Jewish holidays are not celebrated every year on the same Gregorian date. They are celebrated every year on the same Hebrew date, so the Gregorian date will be different. The Hebrew date begins every day at sunset. In other words, the holidays begin at sunset. For example, if you see that Rosh Hashana begins on the 20th of September, it means that the holiday will only start in the evening of that day.

Rosh Hashana in Israel:

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. It is celebrated every year on the first day of the Jewish month, Tishrei. It takes place when summer ends. During the holiday, we eat apples with honey so that the upcoming year will be sweet. Read more about the holiday – My Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashana lasts two days, during which there is no public transportation in Israel. In some places, you might be able to get a shared taxi (sherut) or use a private bus line to get around places. But I recommend staying in a place where you won’t need to use transportation during the holiday.

Rosh Hashana Table - What to do on the holiday in Israel
Rosh Hashana Table

Yom Kippur in Israel:

This is the holiest of the Jewish holidays and is known as the “day of atonement”. Yom Kippur takes place every year on the tenth day of the Hebrew month, Tishrei, about a week after Rosh Hashana.

During the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Kippur, we believe that God writes down your fate for the upcoming year. On Yom Kippur, he seals his decision. During those ten days, the person can pray and try to change God’s mind. He or she can do that by changing their behavior and seeking forgiveness for their actions during the last year.

“Yom” means “day” and “Kippur” comes from the root meaning “to atone”. On Yom Kippur, most Jewish people fast for 25 hours, don’t use electronic devices, don’t drive or ride transportation. That is their way to atone their behavior during the passing year. But in Israel, not all Jewish people act alike. Some do eat during the holiday, use their electronic devices, and such. Most won’t use their cars, to respect others.

During Yom Kippur you can expect to see a lot of people in the streets, especially children, walking on foot. In cities with a mixed population, you might see cars driving now and then. Some Jewish people might not like that other people are driving on this holy day and so you might hear them or see them get upset. If you’re traveling on Yom Kippur, don’t count on public transportation at all, because it doesn’t work on Yom Kippur.

Sukkot in Israel:

This is a biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month, Tishrei. When the Holy Temple was still standing, Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals. During these festivals, the Jewish people had to perform a pilgrimage to the Temple. Nowadays, it is still one of the main holidays in Israel. It lasts seven days and we celebrate it by building a Sukkah. “Sukkah” is the name of the temporary dwelling, in which the farmers dwelled during the harvesting season back in the biblical days. It is a kind of booth, which is covered by leaves or wood. If you’ll visit Israel on Sukkot, you will probably see a lot of those sukkah structures on the streets, inside people’s yards, and on public squares.

On the first day of Sukkot, there is no public transportation in Israel. But afterward, during the five days of “Chol Hamoed,” there is public transportation like any other day.  At the end of the holiday, on the last day, there is another day with limited transportation.

Chanukah in Israel:

This holiday is meant to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Chanukah takes place on the 25th day of the Hebrew month, Kislev, and is celebrated for 8 nights and days. It is usually celebrated at the beginning of the Winter. Every evening, family and friends gather together to sing and light another candle of the Chanukkiah (small menorah). On the last day of Chanukah, we light 8 candles, not including the Shamash, which is the candle used to light the others.

During the holiday, people eat foods that are fried or baked in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the oil, which was able to keep the Holy Temple’s Menorah alight for 8 days. In the stores, you’ll find many jam-filled doughnuts called “suf-ga-nee-ah”. You might also see many kids playing with dreidels, which have Hebrew letters printed on every side of the dreidel. The letters are the first letters of the words, that make up the sentence: “A great miracle happened here.” Outside of Israel, you’ll find dreidels saying: “A great miracle happened there.”

There is no public transportation limitation on Chanukah, because it isn’t a holiday from the Torah.

Chanuka lights

Purim in Israel:

This fun holiday commemorates the saving of the Jews from evil Haman, who planned to kill all Jews in ancient Persia. The story of Haman and the Jews can be found in the Biblical Book of Esther. The Jews were very happy when Haman was caught and sentenced to death. They celebrated with a great feast, drank a lot of wine, and had a party. So, that’s also what we Jews do to celebrate Purim in Israel. We dress up in funny costumes and get drunk. There is also a tradition of giving sweets to each other on Purim. The holiday is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month, Adar. In cities with ancient walls (like Jerusalem), it is celebrated on the 15th day.

You might be able to find a wild party to join on Purim while in Israel. You will see people with costumes on the streets for sure, even a couple of days before Purim starts. In bakeries, you’ll find a lot of “Haman Ears” (oznei Haman), a triangular-shaped pastry filled with chocolate or poppy seed.

Public transportation operates on Purim, because it isn’t a holiday from the Torah.

Read more – 5 Ways to Celebrate Purim in Israel.

Pesach (Passover) in Israel:

Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals and one of the main holidays in Israel. On this holiday, we celebrate how God freed the Hebrew people from slavery in ancient Egypt. The holiday begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month, Nisan, and lasts seven days. It is called “Pesach” because in Hebrew, “Pesach” means “passed over”. God passed over the houses of the Jews during the final of the Ten Plagues, because they painted lamb blood over their doorposts.

On the holiday eve (called “Leil Ha-Seder”), family and friends gather and tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, as described in the Bible. During the reading, there are some songs, prayers, and moments when all the people need to eat something from the table. At some point, there is a feast, which includes many types of food.

During the seven days of Pesach, Jewish people don’t eat bread or anything made from chametz, which is leavened foods made from specific grains. Instead of bread, we eat Matzot, which is unleavened bread made from flour and water. You might be able to find bread in areas that aren’t all Jewish.

On the first day of Pesach you won’t have public transportation, but afterwards there will be limited transportation.

Here’s a great video by Bim Bam which tells a bit about Leil Ha-Seder:

Shavuot in Israel:

The last of the three pilgrimage festivals, this holiday is all about cheese products and agricultural products. Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth day of the Hebrew month, Sivan. It marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. Also, it commemorates the day when GOD gave us the Torah. That is why many Jewish people spend time on Shavuot to read the Torah.

There is also a tradition of throwing water on each other during Shavuot. So, don’t be surprised if you see people spraying water on other people on the street.

There is no public transportation during Shavuot.

Lag BaOmer in Israel:

If you see children walking around with hands and carts full of wood, it’s probably because you’re close to Lag BaOmer. This holiday is celebrated every year on the 18th day of the Hebrew month, Iyar. On Lag BaOmer people light bonfires all around the country to mark the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Bar Yochai was a Jewish sage, who is attributed with the writing of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah. Also, he is traditionally connected to light and fire.

This isn’t a great day for the environment, because of all the smoke. But at least we have fun around the bonfire, with marshmallows and everything. There’s also public transportation, so that’s great.

Shabbat in Israel:

Although it always arrives at the end of the week, the Shabbat is considered by some as a holiday. Shabbat is a time to rest and be with the family. There’s no public transportation in most cities and most of the shops, restaurants, and attractions are closed.

Muslim Holidays:

Unlike the Hebrew calendar, the Muslim calendar, which is based on the moon, does not add intercalary months. This means that the holidays aren’t celebrated during the same season every year. Their dates change each year.

Ramadan in Israel:

Ramadan is a whole month, during which the Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which makes it a very holy month to the Muslims. Aside from not eating, during Ramadan, Muslims need to refrain from drinking, smoking, insulting, cursing and engaging in sexual relations. The Muslims work as usual during the Ramadan month, so you won’t see anything too unusual.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated by Eid al-Fitr, the breaking of the fasting. The Eid al-Fitr holiday is celebrated for three days. During those days, most Muslims won’t work, so some of the Muslim shops or facilities might be closed.

Eid al-Adha in Israel:

This is the second of the two Muslim holidays, along with Eid al-Fitr. The holiday lasts four days and is meant to honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. During the holiday, the Muslims sacrifice goats, to commemorate the goat given by God. Also, many Muslims do the Hajj during this time. This is a very holy holiday for Muslims, so some might not open their stores on this day.

Christian Holidays:

The Christian holidays are less prominent in Israel. Still, you will be able to spot some lights and Christmas trees during Christmas, especially in big cities. Read more – Christmas in Israel: The Top Places to Celebrate.

Public Holidays:

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day):

The national memorial day takes place on the 27th day of the Hebrew month, Nisan, around April-May. On this day we remember approximately six million Jews, who were perished in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their allies. On the morning of the memorial day, there is a two-minute-long siren. When the siren starts, people stop whatever they are doing and stand still to respect the Holocaust victims.

Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day):

On this day we remember the many fallen soldiers, who protected our country, and the civilian victims of terrorism. It takes place a day before Independence day, on the fourth day of the Hebrew month, Iyar. On the eve before Memorial Day, there is a siren that goes on for one minute. A day afterward, in the morning, there is another siren, that goes on for two minutes.

Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day):

After we remember our soldiers, who fell for our country, we celebrate our Independence! Getting independence wasn’t easy. We had to fight for it (literally). On the eve of Independence Day, there’s a grand ceremony on Mount Herzl, with songs and fireworks and lighting of the 12 torches. On the day itself, we usually go out to the parks and enjoy some barbecue together.

For more about Independence and Memorial Day, read my post – From Down Below: 69 Years of Independence.

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day):

This day is meant to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967. Following this war, Israel gained back control over the Old City, after it was captured by Jordanian forces during the Independence War. The day is celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month, Iyar. There are many ceremonies in Jerusalem and many Jewish people celebrating in the streets of the Old City. It is a day that not all people in Israel like.

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That’s all for today, my friends.

May we all have many wonderful holidays!

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’ll be glad to get a like, share or comment from you (:

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Yours,

Lior

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