Sukkot, or “the Feast of Tabernacles,” is the third major Jewish holiday in the month of Tishrei, the first two being Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Sukkot takes place from the 15th through the 21st day of Tishrei, which generally corresponds to mid-October. It covers seven days, with the first and final days being national holidays and the “middle days” still being taken off work by many Israelis. The eighth day, the day after Sukkot, is also a holiday but is considered separately.
Businesses will close and work will be avoided by observant Jews on the first and last days of Sukkot, but they will often vacation and engage in a flurry of activity in the intermediate six days of Sukkot.
The Torah, or Old Testament, commanded Israel to keep the Feast of Sukkot by building small tabernacles to live in for a week. This was to remind them of their time spent living in tents for 40 years in the wilderness, after the Exodus from Egypt but before entering the Promised Land.
Today, these structures are called “Sukkahs.” There are strict rules on how they must be built but still much room for variety. They will have three or four sides of either wood or cloth and roofs made of the branches of palms or another tree. An opening must be in the roof so that the sky can be seen from inside. Fruits, colourful paper pictures, and other decorations are often put on the sukkahs, which you can see in the yards of even secular Jews as you walk down city streets.
In ancient times, Israelites would go on pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate Sukkot and offer various sacrifices there. Foreigners living among them were also allowed to attend, as shown by Deuteronomy 31:12, so Gentiles were always welcome for Sukkot and not only as modern tourists. Finally, note that the timing of Sukkot in the fall harvest season gives it an “agricultural” flavour. It is a time to thank God for the present harvest and pray for rain for a future one.
If in Israel for Sukkot, here are some ideas on what to do:
- Walk the streets of any local city, town, village in Israel to admire the sukkahs you will see in yards and on balconies. This would be a great time to bring your camera with you. Also, in Jerusalem, you can see the biggest sukkah in the land in Safra Square.
- In Tel Aviv, Sukkot is a time for annual bike festivals and for swimming at the local beaches. Join in the fun, sun, and exercise, and also look for numerous exhibits and local concerts.
- In the Galilee region, a hot air balloon festival is very popular with tourists. In Haifa, the Haifa Film Festival is much attended. At museums and monuments throughout the country, there are special events put on. It will not be hard to find special events, regardless of which part of Israel you are visiting.