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Sukkot - Feast of Tabernacles

20 September, 201020 September, 2010 0 comments Jewish Holidays Jewish Holidays

Sukkot: It's a Party, Israeli Style!

Israel is a country that loves to celebrate. A popular Hebrew saying is "You don't need a reason to have a party!" And Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles, tops the list as one of the happiest times of the year. In fact, one of the Biblical names given to Sukkot is "The Time of Our Joy." After the solemnity of the High Holy Days, especially after the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur, everyone is ready to celebrate!

Sukkot is a two-pronged holiday. Historically, it commemorates the Israelites' sojourn in the desert, when they lived in sukkot (huts); agriculturally, it celebrates the harvest and ushers in the rainy season. Jews give up the modern-day comforts of home to live in a sukkah (singular of sukkot) for the week.

Sukkot (also spelled "Sukkoth" or "Succoth") usually falls around September or October. This year, it starts on the eve of September 22nd and ends at sunset on September 30th. The first and last days (both Thursdays this year) are a holiday, during which no work can be done, similar to the Sabbath. During the intermediate days, however, the country is overflowing with people enjoying hikes, museums, parks, or simply reveling in the sights of a country celebrating.  


The Feast of Tabernacles - A Week of Prayer and Celebration

For the Christian tourist in Israel during this exciting time, there is no shortage of things to do and sights to see. Join the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) for their annual Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles lasts for seven days and participants enjoy daily seminars and workshops, along with nightly worships and celebrations. It is a popular event which draws Christians from around the world, who come to express their love for the Holy Land as well as fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah (14:16), which states that people will come to the Holy Land every year to worship God and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Read more about the Feast here. You can register online by clicking the "Register Now" button. Don't miss out on the opportunity to celebrate this Biblical holiday with your fellow worshippers.


The Priestly Benediction - A Unique, if Crowded, Experience

If you don't mind a crowd, then plan on attending the "birkat kohanim" at the Western Wall. Birkat kohanim is the special priestly benediction, and it is said en masse at the Western Wall on the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. Thousands of Jews flock to the Kotel (Hebrew for the Western Wall) to receive the blessing. The communal birkat kohanim event is traditionally held on the second intermediate day of Sukkot, which this year falls on Sunday, September 26. Plan to get there early, and take public transportation - parking will be hard to come by.


Western Wall

Museums are Celebrating, Too

Israel's renowned museums love to get in on the action during the holidays. The Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, was recently renovated and boasts numerous new exhibits, focusing on everything from contemporary art, to Biblical archaeology, to Israeli jewelers. There are also special Sukkot workshops and activities taking place during the week, including an Artists' Sukkot, Poems, Singing and Storytelling for children and parents, and Dramatic Tours of the Museum Galleries. During Sukkot, you can hop on a free shuttle from the Haleom Parking Lot in Jerusalem directly to the museum.


Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, also called the Diaspora Museum, is located in Tel Aviv. New this year, the museum will be hosting a three-day Family Festival, to be held on September 26, 27, and 28, from 9:30 AM until 5:00 PM. The festival promises to entertain as well as educate you. Enjoy a Jewish music performance, visit "Sukkot City" (an exhibition of artistic sukkot), or join your kids at holiday-themed workshops geared especially toward them.


Take Your Museum Outdoors

Ein Yael, Israel's "living museum," is located near the Malcha train station in Jerusalem. Known for their educational, kid-friendly atmosphere, they certainly do not disappoint at Sukkot time. This year, Ein Yael presents a Sukkot Festival. Learn the ins and outs of ancient crafts and farming techniques, attend plays and colorful street performances, meet craftsmen from "ancient Rome," tour the farmer's market for one-of-a-kind delicacies, or relax in the sukkah with a coffee and some live music.


Park It Here

Don't forget the Great Outdoors - the continuing warm weather makes Sukkot a beautiful time to be outside in one of Israel's dozens of national parks. The Dead Sea and the Ein Gedi oasis are popular jaunts this time of year, but check out www.parks.org.il for information on some of Israel's lesser-known, but no less stunning, parks. Neot Kedumim, The Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, has a variety of Sukkot-related events and exhibits on its sprawling grounds, located just a few minutes from Ben-Gurion Airport. The four species that the Israelites are commanded to take on Sukkot grow here, in their natural habitat, and the park also has a comprehensive display of different, life-size Sukkot, and a variety of workshops and crafts. (Note: Both the national parks and Neot Kedumim have English websites.)

Olive Press at Neot Kedumim

An Olive Press at Neot Kedumim.


You can also join a guided tour of the Judean Lowlands on Tuesday, September 28. The tour is taking place at Park Brittania, which includes miles of hiking and biking trails, breathtaking views, and fascinating archaeological ruins. The tour lasts about three hours, and is free of charge, though advance reservations are needed. The program is officially in Hebrew, but don't be scared off. Most of the guides know English and will gladly translate. Call 1-800-350-550 to reserve a spot.


A Pressing Matter

You've probably read about the health benefits of olive oil. Now come press your own, like the original inhabitants of the land! Every year, Israel's olive orchards are open to visitors to come try their hand at pressing olives. On Sunday, September 26, from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM, you can visit the Lavi Forest, located in the Galilee, for olive pressing and other hands-on activities. The Ben Shemen Forest, more centrally located, has its day on Monday, September 27 from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM. Hebrew is the language of the day here as well, but most guides will give an English explanation  if you just ask.


Self-Guided Walking Tours - Go at Your Own Pace

For those that enjoy a leisurely stroll, the outdoor market (shuk) at Mahane Yehuda and the streets of Jerusalem are jam-packed with sights during this holiday. Check out the festively decorated sukkot crammed onto every balcony, and watch where you walk, because nearly all of the kosher restaurants will erect sukkot on the streets for their religious patrons. The advantage of this "tour" is that it starts and ends when you want it, is as leisurely or intense as you make it, and it's free! (That is, if you can restrain yourself from buying some of the many enticing delicacies you will pass along the way...)


Machane Yehuda

Fruit and Vegetable juice stand at Machene Yehuda


Whether you're outdoorsy, indoorsy, or a little bit of both, Sukkot offers memorable opportunities for the Christian traveler in Israel. Enjoy this festive week during your own personal sojourn here in the Holy Land.

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Gila Rose writes for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network where people can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences. Travelujah offers over 550 pages of content including expert and user blogs, mass and service times, travel resources and custom booking services for tailor made group tours, hotels and Christian guest houses throughout the Holy Land.



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