Israel Holidays

Israel has more holidays than most countries! Jewish national holidays, Christian and Islamic holidays are all celebrated. On most national holidays, attractions, public transportation, and stores are closed. While some holidays include a week-long period of special events in Israel.

The Jewish and Muslim lunar calendars mean different holiday dates each year. Jewish Israel holidays include Purim, celebrated by parades, and costume parties; Passover, when most stores stop selling bread for a week, and Chanukah, the festival of light. Independence Day is celebrated by street parties and fireworks.

Dairy products are eaten on Shavuot; Lug B’Omer is marked by bonfires, and on Sukkot, each family builds a temporary booth. September is the High Holidays, with Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, when everything closes in Israel, and there are no cars on the roads. On Holocaust Day businesses remain open, but there is a somber atmosphere.

Christian Holidays in Israel are celebrated mainly in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa, and Haifa. You can join the Palm Sunday Procession in Jerusalem, and attend Easter services at the country’s churches. Christmas is marked by a Christmas market in Nazareth, services in the Holy Sepulchre Church, and a midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Israel’s Muslim population celebrates Laylat al-Miraj, Muhammad’s Night Journey, at al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ramadan lasts a month, during which Muslims fast during the day, and eat after sundown. The three-day Eid ul-Fitr celebration marks the end of Ramadan and is celebrated in Jerusalem’s Old City Muslim Quarter, and in Muslim towns, like Umm al-Fahem. Eid al-Adha, Mawlid al-Nabi, and the Islamic New Year are celebrated in family homes and at mosques across Israel.

Purim in Israel

If you’re lucky enough to be in Israel during Purim you will enjoy the festive atmosphere, parties, fancy dress and parades. Purim is perhaps the most joyous Jewish holiday. Purim in Israel occurs in March or April – the date changes each year as it is determined by the Hebrew lunar calendar and not the Gregorian calendar. Although Purim is a Jewish holiday it is not observed like a Shabbat in Israel and businesses and attractions have regular open hours. Purim is a normal working day in Israel although it is a school holiday. Purim in Israel is celebrated by secular and religious Jews alike.What is Purim?Purim Purim celebrates an event in Jewish history which is told in the Biblical Book of Esther. In about 357 BC the king of Persia, Ahasuerus scoured the land for the most beautiful women to make his wife. The woman chosen was Esther, cousin and ward of Mordechai. Esther was forced to marry the king but she hid the fact that she was Jewish. Shortly afterwards Mordechai heard of a plot to assassinate the king and he had it reported and stopped.Meanwhile the villain of this story, Haman was appointed Prime Minister and he undertook to get rid of all the Jews. He had them draw “lots” (Pur in Hebrew, hence the name of the holiday) to decide the day of their annihilation. Hearing of Haman’s plansMordechai sent a message to Esther asking her to appeal to the king for mercy for the Jewish people.That night the king could not sleep and so he sat up reading from the Royal Chronicles. Here he read of the time Mordechai saved him from an assassination attempt. In the meantime Haman had decided to haveMordechai hung for not bowing before him. So Haman had gallows erected and went to the king to ask permission to hang Mordechai. The king asked Haman how such a loyal man should be honored. Haman, thinking the king was referring to him said the man should be dressed in fine clothes and led on horseback through the streets. The king ordered Haman to give Mordachai this honor. Although furious Haman had no choice but to follow the king’s orders.How is Purim Celebrated in Israel?Next Ester appealed to the king, told him of Haman’s plan and asked for mercy on her nation. The king ordered Haman hung from the gallows that had been built for Mordechai and Mordechai was made Prime Minister. Although the king’s decree could not be rescinded he gave the Jews permission to defend themselves. The Jews killed their enemies on the 14th of Adar and on the 15th they rested and celebrated. A holiday was established in memory of this historic victory.The religious community fasts on the day before Purim. At the end of the fast, after nightfall Jews gather in synagogues to hear the reading of the Book of Ester. After synagogue and the following day there are celebrations, parties and parades. The parades take place in almost all Israeli cities and are often before the actual day of Purim or a few days later, depending on the weather and day of the week.Purim Traditions in Israel Purim Foods- Hamantaschen (also called oznei Haman or the ears of Haman in Hebrew) are triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, jam or chocolate. In Israel you will see these delicious cookies on sale at every bakery and supermarket.Gift Giving- It is traditional to give food hampers (mishloach manot) to friends, family and those less privileged than ourselves. These hampers usually hold wine, cookies, chocolate, nuts and other goodies.Fancy Dress- Kids and adults in Israel dress up in fancy dress during Purim. There are Purim fancy dress parties in bars, pubs, night clubs and private venues. The symbolism of the costumes is to show that God was behind the Purim miracle but his involvement was masked.Getting Drunk- Believe it or not it is even a Purim tradition to get drunk! This originates from a passage in the Talmud which states:” A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “cursed by Haman” and “blessed by Mordechai.” So it is a “mitzvah” or good deed when you drink too much during Purim!Things to See and Do in Israel during PurimThere are many special events in Israel during Purim. Purim is one of the most exciting holidays for nightclub. There are many fancy dress parties held in top nightclubs across the country. The main attraction during Purim is the Adloyada or Purim Parade. Parades are held in most cities but the most famous Purim parade takes place in Holon, a short drive from Tel Aviv. The parades include parade floats, costumed performers, dancing and music. Be’er Sheva also holds a great Purim event in the streets of the Old City.Purim in Tel AvivThe main Purim event in Tel Aviv is a street party held in Kikar HaMedina. It is a huge event with live musical performances, market stalls, dancing , singing and great food. Tel Aviv is also the site of the Purim Zombie Walk. Locals (and visitor) dress up as zombies and walk through the streets starting on the corner of Ben-Zion Blvd and King George Street.Purim in JerusalemPurim is celebrated a day early in Jerusalem and other “walled” cities but the celebrations continue throughout the Purim week. To enjoy Purim in Jerusalem head for Safra Square for family-friendly events like circus acts, a costume competition and arts and crafts workshops. There will be performances by top Israeli musicians and TV stars. In Jerusalem’s Sacher Park there will be a fun event with food stalls, music and live shows from 10am. Special Purim events are held at a number of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv museums including the Israel Museum, Bloomfield Science Museum and the Tower of David Museum. Although most of the Purim parties have yet to be announced you will probably find Purim fun at Jerusalem’s Nachalot Street Party. This street party is on Nisim Bachar Street, Jerusalem and entrance is free.
By Petal Mashraki

Hanukkah in Israel

Each year Jews celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah which is often called the “Jewish Christmas” because it occurs in December. If you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah you will be lucky enough to share in this special celebration. Unlike Christian holidays the date of Hanukkah changes each year because of the Jewish lunar calendar. This year, 2017 the eight day Hanukkah holiday falls on the 12th to 20th of December. In Israel Hanukkah is a week-long school holiday but there are no days observed like Shabbat so all attractions and stores remain open as usual. There are many special events put on to keep Israeli school kids busy and to entertain locals and visitors alike.What is Hanukkah?The Hanukkah holiday celebrates an event which took place in the 160 SBC. During that time Palestine was ruled by Greek-Syrians and Jews were persecuted. Jews were forbidden to worship, many were murdered, scrolls were burnt and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. A small group of Jews rose up against their oppressors and fought back in the “Maccabean Revolt.” The Jews were victorious and proceeded to restore the Temple and rededicate it. Part of rededicating the Temple was lighting the Menorah (a seven-lamped candelabra) which had to remain lit eternally. When the Maccabees came to light the Temple’s Menorah they found that only a small jug of the required pure olive oil remained. The oil should have been sufficient only to light the lamp for one day. However a miracle occurred and it remained lit for eight days by which time more oil had been found.To commemorate the events of Hanukkah Jews light candles on an eight-armed candelabra (called a Hannukia). On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit and each successive night an additional candle is lit until all eight are lit. In addition there is a 9th candle in the middle of the Hanukia which is used to light the others. The symbols of Hanukkah are light, oil, the hanukiah and the dreidel – a spinning top.How is Hanukkah Celebrated in Israel?Bearing in mind the symbols of Hanukkah you will see a lot of fried foods (commemorating the miraculous oil) in Israel during Hanukkah. The most famous Hanukkah food is the doughnut or sufgania. This is a round doughnut with no hole in the middle but instead it is filled with jam. Every café, restaurant and kiosk will be selling sufganiot. These days there are many different kinds of sufganiot, from chocolate to alcohol flavored! An estimated 24 million sufganiot are eaten in Israel each Hanukkah. The symbol of light and the hanukia can be seen in Israel during Hanukkah. Each Israeli household displays a hanukia on the windowsill.Special Events in Israel during HanukkahHanukkah ShowsDuring the Hanukkah holiday in Israel there is a plethora of theatrical productions, musical shows, concerts and dance productions geared towards families. The most famous of these Hanukkah shows is the Festigal, a spectacular extravaganza of bright costumes, comedy, music and dance. Top Israeli performers often appear in the Festigal. The Festigal is held annually in Tel Aviv. A more recent addition is Motek Shel Festival which is the same idea but geared towards a younger audience.Hanukkah ToursSpecial walking tours of Jerusalem and the religious city of Bnei Brak are organized so that you can see the many hanukiot displayed in the windows of private homes. This kind of Hanukkah tour takes place at night and includes walking through neighborhoods where many hanukiot are displayed.Lighting of the HanukiaEach city has a large hanukia set up in a public square. The hanukia is ceremoniously lit on the first night of Hanukkah. On the subsequent nights of Hanukkah the city’s hanukia is often lit automatically. The most famous of the candle lighting ceremonies you can see takes place next to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year on the first night of Hanukkah a torch Relay starts in the city of Modi’in and travels to the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the giant hanukia is lit.Museums during HanukkahMost museums hold special themed exhibits or workshops during Hanukkah. Science museums often hold demonstrations of light experiments. Other museums display artistic variations on the hanukia or hold kids workshops where they can create their own hanukia, spinning top or candles.You will definitely find special events and activities relating to Hanukkah at the Children’s Museum in Holon; the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv; the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Bloomfield Science Museum holds an annual MakeLight exhibition.In addition there is the Museum of Edible Oil Products in Haifa which naturally ties in with the Hanukkah theme. The Hasmonean Village recreates the Hanukkah story each year; the Ein Yael Oil Festival is held in Jerusalem.Hanukkah Parties in IsraelOf course the Israelis party whenever there is a good excuse! And Hanukkah is no exception. You will find bars, pubs and clubs across the country holding Hanukkah parties throughout the holiday.Holiday of Holidays HaifaThe Haifa municipality holds special events on weekends throughout December. The Holiday of Holidays activities and shows celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr.
By Petal Mashraki

Every year over 100,000 visitors arrive in Israel to celebrate Easter

Every year over 100,000 visitors arrive in Israel to celebrate Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Easter is at approximately the same time as the Jewish Passover and so the country is alive with celebrations both Christian and Jewish. The Holy Week of Easter begins with Palm Sunday when Jesus is believed to have ridden into Jerusalem; Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday is the day that Jesus was resurrected.Although Easter is not celebrated by Israel as a nation and you won’t see Easter decorations or Easter egg displays in the store windows, Israeli Christian communities hold church services to mark this special occasion. The largest Christian community in Israel is in Nazareth where you can attend a service at the Church of the Annunciation alternatively there is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Easter services in Jerusalem churches.Palm SundayPalm Sunday marks the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a white donkey and believers laid palm fronds in his path as they cheered and welcomed him. A Mass is held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (and other churches across the country) where worshipers hold candles and palm fronds. A procession from the Mount of Olives takes the faithful into the Old City retracing the route Jesus took through St. Stephen’s Gate and on to the Church of St. Anne. The procession starts at approximately 2:30pm and between 5,000 and 10,000 Christians participate. The Latin Patriarchate leads the procession and participants sing hymns, carry crosses, olive branches and palm fronds.Maundy ThursdayThis was the day that Jesus ate the Last Supper with the Apostles and washed their feet (John 13:1-15). On this day there are celebrations at the Room of the Last Supper (Upper Room) on Mount Zion.Good FridayA procession of Christian pilgrims and religious leaders follow the Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem along the route which Jesus took bearing his cross from Golgotha on the way to his crucifixion. The procession is led by the Franciscan Friars and goes from the first station of the cross near the Lion’s Gate in the Old City walls to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The procession begins at approximately 11:30am. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there is the Liturgy of the Hours at 4pm and a “Funeral” procession at 8pm.Easter SundayThe final day of the Holy Week is celebrated with the entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 7am followed by an 8am Mass of Resurrection and a procession around the Rotunda. The Garden Tomb is open for visits throughout Holy Week (8:30am-12 noon and 2pm – 5:30pm). On Easter Sunday there is a resurrection celebration at the tomb and Protestants celebrate with an Easter sunrise services at Garden Tomb.Orthodox EasterThe week following Holy Week the Orthodox Christians (including Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian Orthodox) celebrates Easter with similar ceremonies and services. On Orthodox Holy Saturday (4th May 2013) there is a Holy Fire Ceremony (Saturday of Light)in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, this is unique to Israel and happens nowhere else in the world. The Greek Patriarch and Armenian Orthodox priest enter Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with a torch. The lights in the church are turned off and when the church leaders immerge the torch is alight and the people all holding candles light their candles from the torch. The light spreads through the crowd creating a visual spectacle and spiritual experience. If you want to attend the ceremony you will need to obtain passes through one of the orthodox churches. The ceremony lasts approximately from 11:30am until 2pm. There is also a Holy Mass in St. James’ Cathedral.
By Petal Mashraki

Pesach – The Jewish Pilgrimage

The Jewish religious calendar is full of events and holy days, most of which commemorate historic Biblical events. Each religious holiday comes with its own traditions and religious ceremonies. However only three religious holidays require Jews to make a pilgrimage – Pesach (Passover), Sukkot and Shavuot together they are called Shlosh HaRegalim. Of the three pilgrimages Pesach was the most important as it marks the birth of Israel as a free nation.In ancient times the pilgrimage was to the Temple which stood on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem up until 70CE. Pilgrims would come to the Temple and bring a sacrificial offering. Today, because the Temple no longer stands, prayer has replaced the sacrifices and the pilgrimage is no longer a Torah obligation. However many thousands of Jews choose to make the annual journey to visit the City of Gold during the pilgrimage festivals. As the Temple is no longer standing the pilgrimage is made to the Wailing Wall, the last remaining wall of the Temple where pilgrims come to prey. There is a point within the Wailing Wall Tunnel which is the closest point to where the Holy of Holies of the 2nd Temple once stood. Many pilgrims go to this point to prey. Other less religious Israeli Jews make the pilgrimage during Passover but turn it into a fun day out in the country’s capital without the religious implications.Pesach is a celebration of freedom, from slavery into independence from a foreign land into their own. Pesach lasts for 7 days (8 days outside of Israel) it begins on the 15th Nissan (usually in March and on the eve of 25th March in 2013) with Seder Night, a celebratory meal when the family comes together. At the Seder meal symbolic foods are eaten and the Hagadah, the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, is read. The first and last day of the holiday are observed like a Shabbat so no work is done and most businesses are closed. The intermediate days (Chol-ha-Mo’ed) are like a regular holiday, businesses may open half-day and schools are on vacation. For the entire holiday of 7 days Jews abstain from eating bread or anything containing fermented grain. This is a reminder of the hasty exit from Egypt when the bread didn’t have time to rise.The Pesach Pilgrimage in the New TestamentChristians will recognize the Passover pilgrimage as an event in the life of Christ when Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his parent for the Passover pilgrimage. At the time Jesus was only 12 years old, on this visit his parents lost him and finally found him preaching in the Temple (Luke 4:43). Many years later when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in the days preceding his crucifixion it was also leading up to the Passover pilgrimage.
By Petal Mashraki

Visiting Israel during Shavuot

This year Shavuot will be celebrated from sundown on Tuesday 3rd to sundown on Thursday 5th of June. Shavuot is also called the Festival of Weeks, First Fruits, Harvest Holiday or Pentecost. This religious and traditional Jewish holiday is a celebration of the first harvest. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem this would have been the time when the first fruits were brought as an offering to the Temple. This agricultural holiday is one of three major Jewish holidays which requires religious Jews to make a journey to Jerusalem. In ancient times the Jewish people would make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Passover, Sukkoth (Feast of Booths) and Shavuot. Shavuot also marks the end of the Counting of the Omer, a 50 day period starting on the first day of Passover. An Omer was the Biblical measure of a quantity of grain and at the end of the counting of the Omer an offering would be made from the first wheat harvest of the year. Because of the holiday’s association with agriculture the symbols of Shavuot are the seven species of Israel – wheat, grapes, barley, pomegranates, dates, olives and figs. The holiday also marks the day when the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.What to Expect When Visiting Israel during ShavuotYour trip to Israel will only be slightly affected if you are here during Shavuot. On the one hand there are many fun events, parties and a holiday atmosphere and on the other hand Shavuot is a national religious holiday and you may find some sites closed for two days. During Shavuot Israel’s traditionally wear white clothes, young children often are asked to wear flower wreaths in their hair to school and the stores are overflowing with an abundance of fruit.It is traditional to study Torah throughout the night during Shavuot so the Western Wall will be alive with visitors and worshipers night and day. Religious Jews attend synagogue on Shavuot and hear the reading of the Book of Ruth which is associated with the holiday. It is traditional to eat dairy products on Shavuot so you’ll find restaurants offering delicious meals made with Israel’s wonderful dairy products. Religious and non-religious alike tend to keep the tradition of dressing in white and enjoying delicious dairy meals. If you have the opportunity to visit a moshav or kibbutz on Shavuot you could attend the Shavuot ceremony of Bikkurim (first fruits) when the harvest fruits and grains are displayed in festive parades. In Jerusalem you will find special happenings at many museums, malls and lots of activity and a festive atmosphere in the Old City.
By Petal Mashraki

Tu B’Av – Israel’s Valentine’s Day and How it’s Celebrated

Tu B’Av is the Jewish alternative to St. Valentine’s Day. As orthodox Jews don’t commemorate Christian holidays like Valentine’s Day and as it is too good a holiday to miss the Jews have their own day for celebrating love. In Hebrew numbers are marked by letters so “15” is the Hebrew letters?’‘? or Tu and this holiday is celebrated on the 15th of the Jewish month of Av, hence Tu B’Av. In 2016 Tu b’Av starts at sundown on 18th August and continues through the 19th August until sundown (7th August 2017; 26th July 2018; 15th August 2019).Religious Significance of Tu B’AvAccording to the Mishna the Jewish holiday of love has been celebrated by Jews since the 1st century days of the ancient Temple. Tu B’Av marks the first day of the grape harvest season. Traditionally young girls would borrow white clothes and go out dancing in the vineyards to attract a man. The Holy Jewish text, the Talmud, sites several reasons why Tu b’Av should be celebrated but today the main reason observant Jews celebrate Tu B’Av is to mark the end of The Three Week (Bein ha-Metzarim) morning period commemorating the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple. Tu Tu B’Av should not be confused with Tisha b’Av (9th of Av) which starts The Three Week morning period and is one of the saddest days in the Jewish calendar when orthodox Jews fast to commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple. There are no specific religious rituals or ceremonies associated with Tu B’Av except that the day should be one of joy. It is also a very popular day to get married.How is Tu B’Av Celebrated in Israel Today?Today Tu B’Av is mainly a secular celebration when romantics pull out all the stops and propose, wed, go on romantic dates or simply party.Starting off the Tu B’Av celebrations on the 18th August with a bang is the TuTu-Temple Party presented by Temple of Reflection, a spiritual temple project which is part of the Burn global community. A temple structure is built in the desert each year and stands for three weeks before being burnt. The party is a fundraising event and proceeds will go towards Temple of Reflection expenses. The party kicks off at 9am and will continue until 4am at Bascula, HaRakevet 72, Tel Aviv. Admission 40ILS-60ILS.Thursdays @Tel Aviv Art Museum hosts events every Thursday but on the 18th of August this year the events will be even more exciting to celebrate Tu B’Av. Entrance is free and there will be live music performances, guided tours, pop-up stores and garments inspired by works of art.At the Zappa Club Herzlia there will be a special performance by the Sixties Band who will perform the best hits of the 1960s and 70s. The doors open at 8:15pm and the show starts at 10pm; tickets cost 105ILS.Many restaurants in Israel offer special deals on Tu B’Av and the restaurants are usually decorated with hearts, cupids and lots of red and white balloons. Mel and Michelle at 155 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv; Frame at 2 Raoul Wallenburg, Tel Aviv and the Brown Hotel pop-up restaurant Salva Vida at 25 Kalisher, Tel Aviv will all be offering special deals for couples on Tu B’Av. Chocolate lovers should have the special Tu B’Av menu at any of the Max Brener restaurants.If you want to go out and dance you’ll find dance bars and clubs all decked out in red hearts and ready to party. At HaOmen 17, Tel Aviv Moldavian DJ Andrew Rayel will be making the music; At the Cat and Dog you can hear Infected Mushroom playing live and the Toy Bar in Jerusalem will be having a special party event.
By Petal Mashraki
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