Experience The Holidays in Israel for A Semester
What is the benefit of spending the Holidays in Israel?
It doesn’t matter if you are religious or secular, if you’re in Israel for the holidays, you can’t escape that “Holiday feeling”. Whether you’re shopping at the local big box grocery store, walking down Ben Yehuda, or you’re in the local hardware store, being in Israel connects you to the Jewish Holidays in ways that you never felt before. Israel, and most Israelis, follow the Jewish calendar, so Jewish holidays take center stage.
You will find everything you need to celebrate the upcoming holiday, either through outfitting your apartment, buying gifts for those who have invited you for a meal, or finding the various items you’ll need to perform the different rituals associated with it. If you’re on a study abroad program such as Thrive, you’re spending an entire semester in Israel, so you’ll get to experience the holidays in Israel like a native. In this post, we’ll walk you through the Jewish holidays and what you can expect as the year goes by.
Spending Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) In Israel
In September, it’s the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and the Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur are just around the corner. Gifts of honey cakes and jars line the sidewalks in every shopping area. Sounds of the Shofar, the ram’s horn that is traditionally blown every morning during the previous Hebrew month of Elul, can be heard as young kids and adults try it out in stores. Synagogues fill up with every type of Jew, wearing every type of outfit - it never matters - as they come from all over the world to connect to their spiritual self.
The Jewish New Year holidays are a time for connection, reflection, and of course, celebration, and there’s no better way to experience them than in Israel itself. As a study abroad student, the opportunities to discover the rich heritage and various multi-cultural experiences are breathtaking. The best part? Because Israel follows the Jewish calendar, students can actually enjoy the Jewish holidays without worrying about classes, tests, or other distractions.
Sukkot In Israel - The Only Place to Be
Sukkot comes on the heels of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - a holiday not as well observed in the US but, in Israel, its flourish is felt by all. Sukkot (small wooden huts) are sold in every neighborhood and can be purchased from Ace Hardware to the local corner Home Center. Entire blocks are cordoned off for the sale of Etrogim and Lulavim (traditional items used to observe the holiday), with young children hawking new customers. Drive anywhere in the country and you can find Sukkot perched on balconies or sidewalks with lively conversation emanating from them all. Because it’s a national holiday, the first and last days of Sukkot are vacation days, and offer a great opportunity to connect with friends and family, as well as travel the country.
Chanukah in Israel - The Light in the Darkness
A few months later comes Kislev, which is usually during December, and the holiday of Chanukah. We all know about lighting candles each night in the windows of our homes. But, in Israel, most Israelis light their menorahs outside! They light them in glass boxes so the (occasional) wind or rain won’t put the flames out. Donuts in Israel aren’t donuts, they’re sufganiyot, a whole donut without the hole, which is instead replaced with a sweet red jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sufganiyot are sold in the shuk, the bakeries, and the grocery store. Children are let out early from school so they can make it home in time to light the menorah with their families as soon as possible after sundown. Each day of Chanuka is yet another reason to celebrate, eat good food and learn more about the story of the miracle of oil.
Tu B’Shevat in Israel- The Holiday of the Trees
In early Spring for Israel, typically during February, comes Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for the Trees. Besides having multiple opportunities to plant trees, families make special platters of fruit from trees, again found in every grocery store, street corner, and shuk.
During each of these holidays, music pours out of storefronts, apartment windows, and passing cars. While stopped in your car at a traffic light, instead of being harassed by someone wanting to clean your windshield, you’ll invariably be approached to buy some ornament to help celebrate the upcoming Chag. You’ll see young children returning from school/gan, either dressed up in the finery of the chag or carrying bags of special table decorations that commemorate it.
All of these sounds and experiences herald the joy that every Israeli feels and expresses about the unique holidays that we Jews get to celebrate. Our lives are bound up in their observance and ritual and, in Israel, we cannot escape them. In fact, in Israel, we get to express them so naturally and beautifully, because everyone else is doing the same thing. We are one with the calendar. One with our Jewish heritage.
Thrive Study Abroad is the best way to experience the Jewish holidays in Israel. Come for a semester, and have the experience of a lifetime. Learn more here.