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Holy Holidays & Travel: What You Need to Know Before Visiting Israel

Holy Holidays & Travel: What You Need to Know Before Visiting Israel

One of Israel's busiest—and simultaneously slowest—times of the year is coming up. Starting with Rosh Hashanah on Sunday, October 2 (or the Shabbat the day before) through the end of Sukkot on Sunday, October 23, the nearly month-long celebration of holidays will bring long lines and large crowds to religious sites and pretty much all other commerce to a halt.

The Holidays

Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, runs from Sunday, October 2 through Tuesday, October 4. No work is permitted and most people will spend the days in observance of rest and prayer.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, beginning on Tuesday, October 11 and ending on Wednesday, October 12. No work is permitted and most people will spend the day in prayer as well as fasting.

Sukkot is the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles and runs from Sunday, October 16 to Sunday, October 23. No work is permitted the first two days of the holiday week.

What to Expect

In 2016, the Jewish holy days stretch across nearly the entire month of October. While only a handful of the days require businesses to close and for religious rites to be observed, this time period is a notoriously difficult one for tourists who come unprepared. Here are some of the potential drawbacks when traveling during the holiday season:

  • For any of the dates indicated as non-permitting of work, you can expect that most businesses will not be in operation.
  • You can also expect the popular holy site destinations to operate with very limited hours.
  • Prices for accommodation, food, and other tourist activities will be extremely high.
  • If you're not staying with friends or family, accommodations may be limited, so you'll have to book early.
  • If you plan for more typical tourist activities, you can expect longer lines and larger crowds wherever you go—and with increased crowds comes an increased risk of theft.
  • Public transportation will have limited operability, so foot, bike, or rental car travel is suggested.
  • Sukkot is a very popular vacation time for Israels who often choose to visit national parks and museums, so expect those to be extra busy during that week.

That being said, Israel is a wonderful place to visit any time of year. If you're traveling on a religious pilgrimage or to spend time with family during the holidays, the above will just be something you have to accept and prepare for. If you're traveling to Israel simply for the sake of travel, you can still visit during the month of October. It'll just be important to have a solid plan in place that accounts for the limitations during that time period.

Holiday Planning Tips

Regardless of your reasoning for an October trip to Israel, there are a number of tips and tricks that can help make your holiday season travels a little less stressful:

  1. Plan and book your trip as early as possible. You'll not only be competing with other tourists, but also with Israelis who travel during that month.
  2. Always keep your passport on you at all times and make sure not to leave any bags unattended wherever you go.
  3. If you have friends or family in Israel, plan to stay with them, when possible.
  4. If you're not visiting for the sake of the holidays, try to travel before or after them. The weather is better the later you get into the fall season, so you may want to plan for after Sukkot.
  5. As many restaurants will be closed for Shabbat and the holidays, seek out local markets where you can purchase fresh produce and other foods that you can prepare on your own and ahead of time.
  6. If your plan involves visiting religious sites during the holidays, make sure you're prepared: bring water, wear layers, wear comfortable shoes, rent a car, carry sunblock, pack your passport, bring your mobile phone, download the Waze app, and bring your patience.
  7. If you visit during Sukkot, take time to walk around the city to check out the sukkahs. These are the little wooden booths built in commemoration of the holiday and that serve as a physical representation of the booths Israelites used in the desert after their exodus out of Egypt. They're quite a sight to see!
  8. While Israel is rich in both historical and religious history, the country has so much more to offer. While visiting during the holiday season, consider opting out of the traditional religious sites and museums and instead visit some natural ones. The Dead Sea, Tel Aviv's beaches, the Golan Heights, and the Negev Desert are just a few of the sites to consider.

If you're planning a trip to Israel during the month of October, make sure to plan well in advance. There is a lot to be aware of (as evidenced by the above), and having the right preparations in place—and ahead of time—can help you set the right expectations and be ready for what's to come.

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29 February 2024

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