Hollidays & Feasts in Jerusalem 

Home to a mix of cultures, all three of the monotheistic religions as well as a secular contingent, Jerusalem’s annual calendar is rich in diverse, festive and colorful holidays and festivals.  This article provides you with an overview and backdrop to most of the major holidays and festivals you can expect to experience in Jerusalem.


The Jewish New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat, in late January or early February, is all about celebrating greenery and nature. The holiday is a perfect excuse to plant a tree or simply take in some of the special and unique green spots in Jerusalem.


The city of Jerusalem is considered the most intense place to experience the Jewish religious holidays.  The holiday of Purim, generally in March, marks the deliverance of the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire from an evil man named Haman who aimed to destroy the Jewish people. The holiday is celebrated with reading of the story in the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther), wearing of masks and fancy dress, giving of gifts (mishloach manot) as well as charity, a festive meal (seuda) and eating delicious triangular shaped cookies (hamantaschen).

There are many fun and creative ways to experience Purim in Jerusalem, and many Purim parties around the city for those that use the holiday as a reason for a night out.


A Christian holiday and festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary (as described in the New Testament), Easter in Jerusalem is a special experience with the unique opportunity to commemorate the resurrection right in the heart of the area Jesus was buried and believed to have come back. Catholics may want to celebrate at the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City’s Christian Quarter, where they believe Jesus’s burial and resurrection took place, whereas Baptists will likely head to the Garden Tomb


One of the most significant and famous of the Jewish holidays, the holiday of Passover (Pesach) is a celebration of the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The holiday usually takes place in April and is celebrated with a festive meal (known as a seder) that commemorates the Exodus. During the meal, among other things, the story of the Jews leaving Egypt is recounted from a book called the Hagadah, and matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten. Tourists may want to take part in one of the communal seders around Jerusalem.

One of the three biblically-mandated festivals, known as the Shalosh Regalim, on which Jews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, you won’t want to miss out on the impressive priestly blessing (Birkat Hakohanim) at the Western Wall during the intermediate days of Passover.


The holiday of Lag B’Omer, all about bonfires, takes place 33 days after the first day of Passover, and marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a famous kabbalist sage. The holiday also commemorates the famous Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. The bonfires are lit to remind one of the bonfires that were lit at the time, and of the “light” which emanated from Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Kids in particular enjoy this holiday and it’s a great excuse to get out your barbecue tongs, marshmallows and enjoy.


The Jewish holiday of Shavuot marks the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Jews and is also a day which is marked by mass consumption of dairy products, making it a delicious event for all. On Shavuot night, there is a practice of staying up all night to learn Jewish texts and in Jerusalem the night is rounded off with the convergence of thousands of Jews at the Western Wall in the Old City. The priestly blessing (Birkat Hakohanim) also takes place on Shavuot.


The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated with a festive meal that includes symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey for a sweet year. Many events with the theme of fresh beginnings take place around the city. Watch this space for more details soon.


Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most important holiday in Judaism. It is a day of fasting and prayer that is celebrated on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, 10 days after Rosh Hashana the Jewish New Year. 
Yom Kippur marks the end of the “Ten Days of Repentance,” or the “High Holidays,” and grants Jews a last opportunity to obtain forgiveness and absolution for their sins in the previous year. According to Jewish belief, on Yom Kippur judgment is passed on each person for the coming year. In order to be worthy of forgiveness from sins, this day is devoted to spiritual repentance and a commitment to start the new year with a clean conscience, secure in the knowledge that God forgives every person who truly regrets his misdeeds.

 The idea of purification is fulfilled by fasting: on Yom Kippur observant Jews fast from the evening of the holy day until the following night. Unlike all the other Jewish fast days, Yom Kippur is observed in full, even when it coincides with Shabbat. Yom Kippur is the only day on the Jewish calendar during which there are five prayer services.

 Yom Kippur is not directly connected with any specific historical event, although some believe that on this day Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments and God forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. This is a holiday ordained in the Torah, where it is called a Shabbat of Solemn Rest, a day on which no productive work can be done, just like on Shabbat.

 Even though most of the Jewish population in Israel is not religiously observant, Yom Kippur has and remains a special day for all and has retained its unique character. Many Jews who define themselves as secular and do not visit the synagogue all year long, go to prayer services on the special day, and many also observe the fast, completely or partially.


The holiday of Sukkot, known as the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, is a joyful Jewish holiday that takes place after the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Generally in late September or October, the holiday lasts seven days in Israel and involves dwelling — or at least eating —  in a temporary structure covered with plant material such as palm leaves. The sukkah is intended to remind one of the fragile dwellings the Jews lived in during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, and acts as a reminder that one’s permanent homes provide just an illusion of security. On each day of the holiday, blessings are recited over various leaves and fruits, known as the four species. Look out for an article on Sukkot soon.


Even though this is the seventh day of every week (counting from Sunday), and there are over 50 such days each year, Shabbat is a holy day - and even one of the most important holy days in Judaism. In fact, apart from the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur,) Shabbat is the holiest day for Jews, and is the only one mentioned in the Ten Commandments. 
The observance of Shabbat has always been central to the Jewish people’s experience and existence, at least until recent generations. A well-known saying states that more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.
According to ancient Jewish tradition, Shabbat has a clear connection to the creation of the world: on the seventh day God rested (“Shabbat,” in Hebrew) from the work of creation, so this is a holy day for men, and they, too, are to rest from productive work.
The idea of Shabbat - one day sanctified for rest after six days of toil - is one of the important contributions of Judaism to world culture. It is also the basis for the concept of the week as a cyclical unit of time. The Jewish Shabbat served as a model for the setting of the holy day for Christians (Sunday) and for Muslims (Friday).
In the Jewish calendar, the days are counted from the sunset of one day until sunset the following day. Shabbat therefore begins on Friday evening, called Erev Shabbat, and ends on Saturday evening, called Motsa’ei Shabbat. The exact times of the beginning and end of Shabbat are determined in advance and change from week to week and from place to place.
The customs associated with Shabbat are many and varied. First and foremost, it is a day of rest, on which all productive work is forbidden. According to Jewish law, any activity connected with fire is forbidden, and religious Jews do not turn electricity on or off on Shabbat and do not travel. Many other Jews, who define themselves as traditional (and who are moderately religious), also partially avoid traveling, using electricity or performing other types of productive work. Many of them do not answer the telephone on Shabbat.
For religious Jews, Shabbat is a day filled with prayer, and they spend many hours in the synagogue. Part of the Shabbat prayer service in the synagogue is the reading of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Throughout the year, a portion of the Torah is read each week. Incidentally, the division of the Torah into weekly portions is the original ancient division; the division into chapters came later. 
Over the course of an entire year, Shabbat after Shabbat, the entire Torah is read. The completion of the reading of the Torah is on a day that may not necessarily be Shabbat: the eighth day of the Festival of Sukot (called Shmini Atseret), is also the Festival of Rejoicing in the Torah (Simkhat Torah). That day also marks the start of the reading of the Torah from the beginning again.