By Adam Abrams/JNS.org
Sukkot in Israel is high season for tourism, as visitors from around the world arrive in the Jewish state to enjoy the plethora of cultural and religious festivities surrounding this biblically mandated festival. It is considered one of the happiest times of the year.
This year, Sukkot begins before sundown Oct. 4 and continues until sundown Oct. 11. Israeli government offices are closed, schools are on vacation and many businesses operate on abbreviated work schedules so that parents can enjoy the holiday with their families.
Here are some of the top events taking place in Israel during Sukkot 2017:
Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art (Oct. 1-Nov. 16)
The third annual Jerusalem Biennale explores how contemporary art intersects with the Jewish world.
The 2017 biennale is considered to be an “upgrade” from previous years due to the “quality of the exhibitions,” Rami Ozeri, the event’s founder, told JNS.org. Another improvement, Ozeri said, is “how international the biennale really is” this year.
“In 2013, we had around 60 participating artists and only 10 of them were from outside Israel,” he noted.
This year’s biennale will showcase 200 Israeli and international artists in dozens of exhibitions held in eight venues in Israel’s capital, and will see Jewish artistic representation from the U.S., India, South America, Russia and elsewhere in Europe.
One of the exhibitions at the Jerusalem Biennale is “Homelands,” which explores artists’ contemplations on the dispersion of Jewish communities throughout the Muslim world.
Israeli architect-artist Avner Sher’s “Alternative Topography” exhibit will be hosted in the Old City’s Tower of David Museum, and explores “tension between permanence and the ephemeral” in the spiritual and urban geography of Jerusalem.
Neverland Electronic Music Festival (Oct. 11-12)
For young tourists and Israeli locals looking to attend one of Israel’s famed “nature parties” during Sukkot, the high-energy, 24-hour Neverland Electronic Music Festival is likely to be a crowd-pleaser.
The annual festival was founded in 2011 and takes place on the scenic banks of the Jordan River in northern Israel. Festival-goers camp on the event grounds and dance non-stop on three dance floors to music mixed by some of the best DJs from Israel and around the world. The event is limited to attendees ages 23 and up. Ticket prices range from $65-$95.
Get a blessing from the priests at the Western Wall (Oct. 8)
For those looking for a unique spiritual experience during Sukkot, the traditional birkat kohanim (priestly blessing) at the Western Wall is an event not to be missed.
The blessing itself is performed on a daily basis in synagogues throughout Israel, but twice each year, during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, crowds numbering in the tens of thousands come to the Western Wall for the mass event.
Covered in white prayer shawls, hundreds of Jews who consider themselves descendants of the high priests raise their hands to bless the nation of Israel. It is one of the only times during the year when Jewish prayers are broadcast over loudspeakers in the Old City. In contrast, the Muslim call to prayer is heard five times a day throughout the year, all over Jerusalem.
Recitation of the priestly blessing at the Western Wall was initiated by the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel, based on an 800-year-old teaching that when 300 kohanim deliver their blessing together, it is a sign that the Jewish Temple will soon be rebuilt in Jerusalem.
More than 100,000 people attended the most recent mass priestly blessing during the 2017 Passover holiday. This year’s blessing during Sukkot will take place twice at the Western Wall Oct. 8: at 9:30 a.m. during the morning prayer service and at 10:30 a.m. during the mussaf (additional) service. Attendees should arrive at least an hour early if they want to snag a place in the plaza Western Wall plaza. Think twice about attending if you don’t like jostling crowds.
Feast of Tabernacles celebration (Oct. 6-11)
Christian-Zionist tourists visiting Israel are sure to enjoy the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, which is hosted by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ).
The event draws thousands of Christians from around the world to the Holy Land every year to experience a “dynamic worship experience,” according to the event’s website.
“It’s the largest annual Christian gathering in Israel,” David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesman for ICEJ, told JNS.org.
“For most of the pilgrims,” Parsons said, “the biggest highlight is the march through the streets of Jerusalem,” which sees as many as 8,000 evangelical Christians from about 100 countries walk in solidarity with the Jewish state alongside Israelis.
Parsons noted additional aspects of the Feast of Tabernacles such as “worship and teaching” as well as “a solidarity night with our Israeli guests.”
“In recent years,” he said, “we’ve been getting around 1,500 Israeli guests in the Jerusalem basketball arena.”