October 17th 2016
Towards the end of the week-long celebration known as Sukkot, Jews from all walks of life gather together to commemorate their most precious gift of all: the sacred Torah. Clutching Torah scrolls, Jews dance around the synagogues, giving thanks, praise, and jubilation to God for the timeless treasure that they cherish so dearly. If you’ll be in Israel this Simchat Torah, here are some events you won’t want to miss.
Hoshana Raba is celebrated the day before Simchat Torah (Saturday night-Sunday day October 22-23) and it is a special time to increase Torah study and self-awareness. Many religious Jews will attend lectures on Bible topics or self-improvement, and others will stay up the entire night studying Torah. Travelers interested in attending one of these speeches/learning events can visit any of the local synagogues in the neighborhoods where they are staying to see times and schedules.
During the day, natives and visitors flock to the Western Wall or other major synagogue locations to do “hakafot” or circuits. Seven circuits are done around the altar, and the traditional willow branches are wrapped against the floor in order to beat away any remnants of sin that might be clinging to the participants. The Western Wall is a wonderful place to view and experience this unique event.
As Hoshana Raba is the last day of Sukkot, many Jews eat their farewell meal in the Sukkah and say goodbye to this fun and festive commandment.
Simchat Torah Dancing
After the prayer services on the eve of Simchat Torah (Sunday night, October 23 this year), synagogues will be light up with the sounds of singing and dancing until late into the night. Tourists looking for the full experience can join the crowds who frequently bounce from one shul to the next in orthodox communities such as Mea Shearim, Geula, and of course, at the Western Wall. The Great Synagogue is also a spectacular event where travelers will revel in the magic of the evening.
Tourists should note that Simchat Torah is a holiday, which means among the religious observers, no electronic devices will be present (this includes cameras, cell phones, and tablets).
If you haven’t heard yet, there are loads of exciting Sukkot events to check out as well, and enjoy your stay!