Ahh. Yom Kippur is finished; we’ve repented and we’ve reflected, and we look forward to having been inscribed in the book of life. And with Sukkot, the last holiday for awhile is upon us. Whether you’re inside a sukka or patiently awaiting Simchat Torah and the new cycle of Torah readings, Sukkot is one last chance to be a part of summer’s revelry before the fall weather, lurking around the corner, settles in. Here are five cool ways to celebrate, or merely pass the time, during the holiday.
1. The Haifa International Film Festival
Nestled in the Carmel mountains, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Haifa Film Festival, now in its 28th year, is a favorite Sukkot tradition. The buzz about the new and old films and the gentle breeze from the sea mix to create a perfect holiday combination. People lounge at cafes while waiting for their films to begin. They browse the tiny vendors lining the streets, or they attend outdoor screenings and concerts, soaking up the spirited atmosphere.
The festival includes documentaries, new Asian cinema, pieces by up-and-coming Israeli directors, shorts, director tributes, animation films, and much more. There are several ticket combos, depending on your budget and enthusiasm for the films; one package is $85 (NIS 336) for 10 films. There are also discounts for senior citizens and students. Screenings take place mainly at the Cinematheque and at numerous museums and movie theaters around the city. The festival runs from September 29 thru October 8.
2. Bat Yam International Street-Theater Festival
The Street C.A.T. (Creative Artistic Theatre), which comes to Bat Yam for three days, from October 2 through October 4, is the largest theater festival in Israel whose primary stage is the street and urban spaces. The festival, now in its 15th year, seeks to offer something for everyone, and the informal nature of the shows make them an easy family stop, for a day or even for an hour.
Colorful performances dot Bat Yam’s shoreline, conveying a feeling of a party, as pyrotechnic artists and acrobats engage even the most aloof passersby. Street performers from around the globe join Israeli artists to make the carnival a spectacular out-of-this-world fantasy.
Performances include 15-minute dances in abandoned industrial buildings and funny shows for children — as well as Rolling Stones performances and French classics. Whether it’s a British play about a waiter-turned-prison escapee or it’s Belgium’s The Primitives — a trio who mix vaudevillian comedy with carnivalesque sex appeal (and a distinct desire for your pocket change) — the vivaciousness is lighthearted and contagious.
3. Dona Gracia Festival
For those looking to indulge in some greenery but also enjoy some fine entertainment and good company, Tiberias’ Dona Gracia Festival is a perfect option. Taking place on October 2-3, the festival’s itinerary includes free outdoor shows and art gallery viewings all around Tiberias, all ensconced in green mountains and surrounded by the blue, pristine water of the Sea of Galilee.
Israeli artists will exhibit their work throughout public galleries in the area. A great stop is the namesake Dona Gracia hotel/cultural center/museum. (Gracia was an extremely wealthy Jewish Portuguese woman from the 1500s who fought the Inquisition and helped Jews escape death). Also look out for Tiberias’ first contemporary modern art gallery, Amdur Fine Gallery.
The opening concert features Moti Giladi and other Israeli performers, and the second night features an Andalusian choir with notable Israeli performers, including Efrat Gosh and others. Also, Rosh Pinna offers special tours for Sukkot’s feast of the tabernacles.
4. Fly over the Negev
One never needs an excuse to visit the Negev, but during Sukkot, the desert offers even more opportunities to be at one with nature. For example, the Negev Regional’s Council has a unique birdwatching festival — “Fly over the Negev” — which runs from September 30 thru October 4. It features observations, tours, and bird-ringing activities at two picturesque spots, Sde Boker and Lake Yeruham. Other activities include camel-riding, camping, mountain biking, and hiking, all under the big blue sky.
Birdwatching is a treasured tradition in Israel, especially given the country’s unique location at the meeting point of three continents along the Syrian-African Rift Valley, and the pastime continues to grow. Some 150,000 tourists are expected to make the voyage to the copper-tinge-colored desert this October, to wander in the serene, almost biblical atmosphere and search for the hundreds of unique bird species that Israel attracts.
5. Emek Hamaianot
To really get away from it all this holiday, some flock to the very north — where water is abundant and the land is lush. In Emek Hamaianot (Valley of the Springs), things like full-moon treks and old-fashioned games are the norm. Ever wonder how organic farming works? Here you can explore it through one of the many organized tours — or just lounge in one of the idyllic, fresh water springs.
Many families in the region open their homes to travelers. Pop into a local kibbutz for a cold beer, or walk along the vast hills that dot the landscape, surrounded by an abundance of nature.
You are invited to feel the rich simplicity and the slow speed of life during the holiday. After all, Sukkot is all about renewal and rejuvenation. It just might be paradise.