Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel) has always been a very special place for the Jewish people.
When the Jews were told to leave Israel about 2,000 years ago, they went to live in many different countries- mainly in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Jews in these places mostly lived well, but sometimes they had to face people who did not like them. These people are called ‘antisemites’. The antisemites made life very unpleasant for the Jews and were sometimes violent towards them. Some Jews were told to leave their new countries and to go and find a home somewhere else. Every time Jews were faced with violence from these people, their beliefs only grew stronger and they wanted even more to go back to live in Israel.
By the 1700s, many Jews lived in Europe, but they still did not have their freedom. The Jews had to live in places called ‘ghettos’, which were certain areas that were closed off by fences. The Jews could not live outside these fences and be with people in other communities. Inside the ghettos, Jews continued to practice Judaism.
By the 1800s, there was a lot more freedom inside the ghettos. Jews were freer to deal with things like education, culture and philosophy in their own communities. They started to form movements (groups) with different ideas, and some of them even decided they wanted to mix with the whole of society, including non-Jewish people.
At the end of the 1800s, there was a movement formed called ‘Zionism’. This was a group of Jews whose main aim was to get other Jews from all over the world to go back to live in Israel, which had once been called ‘Zion’.
In 1948, Israel became an independent state and formed its own government. Jews from anywhere in the world were (and are) welcome to go to Israel. Many Jews did go to Israel and the population grew much bigger (almost double what it was before).
JEWISH FESTIVALS IN ISRAEL
Jewish festivals are celebrated deeply in Israel. Each festival is like a ‘landmark’: it marks the passing of a time in the year. Festivals are celebrated at home, at school, in the synagogue and even in the street!
Most people in Israel celebrate Shabbat with their family and friends. There is no public transport (buses or trains), shops and businesses are closed and as many soldiers as possible are allowed to go home to their families. Everyone in Israel has the feeling of a rest day on Shabbat, because the whole country rests.
This festival marks the beginning of the Jewish new year. In many ways, Israel begins its year on this day (the 1st-2nd of Tishrei). The shofar is blown in synagogue and Jews have big meals at home with their families. Israeli employers usually give their employees nice presents at Rosh Hashanah time, often things like homewares or gift vouchers to spend at supermarkets or department stores.
This festival comes eight days after Rosh HaShanah. People are very serious on this day because they are praying to God for forgiveness of all their sins. The whole of Israel stops on this day. All places of entertainment (like movie theatres, shopping centres, etc.) are closed. There is no public transport and all the roads are closed, except to emergency vehicles, like ambulances. Many Israeli kids ride their bikes on the roads on Yom Kippur!
This festival falls five days after Yom Kippur. Many Jews in Israel build sukkot (little huts made from branches and wood) at their homes and businesses. All around the country, you can find sukkot in parking lots, on rooftops, lawns and in public spaces.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
In Israel these are celebrated together as the last day of Sukkot. The focus is on the Torah and there is dancing in the streets. In synagogue, people read the end part of the Torah and then immediately read the beginning chapters to remind us that Torah is a never-ending cycle.
This festival is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the Greeks in ancient times. It is also called the Festival of Lights because the Jews found oil to light the menorah that was meant to be enough for one night, but stayed alight for 8 days. Chanukah is celebrated in Israel for 8 days. Every night, people light one candle until all eight candles are lit. During Chanukah Israeli shops sell thousands, maybe even millions, of souvganiot (jam-filled doughnuts) and other foods fried in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.
This festival is happy as it marks the time when Queen Esther saved the Jews from the evil Haman. In Israel, schools are closed and children (and adults too) dress up in all sorts of costumes. Every town and city has its own Purim parade and the streets are filled with people all dressed up crazy. The Scroll of Esther is read at synagogue and whenever Haman’s name is said, everyone makes a noise.
Long before this festival, Jews begin cleaning their houses so that no traces of chametz (foods that rise) can be found. At the Pesach Seder the haggadah is read and matzah is eaten for the first time. This is a time for families to get together and read, eat and be happy. There is only one Seder night, but two nights in the Diaspora (countries outside of Israel).
During Pesach, Israeli supermarkets have the aisles of food that is not kosher for Pesach covered over with big sheets. At the end of Pesach Israelis rush to buy bread, and especially pita, from the bread shops. Israeli employers usually give their employees nice presents at Pesach time, sometimes even taking them and their families on group holidays to hotels.
This is the 33rd day of the Omer (between Pesach and Shavuot). In Israel there are bonfires where children (and adults) dance and sing songs to celebrate the time in Jewish history when the Jews won battles against Rome. Children in each neighbourhood collect firewood for their bonfires for weeks leading up to Lag baOmer and they compete to build the tallest one.
This festival falls seven weeks after Pesach. On This festival, many religious Jews in Israel study Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. People also have the tradition of eating milk products, like cheesecakes and cheese blintzes (pancakes), so there are lots of these foods in the shops there, as well as flowers and other grenery used for decorating homes and synagogues.
Israel Programs (programs you can participate in which allow you to learn about Israel)
Judaism 101: The Land of Israel
Activities for Children
The Kotel (cloze sentences)
The Kotel in English and Hebrew
Eilat and the Tourist (Word Jumble)
Hebrew – Borrowed Words (Hangman)
Visit to a Kibbutz (WordSearch)
Israel’s Geography (Scavenger Hunt)
Grandmother Rivka from the Old City of Jerusalem (a story to read)
Yom haAtzma’ut Vocabulary (WordSearch)
Your Page: What’s In A Name?