Holidays and National Days in Israel

Holidays in the state of Israel follow the Jewish holidays, and in addition there are non-religious national days.
You are strongly advised to be aware of the Israel holiday calendar and take special consideration when planning your vacation in Israel if it is during a holiday.

How will the holiday in Israel impact my trip?

  • Jewish holidays are like Shabbat, meaning public services are closed, as well as some private businesses. Children are on school vacation.
  • Public recreation areas and parks are packed with families.
    On non-religious days malls are also full of shoppers.
  • In the evenings (starting about an hour before sunset) road traffic gets very busy with people coming back home from their vacation or day trip.

Continue reading for a complete and detailed explanation on each one of the special days in Israel and how it may affect your vacation to Israel.

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Jewish holidays

Israel was established as a home to the Jewish people, and as such, Jewish holidays were adopted by the state. The days of most Jewish holidays are observed much like Shabbat, meaning public services and most of private places are closed (by law the rest day in Israel Is Saturday, and the Jewish holidays follow the same rules).

It starts in the evening…
Jewish holiday starts in the evening of the day and ends in the evening of the next day. That means the morning of a holiday day is a regular business day, usually it ends a bit earlier, and in the evening the holiday starts. So on that day services like trains operate as usual during the day but stop early in the afternoon (exact time depends on the sunset, usually services stop about 1-2 hours before that time). The next day the holiday continues until the evening, and only then public services may resume.

It is important to plan ahead and make a good plan for your trip to Israel if it falls on such a holiday.

Additional information about businesses closed during Shabbat and Jewish holidays: Shabbat in Israel (coming soon)

Dates
The dates of Jewish holidays are determined according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different than the Gregorian calendar used in most countries in the world.
Thus every year the exact Gregorian date changes a bit, you can see the dates of all important days in Israel in the coming two years at the last section of this page: Israel holiday calendar.

Notes:
1. The Gregorian calendar is used in Israel on a daily basis, so when you talk with people, make a flight/tour/hotel reservation etc feel free to use this calendar.
2. The Jewish holidays are closely related to the seasons of the year, thus the holidays dates match the seasons (a leap year with a 13th month named “Adar Bet” once every 4 years aligns the dates with the seasons).

Here is the list of Jewish holidays celebrated in Israel:

Passover

The most important holiday (Hebrew: Pesach) commemorates the famous event of the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
Passover eve is called “Leil Haseder”, celebrated in a grand dinner with the extended family and telling the exodus story, known as the “Haggada”.
Symbolic food: regular flour food is not allowed (nor is it sold in public), the Matza (flat unleavened bread) is the traditional food that symbolizes Passover more than anything else.
Other common names: festival of Matza, festival of spring.
Traditions: In some of the Kibbutzes a passover harvest festival is held.
Related traditions of other religions: Christian Easter.
Length: 7 days
Impact on tourists: first and last days are rest days, about 18 days off from school, many people are on vacation from work as well, thus this a common time of traveling around the country or abroad.
Date: around April.
Season: early spring.
From the holy bible:
Exodus 12:12 On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.
Exodus 13:7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory.

Pentecost

Pentecost (Hebrew: Shavuot) commemorates the time when God gave the Torah to the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert.
Shavuot eve is celebrated with the family, usually having a dairy dinner with many cheese-related food.
Symbolic food: dairy food, cheesecakes.
Symbolic color: white.
Other common names: Festival of Weeks, Festival of Reaping.
Traditions: In Kibbutzes and other farm villages a celebration that marks the end of the harvest season is held on Shavuot day, a fun time to the kids.
Related traditions of other religions: The Christian holiday of Pentecost that marks the birth of the Church.
Length: 1 day
Impact on tourists: relatively minor with 1 rest day, 2 days off school.
Dates: early June, exactly seven weeks (49 days) after the start of Passover.
Season: late spring.

Tisha Be’av

A fast that commemorates the destruction of both the First and second Temples in Jerusalem.
Length: 1 day
Impact on tourists: minor, it is a special business day where entertainment places and restaurants are closed but must of services operate as usual. Please respect the observers, avoid eating in public places during this day.
Date: mid July to early August.

New year

This is the Jewish New Year (Hebrew: Rosh Hashanah which literally means “the head of the year”).
New year eve (Hebrew: Erev Rosh Hashanah) is traditionally celebrated with a grand dinner, usually with the extended family.
Symbolic food: To symbolize a sweet new year, apples and honey are eaten on new year’s eve. Pomegranates that have many seeds are eaten or used in cocking during this holiday.
Common greeting: “Shana Tova” which literally means in Hebrew “good year”.
Related traditions of other religions: Feast of Trumpets, observed by evangelical Christians.
Length: 2 days (in addition to the new year’s eve).
Impact on tourists: 2 rest days, 3 days off at schools.
Dates: anywhere between September 5th and October 5th, the exact Gregorian date changes every year like the rest of the Jewish holidays.

Day of atonement

The day of atonement (Hebrew: yom kippur or yom hakkipurim) is the holiest day of them all, where a lot of prayer services are held, and the religious ones fast for 25 hours.
This day also intermingles with an unofficial memorial day to the war that broke on Yom Kippur in October 1973.
Traditions: asking one another for forgiveness for the sins of last year, and wishing an easy fast (about 60% of Israelis fast on that day, most of them are not religious).
Non-religious kids are pedaling bicycles on the streets.
Related traditions of other religions: some Cristian groups observe a similar fast.
Length: 1 day
Impact on tourists: major!
A complete rest day, all public and private services and businesses are closed, including radio and TV, airports are closed.
Public transport does not operate (trains, buses, taxis), driving a private car is traditionally not allowed so do NOT plan on driving anywhere with your rental on that day (you may see scarce emergency vehicles).
Also, please respect others and refrain from eating or talking on your cellphone in public places.
School is off for 2 days.
Date: late September to early October, exactly 10 days after new year.

Tabernacles

Tabernacles (Hebrew: Sukkot) is the time to remember how the Children of Israel walked for 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.
A lot of Israelis, especially families with children, build a special tent (Hebrew: sukka) where throughout the holiday period they eat meals, get together and play games with their family and friends.
The day after Sukkot is called Simchat Torah or Shemini Atzeret, when the reading of the Torah starts from the beginning (and being read entirely during the course of one year).
Other common names: The Feast of Ingathering.
Related traditions of other religions: The Christian-observed Feast of Tabernacles.
Length: The holiday lasts for 7 days, followed by one day of Simchat Torah.
Impact on tourists: first and last days are rest days, 9 days off school, thus parks and recreation areas are full of visitors throughout the entire holiday period.
Date: October, 14 days after new year.

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Public holidays of a religious nature

What is that, you ask? Well, these are Jewish holidays that were established around 2,000 years ago, long after the creation and establishment of the Jewish religion. These holidays were set as memory days for important events in Jewish history.

How does that impact me as a tourist?
These days are NOT observed like Shabbat, thus services and businesses usually operate as in any other weekday.

Purim

Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persian Empire from destruction. However, it is more a national than it is a religious holiday.
In Purim children as well as grown-ups masquerade in costume and wear masks (like in Halloween) and take part in colorful, funny and happy street parades and street parties.
In the evening the young people hang out on the streets, while private and public parties are held for a few days before, during and after the exact date of the holiday.
Traditions: Sending candy gifts to friends.
Symbolic foods: “Oznei Haman”, which are sweet triangular pastries traditionally filled with poppy seeds (or other fillings like dates or chocolate).
Length: 1 day.
Impact on tourists: none, 2 days off school.
Date: around March.
Tip: the parade in the city of Holon (center of Israel) is the biggest and famous of all.

Hanukkah (Chanukah)

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is a popular and known holiday where Jews celebrate the victory of the Hebrew independence over the Roman empire in the Holy Land around 2000 years ago.
Symbols: lighting of the Menorah (Hebrew: hanukiah) candles, playing with a dreidel (Hebrew: sevivon) and lots of kids songs.
Length: The holiday lasts for 8 days.
Impact on tourists: first and last day are rest days, 8 days off school.
Date: late December.

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National holidays

The public or national holidays in Israel are not of a religious nature.
During these holidays children are on school vacation, public services are mostly closed, as well as private businesses.
Businesses that provide services to tourists and to people on vacation may be open, for example restaurants, cinemas, museums and so on.

Israel Independence Day

Independence day (Hebrew: yom ha’atzmaut) is when Israelis celebrate the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948.
Independence eve is a very happy night where many are out having fun on street parties and free performances and concerts.
The next day many families are traveling the country or having picnics in the parks.
Travel tips:
1. Some museums are open free on that day. Check in advance.
2. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli army) opens a few of its bases for visitors, this is your chance to get a close look at a military ship, plane or a tank.
Expect a lot of visitors in the above attractions.


National memorial day
Note that the preceding day is the national memorial day in memory of all those who died while protecting the state: soldiers, police personnel as well as terrorism victims.
At the eve of that day there is a memorial siren at 8PM that symbolizes the start of the memorial day, and the next day (independence eve) there is another siren at 11AM when memorial ceremonies take place all over the country.
Don’t expect any fun or leisure business to be open on memorial eve.

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Other important dates

Here are a ew more special days in Israel that you should be aware of.

Holocaust Memorial Day

This remembrance day (Hebrew: yom hashoah) is for the honor of the 6 millions Jews murdered during world war 2.
In memorial day at 10AM sirens are sounded for 2 minutes.
Impact on tourists: minor. This is a special business day in which public entertainment places are closed, so don’t expect to enjoy any special event on that day.
Date: late April (exact date depends on the Jewish calendar).

Tu Bishvat

This is the special holiday of the plants when the revival of nature is celebrated. The tradition is to plant a tree somewhere in the land of Israel, mainly organized by the Jewish National Fund.
Other common name: New year of the trees.
Symbolic food: dried fruits (grapes, apricot, figs, dates) and various nuts, all are both delicious and healthy.
Impact on tourists: none. This is a regular business day.
Date: around January.

Lag Baomer

Tradition: lighting bonfires
Impact on tourists: none. This is a regular business day.
Length: 1 day, 1 day off school.
Date: 33 days after Passover

Summer break

Schools in Israel take a long two-months break during the summer.
High school break start on June 20th while the others start on July 1st.

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Muslim holidays

About 20% of Israel’s population are Muslims, thus we believe it is also nice to know the major Muslim holidays in Israel, even tough they should not impact your itinerary.

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A Complete Israel Holiday & Vacation Calendar 2011 & 2012

In the following table we listed all the holidays with dates in the two years to come.

Holiday type legend
J – Jewish ; P/J – public (Jewish origin) ; P – public/national ; M – Muslim ; C – Cristian

Travel tip: impact for travelers
We tried to give a rough estimation on the impact on travelers in terms of traveling limitations (operation of public transportation, open of businesses, attractions etc). Details can be found at the section of each holiday on this page.
None –  a regular business day with no impact at all.
Minor – some places are closed, should not make much difference to you.
Medium – days observed like Shabbat (public services are closed, as well as most businesses).
Major – a complete rest day, all services and businesses are closed.

Note for the Jewish dates
For Jewish holidays, the holiday eve is not written explicitly, so for example, “15 June” means the 14th is the holiday eve and the 15th is the holiday day (15th evening is when the holiday ends).

Holiday name Type Impact for travelers 2011 2012
Tu Bishvat P/J None 20 January 8 Feb
Purim P/J None 20 Mar 8 Mar
Pesach (Passover) J Medium 19 Apr 7 Apr
Holocaust memorial day P Minor 2 May 19 Apr
National memorial day P Minor 9 May 25 Apr
Independence day P Minor 10 May 26 Apr
Lag Ba’omer P/J None 22 May 10 May
Shavuot (Pentecost) J Medium 8 Jun 27 May
School summer break None 1 Jul till 31 Aug 1 Jul till 31 Aug
Tisha Be’av J Minor 9 Aug 29 Jul
Rosh Hashana (New year) J Medium 29-30 Sept 17-18 Sept
Yom Kippur (Day of atonement) J Major 8 Oct 26 Sept
Sukkot (Tabernacles) J Medium 13 Oct 1 Oct
Hanukkah P/J Minor 21 Dec 9 Dec

For our Cristian readers, here are also the main Cristian holidays with dates in the coming years, it may help you with the Israel travel itinerary.
Whenever there are two dates, the first is for Western and the second for Eastern.

Easter
2011: April 24 ; 2012: April 8/15

Happy Holidays!

Related articles: Guide. Published on ; Last updated on

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