Sukkot: A Holiday Israel Doesn’t Need

A 10-day vacation right after the summer holidays is a huge and annoying waste of time that does nothing but glorify a minor feast.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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A sukkah on a Tel Aviv sidewalk.
A sukkah on a Tel Aviv sidewalk.Credit: Nir Kedar
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

The Sukkot holiday should be done away with. What happens in Israel between April and October is complete madness. For six months, every year, there’s no work routine here. Just breaks between holidays and vacations. Passover, Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Lag B’Omer, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, summer vacation, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah. An assembly line of national and religious holidays, one after the other. And from time to time there’s a round of fighting with Hezbollah or Hamas (a kind of national holiday of its own). A celebration of laziness. There’s no point starting anything, because there’s no time to finish it. Everything has to be done after Passover, but in fact after the summer vacation and the truth is there’s no choice but to wait until everyone gets back to work – after Sukkot.

The Israeli economy functions regularly only during the winter half of the year. The rest of the time we’re busy celebrating our nationhood and our Jewishness, and remembering our dead. An unending parade of holidays is key study material in kindergartens and elementary school. It’s a waste to put Israel’s little students through international comparative testing in subjects like math and science. It’s not fair. They are busy most of the time with the mitzvah of apple and honey, with Hitler, singing “Hatikva,” the Greeks, the Romans, recipes for cheese quiches and the destruction of the Temple. A glimpse of the posters that decorate classroom walls is enough to understand what the real priorities are in education that is supposed to focus on the core curriculum.

This craziness reaches its absurd climax during the holidays of Tishrei, because they begin right after summer vacation. Holiday meals on Passover and Rosh Hashanah are the most important family events of the Hebrew calendar, among Jews in Israel and around the world – secular or religious. But Sukkot? That holiday, right next to Simhat Torah, is celebrated here with a fearsome vacation, that extends over 10 days. That is the second longest break after Passover. But for many Israelis, and certainly for many Jews in other countries, these holiday eves are not central events. Many Israelis do not eat in the Sukkah nor do they buy an etrog (despite the extensive knowledge their children demonstrate of the finer points of the Four Species, as opposed to principles of empirical thought). Sukkot is marked here disproportionately, in a way that does not reflect its minority status in the national experience.

Secular people do not need Sukkot. For farmers there’s Shavuot and for the Exodus from Egypt there’s Passover. In light of our way of life, Sukkot is unnecessary from our point of view and the vacation that comes with it is a real nuisance. It disrupts our work and disrupts our children’s education (on anything not having to do with the holidays). The vacation calendar is a sign of religious coercion, which does not serve our needs and seriously damages the economy.

If you would have asked me a few days ago what the significance of Sukkot is, I would say, without shame, that I have no idea whatsoever. Something with pilgrimage and temporary dwellings in the desert, and harvest. Storage space in the brain is limited, and it sifts out anything that over the years turns out to be useless. The enforced idleness of Sukkot is infuriating. At the end of August we came back from our two-week family vacation. Another one now makes a laughing stock out of the concept of vacation. Vacation from what, exactly? Enough of going through Tishrei with the sense of alienation and internal exile. That’s not normal either.

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