A New Year to Remember

This month in Israel brings us the start of the Jewish New Year. Coupled with the dog days of the Israeli summer, visitors and locals alike are in for a range of special, traditional and not-so-traditional events surrounding the holiday. Here’s Yoni Cohen’s comprehensive guide of both the weird and wonderful taking place around the country

4 בספטמבר 2014

Literally meaning “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holidays, marking the beginning of the Jewish Year, according to the Jewish calendar. This year it begins on the evening of September 24 and goes through sunset on Friday, September 26. Businesses across the country will be closed and giving gifts at this time of year is customary, as is wishing everyone you meet a Shana Tova Umetuka (Happy and Sweet New Year).

In more religious cities, like Jerusalem, nearly all restaurants and attractions are closed, so it’s a great time to soak up the spiritual atmosphere and even head to one of the many synagogues or the Western Wall for a New Year service. In more secular cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, expect plenty more to be going on.

A lot of Israelis take advantage of the time off work and head out for a tiyul (hike) in nature or go to one of the many festivals that take place. Whether you want to chill out, party it up or have a spiritual experience, here is a diverse selection of things to do all around the country before, during and after Rosh Hashanah. Chag Sameach!

Love Nights Festival

Bringing a piece of Indian spirituality to Israel, the heart of the Negev desert is the location for this unique festival of music and love. The mysterious Desert Ashram will host meditation sessions and workshops aimed at fostering deeper connections, all taking place under the starry sky of the desert. This year the festival’s theme will be “back to the heart,” so expect a variety of activities that are designed to open the heart – together as a group, in couples or alone. When not taking part in the various intimate sessions, festivalgoers can enjoy a dip in the pool and a night of music, dance and love until the sunrise.

Love Nights Festival. Photo courtesy of PR
Love Nights Festival. Photo courtesy of PR

Desert Ashram, Shitim, Sep 25-27. NIS 329 at the gate, 052-5443349, see: Desert Ashram

Lantern Tour at Nimrod Fortress

Explore the medieval charm of The Nimrod Fortress in the northern Golan Heights during a fascinating night tour with lanterns leading the way. Set on a ridge rising about 800 m (2600 feet) above sea level, the fortress is worth checking out at the best of times but even more so when lit up with oil lamps. Listen to old tales and see the rooms, halls, watch towers and the secret passages in a whole different light, literally. The hour and a half tour includes a professional guide, entrance to the fortress and light snacks.

Nimrod Fortress, Mount Hermon, Sep 25-26
Adults NIS 50, children NIS 40, *3639

Photo courtesy of PR
Photo courtesy of PR

Slichot prayers with Women of the Wall

Women of the Wall will prepare spiritually for Rosh Hashanah a few days before the actual festival with a traditional Slichot ceremony involving Jewish penitential poems and prayers. For the second year in a row the multi-denominational feminist organization will gather in the women’s section of the Western Wall for Slichot prayers with Sephardic melodies. Traditionally a men-only ritual, organized women’s group prayer for Slichot is a relatively new phenomenon that got a lot of attention last year. Involving plenty of dancing and singing in a spiritual atmosphere, this is an experience worth checking out.

Photo courtesy of PR
Photo courtesy of PR

BodyWays Festival

This is one for all the dance lovers out there. BodyWays invites dance experts, dance novices, and those simply eager to get their body moving to meet, move and learn in a friendly and expressive atmosphere. The annual BodyWays festival is now in it’s 12th year, and has been steadily growing. Each of three days will involve six different studios, each hosting different workshops on various styles and types of movement and dance. This will be followed by two nights of dance performances and music concerts, along with parties, all set on a beautiful green campus with air-conditioned halls, a huge swimming pool, a shaded camping area and masses of open spaces.

Givat Haviva, near Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Sep 25-27. NIS 290
see: BodyWays Festival

Phaza Morgana Festival

Now in its eighth year, the Phaza Morgana festival is a great opportunity to experience some of Israel’s best music and dance acts, all under the beautiful desert sky surrounded by the spectacular scenery of Timna Park. Taking place over three nights just before the High Holidays get underway, get ready to enjoy the finest ballet and live classical music alongside Israeli music stars Balkan Beat Box as well as Israeli rock and pop legends Yehuda Poliker, Gidi Gov, and Barry Sakharov. Take note that tickets are available when ordered with a hotel package via Isrotel.

Phaza Morgana. Photo by Liran Simon
Phaza Morgana. Photo by Liran Simon

Sep 18-21, Timna Park, see: Phaza Morgana
For price of various packages visit the official Isrotel site

U.N.I.T.Y Rising Spirit Festival

This festival is for those who are not afraid to party, like seriously party. Held in a beautiful location in the north of the country, it will feature 30 hours of the best trance music around performed by over 60 artists, 20 of whom are from abroad. Starting at 12 p.m. on Thursday, the music will continue non-stop over 2 stages till 6 p.m. the next day so make sure to get a good sleep in the night before because there will only be time for dancing at U.N.I.T.Y Accompanied by 3D visuals and impressive pyrotechnic shows, this looks set to be a festival to remember.

Location to be announced, Sep 25-26. NIS 200-220, see: U.N.I.T.Y

Aviv Geffen at Zappa Tel Aviv

For those in Tel Aviv who want to experience an Israeli music legend, Zappa Club in Tel Aviv is the place to be. Wild child and 90s rock icon turned judge on the Israeli version of The Voice will be performing a special acoustic set of his best hits from the last two decades. Together with his friend Eran Mitelman, Geffen will take to the piano for a simple yet emotional performance at the intimate venue that sees audience members sitting around tables or at the bar.
Zappa Tel Aviv, 24 Raoul Wallenberg St, Sep 25. Doors open at 8:15 p.m, performance starts at 10 p.m, NIS 150, see: Zappa Club

Honey Festival

When Israelis wish you a sweet New Year, they really mean it. Honey is an integral part of the Rosh Hashanah festivities and there is no better way to get into the sweet spirit of things than by checking out the annual Israel Honey Festival. During the entire month of September there are events for the whole family around the country including beehive tours, honey-tastings, performances and activities for the kids, and lessons in the therapeutic powers of honey. While there are plenty of activities to choose from, a trip to the home of Israeli honey, Devorat HaTavor at Moshav Shadmot Devorah, is not to be missed.

Devorat HaTavor at Moshav Shadmot Devorah, next to Kfar Tavor, throughout September, NIS 35-48. 04-6769598, see: Dvorat Hatavor

Old City Tour

See Jerusalem in a totally different light on this guided tour that starts in the first neighborhood built outside of the Old City walls, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and then onto the beautiful Yemin Moshe next door. From there it’s a short climb to the walls of the Old City to enjoy beautiful views and then down through the Zion Gate into the Jewish quarter to experience the unique energy of the transition between Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat. After witnessing residents preparing for the holy day, it’s then down to the Western Wall to take in the extra-special atmosphere of Friday evening prayers.

Jerusalem Walls National Park, Sep 26. NIS 30-45, *3639

Utopia Festival

For an out-of-this- world experience leading up to Rosh Hashanah, check out the International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film in Tel Aviv. Known as the Utopia Festival, the eight-day gathering will include a wide selection of films both from Israel and from abroad. When you’re not enjoying a film, take inone of a variety of science, imagination and future vision events and lectures. The festival will be held in conjunction with the Tel Aviv DLD Innovation Week, the largest digital summit in Israel, so expect plenty of discussion about technology and society, and perspectives on the future.

Tel Aviv Cinematheque, Sep 13-20. NIS 42, see: Utopia Festival

Spice Way Farm Tour

The Spice Way Farm, nestled in northern Israel’s Jezreel Valley between Haifa and Nazareth, will be putting on a fascinating tour of all the herbs, spices, infusions and medicinal plants that they grow in their fields and sell in their shop. As a nod to the tradition of eating honey at Rosh Hashanah, there will also be a workshop focusing on preparing seasoned honey and combining it with sweet pastries. The kids can enjoy a host of New Year related activities, such as preparing special holiday greeting cards and seasoned magnets. All this in a

Spice Way Farm, Beit Lechem Haglalit, Sep 25-27 at 10:00. NIS 30
see: Spice Way

Captain Hook @ Haoman 17 Tel Aviv

Clubs in Israel don’t start till late so for those who want to enjoy a festive meal with family and still intend on partying, there will be plenty of time to make it to Haoman 17. One of Tel Aviv’s hottest clubs, Haoman is big, brash and unapologetic. It will be playing host to a special Rosh Hashanah event featuring progressive minimal psychedelic tribal trance act Captain Hook who will be keeping the party going till the early hours. The Israeli maestro, who has made it big on the international stage, will be joined by resident DJs Zvika Brand & Mc Chubik to help raise the roof.

Haoman 17, 88 Abarbanel St, Tel Aviv, Sep 24 at 24:00
see: Haoman 17 Club

Photo courtesy of PR
Photo courtesy of PR

Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv

To get in touch with spiritual side of Judaism head on down to the Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv and take part in one of the many services and festive meals taking place during the holiday. Kabbalah is an ancient wisdom that provides practical tools for creating joy and lasting fulfillment and there is no better time to do this than at Rosh Hashanah when it is customary to reflect on the past year and look forward to the year ahead. The Center will be hosting traditional Jewish services in their own unique way, focusing on community and togetherness to create a better future. Madonna and Ashton Kutcher are big fans of the practice so there must be something to it.

14 Ben Ami St, Tel Aviv, Sep 24-27 at 09:30, see: Kabbalah Center