Right after Yom Kippur is over, the sound of hammers rings throughout Israel as people begin building temporary “huts” called sukkot (sukkah in singular).
The week-long harvest and thanksgiving festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), this year from nightfall October 16 through October 23, brings many Israelis and tourists outdoors to dine (and sometimes sleep) in the sukkah with the stars peeking through the roof of branches, lumber or bamboo in keeping with biblical tradition.
People typically decorate their sukkah with posters, paper chains, colored lights and hanging fruit. In fancy sukkot you might even see chandeliers and draperies.
Here are nine impressive sukkot found from north to south. Tell us about your favorite Israeli sukkah in the comments section below.
- 1. The President’s Sukkah
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, will host their annual Sukkot open house on October 19 at their official residence in Jerusalem. Thousands of Israeli citizens and tourists visit the presidential sukkah each year and enjoy a variety of exhibits, entertainment and activities throughout the residence and its gardens.
On October 18, the president’s mobile sukkah will make a stop in Acre (Akko) to greet the public. Every year, a different city is chosen for the special event.
- 2. Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
The Waldorf sets up its main sukkah right inside the hotel’s lobby atrium under a retracting glass rooftop. This arrangement combines convenience with aesthetics: The temperature can be controlled, and if it starts to rain the staff simply closes the roof so there’s no scramble to re-seat 200 diners.
The sukkah-building team gets to work three weeks before the holiday, while the décor is planned months in advance. This year’s theme is grapes and vineyards.
The Waldorf also offers two other large sukkot, each seating between 200 and 260 people, as well as private sukkot for some of the luxury suites.
- 3. Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
About one kilometer south of the Waldorf, the Inbal Hotel builds a lavish courtyard sukkah, measuring 25 square meters with a three-meter-high open roof. It takes a week to construct and decorate.
For the second year in a row, the Inbal has engaged event planner Sarit Bustan to handle décor. The theme this year is “a visual and content experience revolving around a sky full of stars and fairy tales,” a spokeswoman tells ISRAEL21c.
The hotel also has a 200-square-meter balcony sukkah, 50-square-meter Executive Lounge sukkah with transparent walls, and private sukkot for suites.
- 4. Kibbutz Lotan
All the members of this eco-conscious Reform kibbutz in Israel’s Arava Valley gather at the end of Yom Kippur, even before breaking their fast, to start building their communal sukkah. Measuring 200 square meters and seating 300 people, it’s made from a steel frame manufactured on site, covered with date-palm branches cut from Lotan’s orchard and decorated with murals handmade by members, youth and guests.
- 5. ‘Most Beautiful Sukkah,’ Kibbutz Tirat Zvi
Many members of this kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley build their own sukkot. This 12-by-8-meter structure built by Tirat Zvi date farmer Moshe Zakay and his neighbors, the Neeman family, won first prize last year in a “most beautiful sukkah” contest run by the regional council. It’s built of octagonal straw bales and is decorated with kibbutz-grown fruit and Tirat Zvi artifacts.
- 6. Aish HaTorah World Center, Jerusalem
The balcony of the Jerusalem world headquarters of global Jewish outreach organization Aish HaTorah is famed for its view of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. Before Sukkot, a team of 10 people works about 12 hours to transform the balcony into a luxurious sukkah measuring 400 square meters and seating 300 people.
- 7. Tel Aviv municipality
Each fall, thousands of people visit the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality’s 10-by-10-meter sukkah in Rabin Square. It’s set up and decorated in time for the annual Four Species Festival, this year taking place today (October 13). Inside, vendors sell a variety of Sukkot decorations as well as the four species used to celebrate the holiday: citron (etrog), willow, myrtle and palm frond (lulav).
- 8. Samaritan sukkah
The Israelite Samaritan Community, a small religious minority group living on Mount Gerizim and in Holon, builds exceptionally dazzling sukkot – indoors, not outdoors — using the four species (see item above) and a huge geometric canopy of fruits.
“In Samaritan tradition, the sukkot are meant to remind us of the Garden of Eden. The symbolism of Eden is expressed by covering the Samaritan sukkah with luscious fruit,” writes Benyamim Tsedaka, head of the Israelite Samaritan Information Institute in Holon.
- 9. Holon municipality
Erected on the plaza of this seaside city’s Mediatheque cultural center, the Holon municipal sukkah is open to visitors on the night after the first full day of Sukkot (October 17 this year) for a nosh and a meet-and-greet with local officials. A free show outside will be headlined by singing stars Gali Atari and Vardina Cohen. The sukkah accommodates 200 people at a time.