Compared to most religions, Judaism has a large number of holidays, albeit not equally distributed during the year. Each holiday has its script and rules, which are sometimes rather complicated even for observant Jews to understand. In fact, practicing Jews spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what is allowed and forbidden on these occasions.
An interesting aspect of these holidays is the unwritten rules that have become part of them even if no mention of them can be found in any religious book. For non-religious Jews, they may much more significant to the holiday than the formal practices. Here is a short list of how to identify the various Jewish holidays in Israel:
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year): the search for tasty apples to serve with the honey. This is often accompanied by comments such as “When I was a kid, apples were really tasty. Today, they are like plastic.”
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): Riding bicycles. Since even non-religious Jews avoid driving on this day, children take over the streets, riding their bicycles all over the town without any fear, which is paradoxically the source of the packed emergency rooms in hospitals in Israel on that day.
Sukkot: the collection of children’s artwork. Since families like to decorate the walls of the sukka, the temporary shelter symbolic of the holiday, the various scribbles and attempts at artwork by the children and grandchildren are encouraged and greedily taken for use as decorations. To be clear, the children are more than pleased to cooperate.
Hanukah: smell of levivot (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts). It is a tradition to prepare these two dishes at least once during the holiday. People generally unsuccessfully avoid the latter as not being worth the calories, but levivot are always tasty, if not very low-calorie. On the other hand, who diets during a holiday? In any case, Israelis use much cooking oil during this holiday.
Purim: children smoking cigarettes. This holiday involves putting on costumes and acting out. The tradition is the children can get away with anything but murder on this day. So, many children in religious families, even younger ones, smoke cigarettes openly.
Pesach: spring cleaning. The rules only require removal of hametz, leavened bread products, from the house. However, many families, even non-religious ones, conduct a thorough cleaning of the house, including windows and shelves, often beginning a month beforehand. Of course, there is always some nice desert wind which comes around and gets the windows all dirty again, but it is the effort that counts, right?
Log Baomer: collecting wood in shopping carts. Most Israelis, especially those with children, participate in mass bonfire parties. However, first the kids, of all ages, have to collect the wood. Potatoes and hotdogs are the standard fare, but some go much fancier. On the bright side, it is a chance to talk with the neighbors and meet the parents of the other kids (funny how the parent acts and looks the son or daughter). On a less charming note, the pollution level jumps sky high with some children learning the hard way about “the burnt child dreads the fire.”
Shavuot: water fights. This holiday is supposedly a harvest festival. The younger generation seems to think it is an open invitation to get other people wet. I have no idea why and wish it was not so.
Tisha be Av: no restaurants. This is a day of mourning over the destruction (twice) of the temple in Jerusalem, but the tourists seem to pay the price for it. Try not to arrive on the evening of the holiday.
So, like the packed stores and overuse of red and green on December 24, holidays in Israel are clearly marked, if not necessary as כתוב בתורה, as written in the Bible.