The fact that Israelis celebrated both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on Monday left many Jewishly observant tourists here in limbo.
While Israelis wound up the holiday season at sundown Monday, it was still “yom tov” Tuesday for tens of thousands of visiting Jews from abroad.
According to most Orthodox rabbis, Diaspora Jews on a short-term visit to Israel must observe the holidays as they do in the Diaspora. Since they celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah as two separate days back home, they are bound to do so in Israel, too.
“It feels strange to be observing the second day of the holiday while Israelis have gone back to work,” said Mark Bernstein, a tourist from New York’s Forest Hills section.
“The buses are running and the restaurants are open, but we can’t patronize them,” he said. “Of course, that’s the situation we have in the States as well. We observe the holiday while everyday life goes on around us.”
“It was odd to see Hasidim riding the bus to the Western Wall while those of us observing the second day had to walk,” said a woman named Helene, who was visiting her daughter in Jerusalem. “At the same time that I couldn’t turn on the lights, my religious daughter used her washing machine. It’s a bit surreal.”
While few synagogues held second-day services, most cities and towns tried to accommodate the visitors. In the capital, tourists flocked to the Great Synagogue, which also sponsored “second hakafot” on Monday night.
Held in Liberty Bell Park, the event attracted at least as many locals and tourists. Thousands of people jammed the park to soak up the festivities, which included folk dancing and live music.
On a huge stage at the center of the park, dozens of men, ranging from Yemenites in traditional costumes to black-clad adherents of the Lubavitcher rebbe, joyously danced with Torah scrolls.
Despite the return to a post-holiday schedule, many Israelis preferred to celebrate Simchat Torah just a little bit longer.
“We observe only one day, but the hakafot are so much fun that we wanted to participate,” said a local resident who drove to the park with his wife and baby daughter. “Why not prolong the holiday atmosphere for a few more hours?”