Happy Day of Atonement!
Okay, maybe that's not quite the right tone for a solemn day of fasting and repentence. But, if not precisely festive, it is not meant to be a sad or somber occasion, and it is after all preceeded by a large feast. Anyway, now that the sun has set, Yom Kippur has begun, bringing to a close the Days of Awe (yamim noraim, ײמים נרהים, more commonly known by the catchy but inaccurate English translation, High Holy Days).
This means that next week, Sukkot kicks in. Nominally it commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the desert, but it's basically an agricultural harvest festival week. Last year Sukkot fell right at the beginning of October, and I arrived in Israel in the middle of it. Since half the country takes the week off, that meant I had to muddle through my first week there without so much as a key to the physics building. Of course, that means Yom Kippur happened the week before I landed, so I can't much comment on that.
Basically, there's just a lot of holiday right towards the beginning of the Jewish new year. Not entirely unlike the months leading up to the Gregorian new year, for that matter. Autumn's just a good time to party, over all. (Or looked at another way, it's an echo of what earlier peoples probably said to each other this time of year: "Harvest's in, we're flush with food, and we probably won't all make it through the winter. Let's get fat!")
While we're on the topic, here's part 1 and part 2 of some interesting reporting out of Israel. With the settlers gone, it seems Gaza is becoming a bit more accessible to journalists. Still, it clearly took some work to get the grand tour from the folks who dig the smuggling tunnels to Egypt.