In Nechemia 8:13-18 we read about how Sukkot was celebrated after the Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was built:
On the second day, the heads of the families of all the people, the Kohanim and the Leviim were gathered together to Ezra, the scribe, to delve into the words of the Torah. They found written in the Torah that God had commanded through the hand of Moshe that B’nai Yisrael should dwell in Sukkot during the festival that is in the seventh month. They commanded that they should announce it and make a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain and get branches with olive leaves, pine needles, myrtle leaves, palm leaves and leaves of the braided tree, to make sukkot (booths) as it is written (in the Torah).” So the people went and brought these items and made themselves sukkot, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courtyards, and in the courtyards of the house of God, in the plaza of the Water Gate and in the plaza of the Gate of Efraim. The entire congregation that had returned from the captivity made sukkot and dwelt in sukkot. B’nai Yisrael had not done so since the days of Yeshua (Yehoshua) Bin Nun until that day, and there was very great joy. Ezra read in the scroll of God’s Torah day by day, from the first day until the last day. They observed the festival for seven days as well as Shmini Atzeret, the assembly on the eighth day, according to the law.
Why were they specifically told to go to the mountain and get branches with olive leaves, pine needles, myrtle leaves, palm leaves and leaves of the braided tree?
According to Rav David Tzvi Hoffman in his commentary on Vayikra, during the harvest season, the etrog (citron) and arava (willow) were readily available so the people already had them. Therefore they only needed to bring back the myrtle (hadas) and palm (lulav) from the mountains in order to complete the set of four species. The branches from the other trees listed would be used for schach (the roof of the sukka).
Sukkot were built everywhere: The residents of Jerusalem built them on their own properties, either on their rooftops or in their courtyards, The Kohanim and Leviim used the sukkot that were built in the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash and Olei HaRegel (pilgrims) used the sukkot in the plaza of the Water Gate and in the plaza of the Gate of Efraim.
Why was this Sukkot with Ezra celebrated with the same enthusiasm as the celebration at the time of Yehoshua Bin Nun?
The Talmud, Arachin 32b teaches us that B’nei Yisrael coming back to the Land of Israel with Ezra was similar to B’nei Yisrael coming into the land at the time of Yehoshua and renewing their obligation in Shmita and Yovel as well as the Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz, the mitzvoth that are only in effect in the Land of Israel.
Malbim explains that the exciting part was that they built sukkot in Reshut HaRabim, the public areas and not just on their own private property.
The Jewish People are back in the Land of Israel. We see sukkot everywhere- private sukkot, public sukkot, beach sukkot and sukkot at campgrounds and nature reserves. We have the four species readily available in market places, street corners and even in supermarkets. Palm branches are seen piled up all over Jerusaelm, waiting to be taken away on roofs of cars to be used for schach. As we celebrate the holiday of the harvest we must not forget that now that we are back in our own land there is an excitement of being obligated in observing the mitzvoth that can only be observed in the Land of Israel and we must relearn the laws once again.
There is no Sukkot like Sukkot in the Land of Israel. May we all merit to celebrate together in the Modern State of Israel.