JERUSALEM (AP) _ Jewish families throughout Israel gathered in huts with thatched roofs and decorated with fruits and paper trimmings to celebrate the eight-day Sukkot festival.

The holiday, which began at sundown Friday, celebrates the biblical exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and their 40-year journey through the desert to the Promised Land. The huts, or ''sukkahs,'' serve as a reminder of the shelter God provided the Israelites, according to the book of Leviticus in the Bible.

Tens of thousands of Jews also were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in accordance with religious tradition, and police increased patrols to prevent violence in the holy city.

Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah, even in cold and rainy weather. The rooftop must be made of branches and leaves, leaving enough open space to see the sky.

Sukkot also marks the last harvest before the winter rains. The holiday ceremony includes the gathering and waving of the ''four species'' - palm, myrtle, willow and citron - which symbolize God's bounty and blessings.

Most government offices and some private companies in Israel are closed during the holiday, and many shops are open only in the mornings. Schools are closed, and some families take short vacations.

Many hotels, resorts and restaurants set up sukkas to accommodate customers.