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Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”) is the Jewish New Year, which marks the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance. This period, known as the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe or High Holy Days), is widely observed by Jews throughout the world, many with prayer and reflection in a synagogue. There also are several holiday rituals observed at home.Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which—because of differences in the solar and lunar calendar—corresponds to September or October on the secular calendar.
Although the holiday includes elements of joy and celebration, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply religious occasion. The customs and symbols of Rosh Hashanah reflect the holiday’s dual emphasis on both happiness and humility. Customs observed on Rosh Hashanah include the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) and eating special foods including round challah, which symbolizes the circle of life, and sweet foods for a sweet New Year. It is also customary to extend wishes for a good year. In Hebrew, the simple form of the greeting is “L’shanah tovah!
Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement” and refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer and repentance. Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. In three separate passages in the Torah, the Jewish people are told, “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.”(Leviticus 23:27). Fasting is seen as fulfilling this biblical commandment. The Yom Kippur fast also enables us to put aside our physical desires to concentrate on our spiritual needs through prayer, repentance, and self-improvement.
Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with God, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. We are commanded to turn to those whom we have wronged first, acknowledging our sins and the pain we might have caused. At the same time, we must be willing to forgive and to let go of certain offenses and the feelings of resentment they provoked in us. On this journey, we are both seekers and givers of pardon. Only then can we turn to God an
When most people think of holidays, they think of annual celebrations, but in Judaism, there is one holiday that occurs every week – the Sabbath. Known in Hebrew as Shabbat and in Yiddish as Shabbos, this holiday is central to Jewish Life. As the great Jewish writer, Adad Ha-Am has observed: “More than the Jewish people has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people.” The Sabbath truly has been a unifying force for Jews the world over.
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Sukkot, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts,” refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei and is marked by several distinct traditions. One tradition, which takes the commandment to “dwell in booths” literally, is to build a sukkah (a booth or hut) during this festival, and it is common practice for some to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot.
Simchat Torah is the last Festival of the High Holy Days and is the celebration of the receiving of the Torah. It the festival at which the Jewish people dance with the Torahs, and open up the scroll for all to see.
During the Torah service, the concluding section of the fifth book of the Torah, D’varim (Deuteronomy), is read, and immediately following, the opening section of Genesis, or B’reishit as it is called in Hebrew, is read. This practice represents the cyclical nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the reading of the Torah.
It is a memorable and joyful service for all ages. Come join us each year and rejoice!
Chanukah (alternately spelled Hanukkah), meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and “rededication” of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the Hanukkiyah, a special menorah for this holiday; eating foods cooked in oil including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); and special songs and games.
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Tu B’Shvat or the “New Year of the Trees” is Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday is observed on the 15th (tu) of the Hebrew month of Shvat. Scholars believe that originally Tu B’Shvat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. In the 17th century, Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu B’Shvat that is similar to a Passover Seder. Today, many Jews hold a modern version of the Tu B’Shvat Seder each year. The holiday also has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of loved ones and friends.
Purim is a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds. It is celebrated by the reading of the Scroll of Esther, known in Hebrew as the Megillat Ester, which relates the basic story of Purim. Under the rule of King Ahashuerus, Haman, the King’s prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of the land from destruction. The reading of the Megillah is typically a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noise-making when Haman’s name is read aloud.
Pesach, known as Passover in English, is a major Jewish spring festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the Seder (meaning “order”) followed by a festive meal; the prohibition of chametz (leaven) and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread) for the duration of the eight-day festival.
On the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, Jews gather with family and friends in the evening to read from a book called the Haggadah, meaning “telling.” The Haggadahrecounts the story of Passover, as well as provides the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Passover Seder. Today, this holiday is a celebration of freedom and family.
Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurs seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life.
Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. The ceremony of Confirmation – for high school students who have continued their studies and Jewish involvement beyond b’nei mitzvah – is often held on or near Shavuot. Just as the Jewish people accepted the Torah on Shavuot, so do confirmands reaffirm their commitment to the covenant and adult Jewish life.
It is customary to decorate one’s home with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot as a reminder of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple. Many Jews prepare and eat dairy foods—often cheesecake or blintzes—on Shavuot as a reminder of the sweetness of Torah. Often families gather together on the holiday to enjoy a meal that features such dishes.