Begins the evening of Sunday, September 9
The Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah is the Birthday of the World and a celebration of new beginnings. Jewish tradition encourages us to look inward, to be reflective with hope of renewal as we prepare for the New Year ahead. Also known as the “Day of the Sounding of the Shofar” we listen to the blasts of the ram’s horn, the Shofar, to wake us up from idleness, complacency and procrastination. Even though our sages teach that every day presents an opportunity for regret, repentance and forgiveness, the month prior to Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus intensely on our power as human beings to change, to repair relationships and to apologize for bad behavior.
The holiday at home is observed with festive meals and foods symbolizing our hopes for the New Year – such as apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year and pomegranates for a year of plenty.
We greet each other by saying Happy New Year, or the Hebrew version, Shanah Tovah. You can also say L’shanah tovah tikatevu, May you be inscribed for a good year (in the book of life).
Begins the evening of Tuesday, September 18
The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, offers an entire day devoted to self examination, prayer and collective confession so that with courage and strength, we can begin the new year with a “clean slate.” The liturgy stresses that we are responsible for making right the wrongs we have done to others. Yom Kippur is a day devoted to expanding our capacity to forgive ourselves and others, to regret anything we have said or done to hurt others and ask for forgiveness. There is a 25 hour fast and we greet one another with the wish that the fast will be easy.
Many spend the day in synagogue devoted to prayer and study while abstaining from food and drink for the 25 hour fast. Yizkor prayers (a memorial service) are read to honor deceased relatives. We greet one another with the wish that the fast will be easy and Gmar hatimah Tovah (may you have a good completion to your inscription in the book of life).
Begins the evening of Sunday, September 23
Festival of Booths
A seven day long festival (the first two days and last two days are holidays; work is permitted on the intermediate days) celebrating the fall harvest; a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving. Spiritually, we are reminded to not take life for granted. We do this by focusing on what is truly important – the lasting relationships we build with family and community and by tapping into our capacity for gratitude and joy.
Celebrated by building and then dwelling and eating in ceremonial huts called sukkot like those that Israelites erected in the Sinai wilderness, waving of four different plant species ( the “lulav” – palm, myrtle, willow and “etrog” – citron) and many food filled festive gatherings in the Sukkah (singular of Sukkot). We greet one another by saying Chag Sameach – happy holidays and Moadim L’simcha on the intermediate days.
Begins the evening of Tuesday, December 12
Festival of Lights
An eight day holiday celebrating the military victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the powerful Syrian-Greek influence in 167 BCE. The victory was followed by the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Later, the rabbis focused on the miracle of a small vile of oil keeping the menorah lit for eight days. Some say, that the real miracle is we are still celebrating this event 2000 years later. Each night, as we light an additional candle on the Hanukkah menorah, we celebrate our capacity to fight the darkness of intolerance. The holiday is observed by lighting candles at home and in public. Fried foods are consumed to remind us of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. It is a minor holiday and there is no requirement to abstain from work. We greet one another by saying Chag Sameach.
Begins the evening of Tuesday, January 30
15th Day of the Hebrew Month of Shevat
This day has become the Jewish Earth Day, reminding us that we are the stewards for taking care of the natural world in a sustainable and just way. During the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews offered the first fruits of their trees on Shavuot. The trees had to be at least four years old and this date was used to mark the “birthday of the trees”. It is customary to eat a new fruit and plant a tree in Israel. Some people participate in Tu B’Shevat seders, which connect the four seasons to our spiritual growth.
Begins the evening of Wednesday, February 28
The Hebrew name means “lots.”
It refers to the Purim story found in the Scroll of Esther where the villain Haman drew lots to pick the date for the Jews’ destruction. The holiday is the celebration of a narrow escape from genocide thanks to the Esther, the biblical heroine who advised the king of the evil plot. The celebration includes a public reading of the Scroll of Esther, giving gifts to friends and to the needy and dressing up in costume and masks to symbolize the story’s many hidden truths and identities. We eat triangle shaped cookies called hamentashen (symbolizing Haman’s hat and in Israel Haman’s ear) and use a gragger (noisemaker) every time Haman’s name is mentioned when the story is read aloud to blot out his name. We greet one another by saying Chag Sameach.
Begins the evening of Friday, March 30
The name of the holiday refers to the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt when God passed over the Israelite homes. Throughout the festival, tradition instructs us not to eat bread or any leavened foods as a reminder that the Israelites left Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise. Instead we eat matzah to represent the unleavened bread eaten by our Jewish ancestors when they fled Egypt in haste. The story of the Exodus is retold using age-old and contemporary rituals and foods at a large holiday meal called a “seder.” Passover reminds us that we have the capacity to liberate ourselves and others, restoring hope for a better future. The first two and last two days of the holiday are days of rest; work is permitted on the intermediate days. We greet one another by saying Happy Passover or Chag Sameach.
Begins the evening of Saturday, May 19
Hebrew name means: Weeks
The Hebrew name means “weeks” and celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. During the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was an agricultural holiday and farmers offered the first fruits of their four year old trees. In honor of the Torah, a timeless and sacred source of wisdom, it is customary on Shavuot to study through the night. While some study traditional texts, others use contemporary texts comprised of literature, art, film and the like. Because the Torah speak of Israel as the “Land of Milk and Honey,” it is customary to eat diary foods. We greet one another by saying Chag Sameach.