Overview of the Jewish Holidays

Rosh HashanahYom KippurSukkotHanukahTu B’shevatPurimPesachYom HashoahShavuotShemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection, prayer and transformation. While it is customarily a time for “repentance,” the Hebrew term that is used for this process (teshuvah) reveals something much deeper than simply feeling sorry for the mistakes we have made in the past year.

This is meant to be a transformational process as we engage in sincere self-reflection that goes beyond the recognition of mistakes to permanent changes in our lives and behavior.

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Yom Kippur, translated as the Day of Atonement, concludes more than a month -long period of introspection and reflection that begins on the first of the Hebrew month of Elul.

The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the most intensive phase of this process and is referred to as “the ten days of repentance.”

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Sukkot, Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot are festivals in the Jewish calendar that are mentioned in the Torah and are referred to as” pilgrimage” holidays.

During the Biblical period while the Temple still stood, people from throughout the Land of Israel traveled to Jerusalem and to the Temple to bring offerings and observe these festivals as a community in Jerusalem.

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Hanukah commemorates the victory of the Jewish army over Greco-Syrian forces and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C.E.

This conflict was triggered by anti-Jewish decrees enacted by the Seleucid ruler of Judea, Antiochus Epiphanes, who wanted to eradicate Judaism in favor of a more dominant and singular Greek culture and religion in the area.

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The holiday of Tu Bishvat will be celebrated this year on January 25th.

Tu Bishvat, (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat), is known as the Jewish new year for the trees. When the Temple was standing in Jerusalem this day was declared as the birthday for all trees for the purpose of picking and tithing fruit.

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The holiday of Purim starts the evening of March 23rd, 2016 and continues through the day on March 24th, 2016.

The celebration of Purim is unique and illustrates the “upside down” nature of the holiday. The Purim story recounts a plot to destroy the Jewish community of Persia in ancient days that was prevented and brought about a complete reversal of fortune for the Jewish community.

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Passover/Pesach is one of the major holidays in the Jewish year. Pesach commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt that lead the Israelites to Sinai and to the experience of receiving the Torah.

One of the mitzvot/commandments of Pesach is that of telling this fundamental story of Exodus and liberation to our children. The Seder, a service centered in the home that recounts the story, provides this opportunity on Passover and is a major observance of the holiday.

Pesach is replete with rituals, customs and symbols that are meant to reflect the experience of slavery, freedom and redemption and continues to inform and provide meaning to the Jewish experience in every generation.

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The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“–literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.”

It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan–a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers).

This year Yom HaShoah will begin on the evening of April 27th, continuing through the evening of Monday, April 28th.

The date was selected by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) on April 12, 1951. Although the date was established by the Israeli government, it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide.

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Shavuot is one of the major festivals in the Jewish calendar. It is one of three “pilgrimage festivals” defined in Biblical times as days on which Israelites from throughout the Land of Israel were required to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to bring offerings from their harvest.

The other two pilgrimage festivals are Sukkot and Pesach. All of these holidays have both agricultural as well as historical/religious significance. Shavuot marks the grain harvest of the early summer and the holiday is also known as z’man matan torateinu, the celebration of receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

This year Shavuot begins on Saturday evening June 11 and concludes on Monday evening June 13.

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Shemini Atzeret begins this year on Wednesday evening, October 15th, at sundown. Although Shemini Atzeret arrives right after Sukkot, it is actually a separate holiday.

However, Sukkot customs and ideas linger and are evident in the observance and celebration of Shemini Atzeret. For example, it is appropriate to dwell in the sukkah, but the brachot/blessings that accompany sukkah dwelling during Sukkot are not said on Shemini Atzeret.

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Want to learn more about the Jewish Holidays?

Contact Debbie Goodman, our Director of Jewish Life & Learning, via email or by phone at 303.316.6317.
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