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Jewish Life2024-04-20T00:38:09-06:00

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Jewish Holidays

Tu Bishvat

Tu Bishvat is the Jewish holiday occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat. It is also called the New Year of the Trees. In contemporary Israel, the day is celebrated as an ecological awareness day and trees are planted in celebration. 

Purim

The holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. It commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews. To celebrate, Jews will attend synagogue to hear the reading of the megillah (Book of Esther), eat a festive meal, get dressed in costume, and eat hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are triangular pastries filled with jelly, chocolate, or poppy seeds. These sweet cookies are symbolic of Haman’s hat, which was known to be triangular. 

Passover

Passover is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel. The holiday celebrates the liberation of the Israelites (before they we were known as Jews) from slavery in Egypt by way of a leader, named Moses. This famous story is told in the Book of Exodus in the Torah. To celebrate, Jews around the world gather for the ritual meal, or seder, to retell the story of the Exodus. Moses went to the Pharoah, saying, “Let my people go.” The Pharoah refused. Therefore, God unleashed a plague on the Egyptian people. Moses returned to the Pharoah, again saying, “Let my people go.” The Pharoah refused him yet again. God unleashed another plague. This pattern continued until ten horrible plagues befell the Egyptian people – the Nile River turned into blood, frogs, lice, diseased livestock, boils, hailstorms, locusts, darkness, and finally the slaying of the firstborn sons of the Egyptian people. The Israelites marked their doorframes with lamb’s blood as protection, so the angel of death “passes over” their homes and does not harm them. This is where the name for this holiday comes from. 
 

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is the Day of Remembrance. It is a commemorative day in which the victims of the Holocaust are remembered. It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan. 
 

Yom HaZikaron

Yom HaZikaron is on the fourth of Iyar, the day preceding Israel’s Independence Day. It was declared by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to be a Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israel’s armed forces.  
 

Yom Ha’atzmaut

Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, which is the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the State of Israel. On this date in 1948, members of the “provisional government” read and signed a Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv.  
 

Shavuot

Shavuot commemorates when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. To celebrate Shavuot, Jews will attend synagogue and enjoy a festive meal with cheesecake, cheese blintzes, and cheese kreplach. 
 

Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’av, the ninth of the month of Av, is a day of mourning for Jews. Tisha B’av is the holiday that commemorates a series of catastrophes in Jewish history. Most notably, this holiday is to remember the destruction of the first and second temples and the sacking of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE. Tisha B’av is a collective and communal sadness that is meant to be shared

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, one of the “High Holidays” in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah occurs every year during the Hebrew month of Tishrei and is celebrated over a two-day period. Traditionally, it is both a time of celebration and of serious introspection, a time to rejoice in the completion of another year while also taking stock of one’s life.  

Traditional worship in a synagogue includes reciting prayers from the machzor (from the Hebrew root “to return.”) During the service a shofar (ram’s horn) is blown to symbolically awaken the listeners in the congregation and inspire them to atone and rejoice before the Judgement Day of Yom Kippur, the next upcoming Jewish Holiday.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, is the Jewish Holiday that occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashana. Between the two holidays, Jews observe the 10 Days of Repentance, a time where those who practice can reflect on the opportunity for change in the coming year. It is a time to make amends with those you have wronged and ask for forgiveness. 

Yom Kippur starts in the evening with a service called Kol Nidre. During this service a prayer is recited as a declaration annulling any vows made before God. During the 25-hour observance of the Yom Kippur Holiday, a customary fast occurs. The practice of fasting is intended to allow a person to be in a state of reflection and repent rather than indulge. 

The Yom Kippur holiday ends with a service called neilah in which congregants stand before the open doors of the ark and ask for the final opportunity of forgiveness. The open doors of the ark symbolize the open gates of heaven. A long blast from the shofar signifies the end of the holiday, and thus the closing of the gates and the inscription in the Book of Life for the coming year.

Sukkot

Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur. Sukkot is named for the sukkah, a walled structure covered with organic material. On the holiday of Sukkot, Jewish people spend time in the sukkah, evoking the temporary dwellings the Israelites inhabited on their way out of Egypt after escaping from slavery. The festival of Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish year. During Sukkot, Jews also take and wave the Four Kinds while reciting a blessing. The Four Kinds are an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs), and two aravot (willow twigs).

Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah

Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah come at the conclusion of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret means the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” while Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in Torah.” Simchat Torah conveys a clear message about the centrality of Torah in Jewish life. It is both a source of Jewish identity and a precious gift from God.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. “Hanukkah” directly translates to “dedication” in Hebrew. The eight-day festival of Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and we light the menorah or hanukkiah (candelabra) on each night of the festival. The message of Hanukkah is one of Jewish resilience and commitment to maintaining a culture and peoplehood. During Hanukkah, you may also see people playing the game of dreidel. Dreidel is a gambling game that was used as a façade so Greek soldiers did not see Jews studying. The dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side – nun, gimel, hey, shin. These letters represent the saying, “nes gadol haya sham,” translating to, “a great miracle happened there.” 

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