Jewish Holiday Descriptions
The following Jewish holidays are listed in chronological order as they are celebrated, beginning with the Fall High Holy Day Season.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins the ten-day period known as the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is also known as the “birthday of the world”, the “day of remembrance” and the “day of the shofar.” Rosh Hashanah celebrates the ability of people to change and grow, as it is a time for deep thought, self-examination, and prayer.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiday in which the Jewish people ask for forgiveness and forgive others. Yom Kippur, the most solemn and holy day of the Jewish year, is the last day of the ten days of awe and marks the end of the ten-day period of the High Holy Days.
Sukkot is a fall harvest festival. Sukkot is also known as the “Festival of the Booths”, as it commemorates the time the Jewish people lived in temporary huts (sukkot) during their wandering and during their time of harvest in the fields. Sukkot is a time of feasting and of giving thanks for the harvest.
Simchat Torah, meaning “rejoicing with the Torah”, is a happy holiday celebrated with gaiety and festivity. On Simchat Torah the last portion of the Torah in the book of Deuteronomy and the first verses of the book of Genesis are read in the same Temple service, signifying that the Torah has no beginning and no end.
Chanukah, a joyous holiday celebrated for eight days, commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Greeks and thus Jewish independence and the right to once again practice the Jewish religion. Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the victory over the Greeks. Chanukah is also called the “Festival of Lights” in remembrance of the miraculous oil that burned in the Temple menorah for eight days at the time of the rededication of the Temple.
Tu B’Shevat celebrates the “Birthday of the Trees.” This Jewish holiday validates the importance of nature and stresses the need for people to care for trees, plants and objects in nature. It is customary to plant trees on Tu B’Shevat.
Purim, a time of merriment and great fun, is one of the happiest of Jewish holidays. The festival of Purim derives from the biblical story of Esther and commemorates the Jewish people’s success over people who tried to destroy them.
Passover celebrates the most important event in Jewish history, which is the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. This holiday recalls the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, their eventual freedom and their arrival in the promised land in Canaan. Passover is celebrated for eight days with a special meal, special foods, and specific traditional practices.
Yom Ha-atzmaut, the “day of independence”, is the Jewish holiday celebrating Israel’s attainment of statehood. Israel’s Independence Day commemorates its establishment once again as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Lag Ba Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that focuses on the importance of study and learning. Lag Ba Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the 50 days of the counting of the “omer”, or the measure of the newly ripened barley. The Lag Ba Omer holiday provided a break from this serious harvest time.
Shavuot celebrates the day the Jews were given the Torah, the guidelines of Jewish life, on Mount Sinai. It is also a celebration of the time of harvest and the offering of the first fruits of the new harvest. On Shavuot the Jewish people decorate the synagogue with greens and flowers, wear white clothing, and eat dairy dishes.
The Jewish holiday of Shabbat is a joyous occasion celebrated every Friday night to Saturday night. Shabbat commemorates the creation of the world, as the world was created in six days and the seventh day was the day of rest. Shabbat is a special time for people to come together each week to be with family and friends, to rest, to think, to share, to sing, and to have a good time. The observance of Shabbat begins with a traditional ritual that includes blessings while lighting candles, drinking wine, and eating challah (twisted egg bread).