Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is a 25-hour period of rest lasting from just before sunset on Friday evening until nightfall on Saturday. The idea is to take a break from ordinary life, and focus on family, community, and spiritual growth. In our fast-paced lives it can be a welcome change to stop rushing from work to preschool to the grocery store... and instead enjoy a weekly reconnection with the people and ideas that really matter in life.
Shabbat's arrival, on Friday night just before sundown, is marked with a special candle-lighting ceremony. At the end of Shabbat day, when three stars appear in the sky, we mark the end of Shabbat with the brief ceremony of havdalah (literally, separation or distinction).
To honor and acknowledge Shabbat, the Sabes JCC closes at 6pm on Fridays.
Rosh Chodesh--which literally means "beginning of the month" in Hebrew--is the holiday that marks the beginning of every Hebrew month. Rosh Chodesh has long been a time for Jewish women to gather for a wide variety of activities, from reciting tradition liturgy, to sharing a meal, discussing Jewish ethics, and working for social change.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, a fall holiday that calls for both rejoicing and serious introspection. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world and also the time of divine judgment. Rosh Hashanah is followed, ten days later, by Yom Kippur. Together these two days are called the High Holidays.
Leading up to Rosh Hashanah and throughout the holiday Jewish tradition stresses the ideas of judgment and repentance, encouraging us to make amends for the wrongs we may have committed over the course of the previous year and set our ethical and spiritual path for the coming year.
The Sabes JCC is closed for both days of Rosh Hashanah.
Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a fast day that follows Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are often called the High Holidays. The holidays and the time in between them are known as the Ten Days of Repentance.
According to Jewish tradition, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, God seals the Book of Life and the Book of Death for the coming year. Yom Kippur is, thus, a day of prayer and introspection. It is considered the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.
The overarching theme of Yom Kippur is repentance. From the beginning to the end of the holiday, we are meant to be thinking about affecting positive change in our lives and making amends with others.
The Sabes JCC is closed for Yom Kippur.
The holiday of Sukkot is named after the booths or huts in which Jews are supposed to live during this week-long festival. The huts are meant to remind us of the flimsy houses our ancestors lived in as they wandered through the desert heading towards Israel.
Eating and living in a temporary structure, called a sukkah, is intended to force you to think about the important things in life, separating you from material possessions. But because Sukkot is also a harvest festival, it is considered an especially happy and festive time.
Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur.
Simchat Torah (meaning, "Celebration of the Torah") is a one-day holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah (scroll containing the five books of Moses). The final portion of Deuteronomy is read and then a new Torah reading cycle is immediately started with the Book of Genesis.
Many synagogues unroll the Torah scroll completely so everyone can see the whole Torah, from start to finish.
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrian Greeks in the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah, which is celebrated for eight nights, almost always comes in December, when the days are shortest and the nights are darkest.
Hanukkah celebrates liberation from oppression, and reminds us of the importance of freedom of religion.
Lighting the hanukkah (also called a menorah), an eight-branched candelabrum, is a big part of celebrating the holiday. On the first night you light one candle, plus the shamash, the candle used to light the others. Every night you add one more candle, until on the last night all eight candles are lit.
Tu Bishvat is sometimes called the New Year for Trees. It comes at the very beginning of spring, when the rains are plentiful and the trees blossom in Israel (though in some parts of America there's still snow on the ground at this "springtime" celebration). The words "Tu Bishvat" literally mean the 15th of the month of Shvat.
Today, many people mark this holiday by planting saplings and participating in a meal that evokes the Passover seder, where fruits, nuts, and wine or grape juice are on the menu.
Purim is a joyous holiday that celebrates the rescue of the Jews of Persia from annihilation. Along with reading the biblical Book of Esther (called the megillah) on Purim, we dress up in costumes, share a festive meal, give gifts to our friends, and money to those in need.
The Purim story is about the Jews, a small minority, triumphing over certain destruction.
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is an eight-day spring holiday that celebrates the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.
According to tradition, the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they weren't able to wait for their bread to rise, so they ended up with flat crunchy cracker-like bread called matzah. During Passover, Jewish law prohibits eating or even owning anything that is leavened (hametz).
The main ritual of Passover is the seder, a carefully choreographed meal held on the first two evenings of the holiday (in Israel, and for most Reform Jews, there?s only one seder, on the first night). The seder is designed to provide an opportunity for telling the story of how the Israelites were redeemed from slavery and given the gift of the Torah.
A number of symbolic foods are laid out on the seder table, including matzah, the maror (bitter herb), and the shankbone, which commemorates the Paschal lamb sacrifice that was offered in the Temple. The seder follows a script laid out in the haggadah, a book that tells the story of the redemption from Egypt.
The Sabes JCC is closed for the first day of Passover.
Yom Ha'atzmaut is Israeli Independence Day. It celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Israel, on May 14, 1948 (or, according to the Jewish calendar, the 5th of Iyyar in 5708). On that day, David Ben Gurion, who became Israel's first Prime Minister, declared the establishment of the State of Israel and the end of the British Mandate. From then on, the 5th of Iyyar became a national holiday, celebrated both in Israel and by Jews and Zionists around the world.
In Israel, Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, and public concerts. Outside Israel, Jewish communities host parties and gatherings to celebrate Israel. Often, the focus of these events is on Israeli culture, everything from classic Israeli foods--hummus, falafel, schnitzel, and shawarma--to Israeli dance, Israeli music, and all things Hebrew.
Shavuot was originally an ancient harvest festival celebrating the grain crop. In Hebrew, Shavuot means "weeks" and the holiday is celebrated seven weeks after Passover begins. Shavuot is also recognized as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai therefore Shavuot celebrations are centered on Torah study and other Jewish learning. On the first night of the holiday many people stay up all night studying Jewish texts.