Information on theology, practices, beliefs, history, ethics, holidays
What Do American Jews Believe?, by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman
- The Purpose of Religion, Rabbi Esther Lederman, Shabbat Morning, Mar. 27, 2010
Observing Shabbat at Home
- Union of Reform Judaism's Guide to Observing Shabbat at Home
- Blessing/Songs - music and words:
Rosh HaShanah (The Jewish New Year)
Rosh HaShanah epitomizes both a time of joy and sweetness as well as a period of introspection and contemplation. Rosh HaShanah welcomes the Yanim Noraim, the Days of Awe, leading to Yom Kippor where we have an opportunity to turn our thoughts inward and use the period for self-examination. On Rosh HaShana it is customary to eat apples and honey or other sweet desserts symbolic of what we hope will be a good and sweet year. In synagogue we mark the festival through the sounds of the Shofar, sacred blasts that call Jews together for these most holy days. We wish our family and friends a Shana Tova Umetukah, a good and sweet new year.
Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)
Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish Calendar. Yom Kippur is a day committed to prayer and devotion and we observe the holiday by fasting. On Yom Kippur, we repent for our transgressions, both as a community and as individuals, we accept responsibility for our actions, and seek and offer forgiveness. Yom Kippur concludes the 10 days of repentance which began on Rosh HaShanah and we close the day by asking God to inscribe us in the book of life
Sukkot is one of Judaism’s three harvest festivals and a holiday where we commemorate the wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. There are many symbols associated with Sukkot, most notably the Sukkah, which is a temporary booth or hut that we erect to symbolize the booths of the Israelites in the desert. It is customary to eat, pray and even sleep in the Sukkah. Other traditional symbols of Sukkot include the lulav and etrog, which serve to remind us of the annual autumn fruit harvest in the land of Israel.
Simchat Torah is the festive holiday where we rejoice over the Torah. On Simchat Torah we finish the cycle of reading from the Torah by finishing the book of Deuteronomy and begin the annual cycle again by also reading from the beginning of Genesis. Simchat Torah is a very festive occasion and on the holiday we dance and parade with the Torah scrolls. On Simchat Torah we commit ourselves to continuous lifelong study of Torah
Hanukah, meaning dedication, is an eight day celebration that commemorates the defeat of the Syrian armies by the Maccabbes, the liberation of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple. The modern celebration focuses on family, games, singing, eating latkes and jelly donuts, and the lighting of the special Chanukiah. Also known as the festival of lights, on Chanukah we gather together to focus on how lucky we are as Jews to be able to worship in peace and freely. The blessings, candle lighting instructions and songs are on a separate page.
Tu B'shevat, is celebrated as the New Year for the Trees and is traditionally connected to the agricultural cycle of the land of Israel. It is a time where Jews honor the richness of the land and celebrate the festival by eating dates, figs, pomegranates and other items that remind of us the importance of the land. Often times we rejoice with a unique Tu B'shevat Seder. Tu B'shevat is also a holiday where we remind ourselves of the essential role we all play in ecological matters and we use the occasion to heighten our own awareness on the fragility of the environment and the individual responsibility to serve and protect the earth.
Purim is a celebratory holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jews of Persia by the will of Queen Esther. We celebrate Purim -- a time for joy, silliness, and costumes -- by reading from Megillat Esther, the scroll of Esther, which tells us the story of how Esther and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews from the evil hands of Haman. Purim, in Hebrew, means lots and we help celebrate the holiday by giving gifts to our friends and the poor. Purim falls during the Hebrew month of Adar, a time for happiness and celebration.
Pesach or Passover
Pesach or Passover, is the traditional festival of freedom that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt over 3000 years ago. It is celebrated in the springtime and symbolizes renewal and redemption. Pesach is an opportunity to for us to gather as families and share the traditional Passover meal, the Seder, and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Traditionally on Passover we refrain from eating leavened bread and instead we eat Matzah, the bread of affliction, so we remember that we were once slaves in Egypt. As Jews we also use Pesach as an opportunity to remember how lucky we are to be free and to recognize that there are many in the world who are not yet free.
What Does the Seder Celeberate: A Modern Commentary on a Traditional Festival, by Theodor H. Gaster. Note: This is a scanned document stored as a .tif file. If you have a Microsoft Windows machine, you should have no problem opening it through your browser. For Mac users, you may want to use the control key with the mouse click and save the link as a file to your machine. You can then open it with Preview.
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the annual commemoration of the horrors and atrocities committed against the Jewish People during World War II. It is a solemn day devoted to remembering the catastrophe of the Holocaust and paying tribute to the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of genocide. It is a day where we commit ourselves to never again allow the tragedy of the Holocaust. In Israel, the sound of a siren every Yom HaShoah marks two minutes where the country pauses for two minutes of remembrance, silent devotion and reflection.
Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Remembrance Day, is a day committed to honoring Israeli soldiers who have perished in fighting to establish or defend the State of Israel. Yom HaZikaron comes the day before Israeli Independence Day to acknowledge the link between the State of Israel and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the Jewish homeland. A two minute siren ushers in a period of silence that acknowledges the heroes who died in defense of Israel.
Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, is a celebratory day that highlights the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. The day is marked by many joyous events and occasions; including eating Israeli food, the singing of Israeli songs, and participating in traditional Israeli dancing. For Diaspora Jews we seize Yom HaAtzmaut as a day to express our solidarity with Israel and to celebrate her numerous accomplishments. On Yom HaAtzmaut we demonstrate our clear and unbreakable alliance with the land and the people of Israel.
Lag B’Omer is a festive day of celebration that falls 33 days after Passover during the traditional counting of the Omer. Lag B’Omer has both historical and mystical origins, as it is both believed to be the day that a plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva stopped and also the day that the great mystic Shimon ben Yohai died. In Israel, Lag B’Omer is a very festive day where many weddings take place and in which Israelis celebrate with communal bonfires.
Shavuot, in Hebrew, means weeks, and comes seven weeks after Pesach and is a holiday where Jews commemorate the receiving of the Torah from God on Mount Sinai. We remind ourselves on Shavuot that we are part of a chain of tradition that is rooted in Torah. Traditionally Shavuot was one of the three main harvest holidays and honors the ancient agricultural ritual of bringing first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. Many modern traditions have evolved around Shavuot including all night study and learning sessions, reading from the Scroll of Ruth, one of the heroines of the Bible, and the eating of dairy products like blintzes and cheesecake.
Tishah B'Av is the traditional day to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In a modern sense we use the day as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the many tragedies of the Jewish people. We remember the day by reading from the book of Eicha (lamentations) and many Jews fast in observance of the solemn occasion.