The cycle of Jewish holidays, festivals and holy days has been at the core of Jewish practice since biblical times. The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar. Each month begins with a new moon, but in seven out of every nineteen years a month is inserted into the calendar to correct to the solar calendar. This way, unlike the Islamic calendar, Passover always occurs in the spring, and Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, begins as summer turns to fall.
Part of the annual cycle — the biblical “pilgrimage” festivals of Sukkot (Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost) — derive from ancient harvest celebrations, usually with historic overlays from biblical history. Thus Passover commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, while Shavuot has been connected with the giving of Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Rosh Hashanah (the New Year, called “Day of Remembrance” or the “Day of Blasting the Horn” in the Bible and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are also mentioned in the Torah.
Many Jewish holidays are celebrated primarily at home, although most are also accompanied by special services at the temple. Thus many families will light candles and say special blessings for Shabbat and holidays at home, then attend services where these blessings are also recited. Passover is usually a home-based observance, accompanied by a big meal (the Seder); at Temple Beth Or we also celebrate a community Seder for the second night of Passover. Families light Chanukah candles at home; at temple, we join together for a special Chanukah dinner. On Sukkot we hold services outdoors under a sukkah, after which we eat fruits and other foods appropriate for a fall harvest festival. At the end of Sukkot, a 7-day holiday, we celebrate Simchat Torah by dancing with the Torah as we celebrate starting anew the annual cycle of reading the Torah.
Chanukah — which celebrates a victory over the Seleucid kingdom in approximately 164 BCE, and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem — and Purim — which recounts the victory under Queen Esther’s leadership over a plot of the Persian king’s wicked prime minister — are considered minor holidays in the Jewish calendar, but are nonetheless very popular. At Temple Beth Or, children and adults like to dress in costumes during Purim.
Gathering friends and family and sharing food is almost always associated with our holidays: from apples and honey during Rosh Hashonah; to matzoh, charoset, and horseradish at Passover; to fried latkes or donuts during Chanukah.
Our holidays provide opportunities for friends and families to join together in worship and fellowship as we strengthen our ties to each other, to our community and to Judaism.