Holidays & Festivals

Get dates for this year’s Jewish Holidays.

Rosh HaShanah
Literally meaning, “Head of the Year,” is the Jewish New Year, which makes the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance. This period, known as Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe or High Holy Days, is widely observed by Jews throughout the world, many with prayer and reflection. Rosh HaShanah is celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of of Tishrei, which because of the differences in the solar and lunar calendar, corresponds to September or October of the secular calendar. Customs associated with the holiday include sounding the shofar, eating a round challah and tasting apples and honey to represent a sweet New Year.

Yom Kippur 
Yom Kippur is the “Day of Atonement” and refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer and repentance. This is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Sukkot, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts,” refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai.

Atzeret Simchat Torah 
Simchat Torah, Hebrew for “rejoicing in the Law,” celebrates the completion of the annual reading of the Torah.

Chanukah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Macabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and “rededication” of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the chanukiah, a special menorah for Chanukah; unique foods, latkes and jelly doughnuts; and special songs and games.

Tu BiSh’vat
Is the “New Year of the Trees” is Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday is observed on the 15th (tu) of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat. Scholars believe that originally Tu BiSh’vat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. In the 17th century, Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu BiSh’vat that is similar to a Passover seder. Today, many Jews hold a modern version of the Tu BiSh’vat seder each year. The holiday also has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of loved ones and friends.

Purim, Festival of Lots, the only time when ribaldry and license were encouraged as examples of proper behavior, arrives on the 14th day of Adar. Adar is the month that precedes Nisan,  when Jews celebrate the liberation from slavery in Egypt. Purim is also about deliverance from great peril and has many parallels with Pesach. The drama of the humbling of Egypt and its Pharaoh, the destruction of his pursuing army in the waters of the Reed Sea, as told and retold at the Seder, is the same theme as the downfall of the tyrant Haman: salvation and the miracle of Jewish survival. Though one festival is celebrated with farce, noisemaking, and the command (at least traditionally) to get drunk, and the other with the solemn drama of an ordered ritual meal, storytelling and prayer, each has its own special book, its own unique telling of a miracle. Purim is the Scroll of Esther, called the Megillah (meaning “scroll”). There are five “scrolls” read on the various festival and holy days, (Ecclesiastes or Koheleth – Succoth; Song of Songs – Pesach; Ruth – Shavuot; Lamentations – Tisha B’Av) but only the Scroll of Esther is required by our tradition to be heard in its entirety by everyone.

Known as Passover in English, is a major Jewish spring festival, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the seder (meaning “order”) and a festive meal; the prohibition of chametz(leaven); and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread). On the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, Jews gather with family and friends in the evening to read from a book called the haggadah, meaning “telling,” which contains the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Passover seder. Today, the holiday is a celebration of freedom and family.

Yom HaShoah
Also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on the 27th of Nisan. Shoah, which means catastrophe or utter destruction in Hebrew, refers to the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish people during World War II. This is a memorial day for those who died in the Shoah. The Shoah is also known as the Holocaust, from a Greek word meaning “sacrifice by fire.”

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut
The Israeli Knesset established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles. Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April.

Lag BaOmer
Is a festive minor holiday that falls during the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot (usually in May or June on the Gregorian calendar). This period of time is known as the Omer. An omer is an ancient Hebrew measure of grain, amounting to about 3.6 liters. Biblical law forbade any use of the new barley crop until after an omer was brought as an offering to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Leviticus (23:15-16) also commanded: “And from the day on which you bring the offering…you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete.” This commandment led to the practice of the Sefirat Ha’omer, or the 49 days of the “Counting of the Omer,” which begins on the second day of Passover and ends on Shavuot. Lag BaOmer is a shorthand way of saying “the 33rd day of the Omer”.

Is the Hebrew word for “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurs seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life.

Tishah B’Av  
Tishah B’Av, which means the “Ninth of Av,” refers to a traditional day of mourning the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem. More recently, in Reform Judaism Tishah B’Av has been transformed into a day to remember many Jewish tragedies that have occurred throughout history.

S’lichot, a Hebrew word meaning “forgiveness,” refers to the special penitential prayers recited by Jews throughout the High Holy Days. Jews recite S’lichot beginning late at night on the Saturday before Rosh HaShanah and continue each morning on the days between the New Year and Yom Kippur.


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