Jewish Holiday Information
Rosh Hashanah (begins at sundown on September 13, 2015, ends after sunset on September 15, 2015)
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year. It is a time of happiness and celebrating with family and friends. There are many customs and rituals of the holiday that range from the foods we eat, the clothing we wear, time in synagogue, etc.
Yom Kippur (begins at sundown on September 22, 2015, ends after sunset on September 23, 2015)
Yom Kippur is a day of atonement. It is a day to reflect on our actions of the previous year and look forward to a more productive and successful year. It is observed as a fast day where there is no eating or drinking, as well as other restrictions on clothing and how we interact during the day.
Sukkot (begins at sundown on September 27, 2015, ends after sunset on October 6, 2015)
Sukkot is known as the festival of booths. As one of the three Pilgrimage festivals, during Temple times Sukkot was observed by a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. Nowadays, we observe this holiday by building a “temporary dwelling place” called a Sukkah, similar to those that the Israelites built in the desert. We have many customs and rituals of the holiday including shaking the lulav (a combination of palm, willow and myrtle branches symbolizing…) and etrog (a citrus fruit grown in Israel), eating in the Sukkah and inviting guests to share in this mitzvah (commandment). Sukkot is observed for eight days, the first two days and the last two days are holy days where no work can be done.
Shmini Atzeret (begins at sundown on October 4, 2015, ends after sunset on October 5, 2015)
Literally refers to the “8th day of assembly” and is celebrated on the eighth day of the holiday of Sukkot. In areas outside of Israel this is observed as its own holiday and has its own set of restrictions dealing with the use of electricity, what you may and may not do, etc. In Israel this holiday is observed on the same day as Simchat Torah. Shmini Atzeret is a holy day where no work can be done.
Simchat Torah (begins at sundown on October 5, 2015, ends after sunset on October 6, 2015)
Simchat Torah is a celebration that marks the beginning and end of the cycle of Torah readings. We mark this celebration by reading the very last portion of Deuteronomy (Devarim) and the very first portion of Genesis (Bereishit). On Simchat Torah families attend synagogue services at night to celebrate and rejoice with the Torah by dancing and singing for many hours. Simchat Torah is a holy day where no work can be done.
Chanukah (begins at sundown on December 6, 2015, ends after sunset on December 14, 2015)
Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights, an eight-day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This holiday refers to the time of the Maccabean Revolt during the 2nd century BCE when the Temple was desecrated and rededicated. On Chanukah we light a special menorah (candelabra) with nine branches – one for each night of the holiday, and the ninth (shamash) is used to light the other candles. We also have special foods to eat on Chanukah that are baked or fried in oil – latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts. There is a custom of playing dreidel (a four sided spinning top) on Chanukah as well. The dreidel (sevivon in Hebrew) has a Hebrew letter on each side which make an acronym for the Hebrew phrase: Nes gadol haya sham (meaning: a great miracle happened there – referring to the Temple).
Tu B’Shvat (January 25, 2016)
Tu B’Shvat is commonly known as the birthday of the trees! On this day, the 15 of the Hebrew month of Shvat, we celebrate nature and the environment. The origin of this holiday comes from Rabbinic literature, which discusses Tu B’Shvat as one of the four “new years” we celebrate throughout the Jewish calendar. This holiday is observed by eating special foods and fruits that come from Israel, and a Tu B’Shvat Seder was created to mark the symbolism and rituals of the holiday.
Purim (begins at sundown on March 23, 2016, ends after sunset on March 24, 2016)
Purim is a holiday celebrating the Jewish people’s victory from Haman’s plot of destruction. Haman was the advisor to King Achashverosh, the King of the Persian Empire, where this story takes place. While not included in the Torah, the story of Purim is an important piece of Jewish history and observance. The store explains how Esther, a Jew, became chosen as the new Queen and had to hide her Jewish identity. Her uncle, Mordechai, overheard Haman’s plot to kill all of the Jews and helped Esther convince the King that the Jews needed to be saved. This holiday is observed by hearing the reading of the Megillah (scroll) of Esther, recounting the entire story. Additionally, there are three other mitzvoth of the holiday: a festive meal, sending gifts of food to friends, and giving charity to the poor. This holiday is often celebrated by dressing up in costume and enjoying carnivals and other celebratory events.
Passover (begins at sundown on April 22, 2016, ends after sunset on April 30, 2016)
Passover is one of the three Pilgrimage festivals, when Israelites would travel to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today, Passover is one of the main holidays observed by the Jewish people. Passover celebrates the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and recounts their journey leaving Egypt. The story of Passover includes Moses’ journey as a leader, Pharoah’s treatment of the Jews and the 10 Plagues, the Israelites preparations before leaving Egypt and their exodus from slavery.
Today Passover is observed for eight days, with the first two days and the last two days being holy days on which no work may be done. Preparations for Passover include a thorough cleaning of the house to ensure that no “chametz” (leavening) is left in the house. Many people use different dishes and cooking utensils during Passover as well. The main observances during Passover are the cleaning and clearing out of any leavened food, the abstention from eating any leavened food and instead eating matzah, the Seder meal on the first and second nights of Passover and its customs and rituals. Passover is a time when family gathers to celebrate together and is a holiday where even the youngest members of the family are encouraged to participate in the rituals.
Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day (begins at sundown on May 4, ends after sunset on May 5, 2016)
Yom HaShoah is observed as a memorial day for all those who perished in the Holocaust. This day is observed on the 27th day of Nisan which usually falls in April or May. As a relatively new holiday (inaugurated in 1953) the rituals and customs of this holiday are still being developed. It is customary to attend a service to memorialize all those who lost their lives, light a special candle in their honor, listen to stories from Holocaust survivors, and conduct Holocaust related teachings. In Israel, sirens are sounded at 10:00am for two minutes and during this time people stop what they are doing and stand at attention. While regular work may be conducted on this day, people typically carry a somber tone throughout the day.
Yom HaZikaron/Israel’s Memorial Day (begins at sundown on May 10, 2015, ends after sunset May 11,2016)
Yom HaZikaron is observed as Israel’s Memorial Day, a day to remember all those who lost their lives fighting for freedom and protecting the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyyar. While regular business continues on this day, it is a day that is observed by Israelis and Jews around the world. A siren is heard throughout Israel in the morning that lasts for one minute, during which everyone stops what they are doing and stands at attention.
Yom HaAtzmaut/Israel’s Independence Day (begins at sundown on May 11, 2016, ends after sunset on May 12, 2016)
Immediately following Yom HaZikaron is Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, marking the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948. The transition from one day to the next is meant to remind us of the sacrifices that have been made so that we can be free in the Land of Israel as well as how precious that freedom is that we have been fighting for and protecting for so many years. Yom HaAtzmaut is celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, parades, and ceremonies on the 5th of Iyyar.
Lag B’Omer (begins at sundown on May 25, 2016, ends after sunset on May 26, 2016)
Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of counting the Omer, the time between the exodus from Egypt on Passover and when the Israelites received the Torah on Shavuot. The celebrations on this day mark the end of a semi-mourning period during the beginning of the Omer when parties, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, etc. are not held. Some people refrain from haircuts, listening to music, buying new clothes during the Omer as well. It is customary to celebrate Lag B’Omer with picnics, “field days,” bonfires, etc.
Yom Yerushalayim (May 5, 2016)
Yom Yerushalayim is a national holiday in Israel celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem. The day is observed with ceremonies and memorial services honoring those who lost their lives in the battle for Jerusalem, parades, singing and dancing, and learning on the topic of Jerusalem.
Shavuot (begins at sundown on June 11, 2016, ends after sunset on June 13, 2016)
Shavuot is one of the three Pilgrimage festivals and marks the special time when Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot marks the end of the Omer, the time between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt on Passover and when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. As a holy day, no work is done on Shavuot and special prayers and blessings are added to the services in the synagogue. Shavuot is known in the Torah also as the holiday of Bikkurim, the first fruits. The customs and rituals of Shavuot include eating dairy foods, engaging in Torah study, reading the Book of Ruth, and eating and enjoying fruits and greenery.
Tisha B’Av (begins at sundown on August 13, 2016, ends after sunset on August 14, 2016)
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is a fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Many other tragic times in Israeli and Jewish history are linked to Tisha B’Av or the days leading up to it. In addition to fasting, there are four other prohibitions on Tisha B’Av: no washing or bathing, no application of creams or oils, no wearing of leather, no marital relations. The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) is recited on Tisha B’Av and many people refrain from usual work if possible.
Minor Fast Days
Tzom Gedalia (September 16, 2015) Asara B’Tevet (December 22, 2015) Ta’anit Esther (March 23, 2016) Ta’anit Bechorot (April 22, 2016) Tzom Tamuz (July 24, 2016)
Jewish Holiday Links