Sukkot: Jews’ temporary structures mark ancient harvest festival

sukkah for Sukkot

Eating brunch in a sukkah. Photo by sikeri, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13: Following the Jewish High Holidays each year, Jews enter a joyous “Season of our Rejoicing:” It is time for Sukkot, an ancient harvest festival.

Tradition calls on Jews to construct and then dwell in temporary structures, called sukkahs, during Sukkot, in memory of the ancient Israelites’ living quarters during their 40 years in the desert. As Sukkot is, agriculturally, a harvest festival, many sukkahs are decorated with autumn crops. In the U.S., it is not uncommon to see sukkahs decorated with gourds, pumpkins, squash and other foods associated with fall. Traditionally work is halted on the first and second days of Sukkot, with the days in between reserved for relaxation (though work is permitted on these days).

DIY 101: HOW TO BUILD A SUKKAH

Though sukkahs may look vastly different, the builders try to abide by specific rules. A sukkah must have at least 2.5 walls covered with a material that cannot be blown away by wind; the roof must be made of something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks or wooden boards. The roof materials of a sukkah must be left loose, so that rain can get in and, preferably, the stars can be seen at nighttime. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)

Looking for autumn recipes, tips on building a sukkah and more? Check out the resources at My Jewish Learning, Chabad.org and Aish.com.

An etrog fruit, one of the Four Species. Photo by Marina, courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

A sukkah may be any size so long as a family can dwell in it, and many Jews spend as much time as possible in the sukkah. It is common to eat meals in the sukkah, and some Jews even choose to sleep in it.

Another custom associated with Sukkot involves the Four Species. The Four Species—the etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), the lulav (palm branch), aravot (two willow branches) and hadassim (three myrtle branches) are used to “rejoice before the L_rd.” With the etrog in one hand and the branches bound together in the other hand, blessings are recited. The branches are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere.

Note: The two days following Sukkot are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which celebrate the spiritual aspects of Sukkot and the cyclical public reading of the Torah, respectively.

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Yom Kippur: Jews gather for ‘holiest day,’ the Day of Atonement

KIDS TAKE OVER THE HIGHWAYS—Lots of Yom Kippur photos of kids on bikes—riding along usually congested Israeli streets—have become some of the most popular social media images of the holiday. Years ago, there was more debate about whether this is appropriate. However, girls and boys younger than 13 are not obligated to observe the holiday as strictly as adults, so most Israelis have come to accept this kid-friendly festival of bikes as a part of the annual observance. (Photo shared via Wikimedia Commons by Udi Steinwell.)

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SUNSET TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8: From the hope-filled celebration of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Most Jews aged 13 and older try to complete a 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods of any kind. That extreme fast deepens each individual’s spiritual reflections and makes everyone across the community share in completing a difficult tradition.

Old manuscript of Jewish prayer

The Kol Nidrei prayer of Yom Kippur. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Between the two major holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—a period sometimes called the Days of Awe—Jews reflect on the past year and make amends for their failings. They look toward the balance of the new year 5780 (which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur) and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways.

YOM KIPPUR: THE HOLIEST DAY

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions. On Yom Kippur, all overflow seating areas are opened so that everyone in the Jewish community can show up for at least part of the long series of services.

Services open with Kol Nidre, a deeply emotional moment when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made, and the community symbolically opens itself to regular attendees as well as others who rarely come to services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, but overall, it represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

The rest of the Yom Kippur litugy also has beautiful moments that encourage repentance, recommitment to the faith’s ideals and remembrance of the core story that has led the Jewish people through thousands of years of challenges. Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to many men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur.

A PERSONAL REFLECTION FROM SUZY FARBMAN

Our beloved columnist Suzy Farbman, author of GodSigns, has written about her own personal practice at this holiday—which illustrates the mix of reflections on family and the larger world that come together on Yom Kippur:

Every year I touch base with Judaism at Yom Kippur services. I take our prayer books to Temple Beth El and have them signed by whichever family members join us. I look forward to acquiring a few more signatures each year.

Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on how we may have wronged God or others. I don’t think I have much to atone for, but each of us can do better and be better. Each of us can pray for a more peaceful world. The prayer I most look forward to at this time of year seems especially meaningful in light of recent worldwide unrest:

“Grant us peace, oh thou eternal source of peace, and enable Israel to be its messenger to the peoples of the earth. Bless our country, that it may always be a stronghold of peace, and its advocate among nations. May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands, and may the love of your name hallow every home and every heart. Blessed is the Eternal God, the Source of peace.”

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Rosh Hashanah: Jews celebrate “sweet” New Year, begin High Holidays

Honey and biscuits

Honey is eaten with various foods on Rosh Hashanah. Photo courtesy of Pixnio

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Rich dishes made with honey, paired with blasts from the shofar, mean it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—and it’s also the start of the High Holidays. Do you know someone who is Jewish? Wish him or her L’shanah tovah—“For a good year!”

On the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by Jews around the world. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year,” or “first of the year,” and many Jews use this period of time to make resolutions and commitments for self-improvement. Sins are “cast” into a river and honey is consumed for hopes of a sweet New Year.

NEWS: Jews of all ages have been making and finishing shofars prior to this year’s Rosh Hashanah, the Chicago Tribune reported. Read the article here.

On Rosh Hashanah, work is not permitted and many more traditional adherents spend the day in the synagogue. The shofar, a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet, is one of the holiday’s most famous symbols—but Rosh Hoshanah also comes with special readings and prayers for a good new year.

Traditionally, Jewish teaching associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and the day’s services focus on the relationship between G_d and humanity. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)

HONEY, APPLES AND BREAD: A SWEET NEW YEAR

Of the sweet foods consumed on Rosh Hashanah, none is more popular than honey. Jerusalem, biblically referred to as “the land of milk and honey,” is yet another reason to eat honey on this special holiday. Most Jews eat apples or bread dipped in honey, or create dishes that incorporates these ingredients.

tashlich, Rosh Hashanah

A tashlich ceremony in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Prayers near a body of water accompany the practice of tashlich, which is the “casting off” of sins. The faithful travel to flowing water and empty their pockets into the river, symbolically casting off their sins. Typically, small bits of bread are placed in the pockets before tashlich, and later “cast off” during the ritual.

What are the High Holidays? Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is the period of Hashanah and Yom Kippur and usually the phrase includes the 10 days in between. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the new year begins and finally, on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

EXTRAS: BRISKET AND HONEY

Fifteen traditions: Reader’s Digest reported 15 must-observe traditions for Rosh Hashanah this year.

Want to make a perfect brisket? It’s a holiday favorite in many Jewish homes, and FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis (with guest writer Debbi Eber) tackles the tips and techniques for a perfect brisket dinner.

Sweet recipes: Looking to bake up something sweet and scrumptious this Rosh Hashanah? Try the Jewish Chronicle’s honey cake trifle; Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples; or forward.com’s granola baked apples. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

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Categories: Jewish

The Three Weeks: Jews enter period of mourning for Temples, history

Temple Jerusalem model

A model of the temple in Jerusalem. Photo by gkadey, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 20: A solemn period—including a time of fasting—begins for Jews around the world tonight, in a tradition known as “the Three Weeks.” Beginning on the 17th of the month of Tammuz and ending on Tisha B’Av, Jews lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the historical misfortunes of the Jewish people. Each day is met with a higher degree of lamentation than the last (with the exception of Shabbat). There is also great hope, however, in this time of sadness: As the past and present are examined, Jews look to the future.

During the Three Weeks, observant Jews refrain from holding weddings, listening to music, celebrating in public, embarking on trips, having hair cut or shaved, and wearing new clothing. Learn more from Aish.com. A fast is undertaken on the 17th of Tammuz and on the Ninth of Av. (For guides, stories, multimedia and more, visit Chabad.org.) The period is known as “within the straits,” from the Book of Lamentations.

According to traditional texts: The Three Weeks encompasses the days when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans and both Temples were destroyed. The holy Temple that had stood in Jerusalem for 830 years was destroyed. This is also a period when Jews recall Moses breaking the original Ten Commandments.

During this three-week period, Jews try to increase good deeds and charitable works, while intensifying Torah study.

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Shavuot: Jewish festival honors revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai

Crowds gather at the Western Wall at sunrise

Jews gather at the Western Wall at sunrise. It is traditional to stay awake all night in Torah study for Shavuot, and in Jerusalem, this all-night study is followed by gathering at the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 8: Greenery and flowers adorn synagogues tonight, mimicking the top of Mount Sinai, as Jews wrap up a seven-week period of anticipation known as the Counting of the Omer. The Counting of the Omer ends and gives way to Shavuot, the celebration of the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Due to the counting of seven weeks leading up to Shavuot, this holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks.

FREEDOM: FROM PHYSICAL TO SPIRITUAL

The ancient festival prompts many stories and interpretations. One of them emphasizes this: The movement from the Counting of the Omer to Shavuot connects the physical freedom in the Exodus with the spiritual freedom of the presentation of the Torah. During Passover, which was weeks ago, Jews acknowledged the physical freedom given to the ancient Israelites through the Exodus; more specifically, this physical freedom was acknowledged on the second day of Passover, when the Counting of the Omer began. Each night since, observant Jews have remembered the current count of days until they reach day 49. Today—day 50—Jews recognize the official presentation of the Torah. This, the 50th day, is also sometimes called Pentecost, although the Jewish religious associations with the holiday are different than the Christian Pentecost.

Did you know? Shavuot is one of the Jewish observances that differs, depending on location. In Israel, it’s one day; in the rest of the world, it’s two days.

Loaves of brown bread, crusty

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

OMER, GRAINS AND FIRST FRUITS

Ancient Israelites marked the spring grain harvest for seven weeks. (“Omer” is an ancient unit of measure.)

When that first harvest ended at Shavuot, farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.

To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods of wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

SHAVUOT: DAIRY, RUTH & ALL-NIGHT TORAH STUDY

Among the many customs associated with Shavuot are the consumption of dairy products and the reading of the Book of Ruth, along with, for many observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is that Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept; although Moses had to awaken the ancient Israelites, Jews today remain awake throughout the night, all the while giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.

Work is not permitted during the entirety of Shavuot.

Looking for dairy recipes to prepare for the holiday? This Jewish blog offers Kale and Mushroom Quinoa ‘Mac and Cheese,’ and Haaretz suggests Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche.

For more holiday inspiration, enjoy …

Author Debra Darvick offers her introduction to Shavuot from her popular collection of real-life stories: This Jewish Life.

 

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Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Jews mark memorial, independence days

Young people lined up on stage, outdoors, with blue banners and Israeli flags on building behind stage

A ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, Ramla, Israel. Photo by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, MAY 7 and SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 8: Commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 7, this year, for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. In the Israeli calendar, Memorial Day (or Yom HaZikaron) is followed by the celebration of Independence Day (or Yom Ha’atzmaut), as a way to begin the celebration of freedom with a day-long solemn remembrance of the cost of that freedom. In the Jewish calendar, these days traditionally fall on the 4th and 5th days of lyar, the eighth month of the year.

Israel gained its independence in 1948, and an elaborate ceremony occurs each year on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. During this ceremony, members of the Israeli Parliament speak, dramatic presentations celebrate the nation’s history and soldiers march with the flag of Israel while creating formations like a Menorah. Traditionally, 12 torches are lit to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

NEWS: Jewish communities worldwide mark Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. This article, from the Jewish Journal, highlights a variety of related events taking place in Florida this year.

During the day, many Jewish families celebrate similarly to the American Independence Day, with picnics, family gatherings and a generally festive air. (My Jewish Learning details some of the customs associated with Yom Ha’atzmaut.) In many areas, Israeli folk dances are organized in the streets at night.

READINGS

An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

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Categories: Jewish

Yom HaShoah: Remembering the Holocaust and heroism

Young people dressed in white and blue carry Israeli flags and walk down railroad tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

March of the Living participants. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of this solemn observance.

Also known as “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” in English, Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. Today, those who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era; they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times; and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law.

Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. (Wikipedia has details.) Public entertainment is not permitted on Yom HaShoah, and radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Yom Hashoah and Hate Crimes in 2019

Each year, one of the major themes associated with Yom HaShoah is the commitment to never forget what happened in this horrific genocide. In the 1970s and ’80s, American public schools that once ignored the Holocaust in standard lesson plans began to include this chapter of history for all students. Holocaust memorials, including the national museum in Washington D.C., opened to millions of visitors.

Click this image from Freedland’s and Hasan’s column to visit The Guardian website and read their entire text.

However, a rising tide of right-wing nationalism around the world has poured fresh fuel on smaller extremist groups that resort to violence. Hate crimes have risen against various minority groups, but especially Jews, according to FBI statistics in the U.S. and reports from other countries.

One of the most urgent appeals this spring was issued from the UK by two journalists writing for The Guardian newspaper: Jonathan Freedland and Mehdi Hasan. Together, they published this impassioned column, headlined: Muslims and Jews face a common threat from white supremacists. We must fight it together.

Their column begins this way:

The two of us have been having the exact same conversation for the past decade. About antisemitism and Islamophobia. One of us a Muslim, the other a Jew, we have conducted it in public and in private, on Twitter and on TV. We’ve agreed; we’ve argued; we’ve even wandered off topic to trade tips on how to get through a fast. Now we’ve come together because of the urgent and common threat that we face. Both of our communities are under violent attack from far-right white supremacists.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, last month a white supremacist gunned down 50 Muslims at prayer. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last October a white supremacist gunned down 11 Jews at prayer. Both killers were clear in their loathing of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the “great replacement theory,” which casts Muslims and other minorities as “invaders” of western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. In this narrative, the supposed invasion is a wicked plot orchestrated by the same hidden hand behind all malign events through world history: the Jews. The point was put concisely in an online remark reposted by the Pittsburgh murderer: “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

This is how our haters see us: Jews and Muslims connected in a joint enterprise to effect a “white genocide.” It is an unhinged and racist conspiracy theory–and it has both of our communities in its murderous sights.

So there can only be one response: Muslims and Jews must stand and fight it together. 

Please, consider their appeal and share this column with friends.

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Categories: Jewish