Yom HaShoah: Jews, Israelis, young people worldwide remember Holocaust

Lighting row of candles.

Lighting memorial candles for Yom HaShoah. Photo by Meagan Schutter, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated today as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all mark this solemn observance.

Literally “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” 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: The millions 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.

#PROJECT6MILLION: Interested in taking a vow of remembrance and a pledge for human rights? Check out Project6Million, a memorial movement that began with 24 American teenagers and their chaperones in April of 2011, after they had experienced the March of the Living on Yom HaShoah.

People walking with Israeli flags wrapped around them, in group

Walkers in the March of the Living. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MARCH OF THE LIVING: FROM AUSCHWITZ TO BIRKENAU

Each year for this day of remembrance, thousands of Israeli teenagers, Jews and non-Jews from across the globe embark on the March of the Living, a ceremonial walk that vividly contrasts the Holocaust death marches.

Fast fact: Since its inception in 1988, more than 260,000 people from 52 countries have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah.

YOM HASHOAH: THEN AND NOW

Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Did you know? Yom HaShoah was originally intended for Nisan 14—the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—but was shifted to Nisan 27 because of the original date’s proximity to the start of Passover.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. 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. Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common.

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Categories: Jewish

Passover: Jewish families worldwide gather for the Seder and a joyous festival

Note: The morning of March 30 in 2018 begins the Fast of the Firstborn, in which observant firstborn sons fast to commemorate the salvation of firstborns in ancient Egypt.

Table set with food items, fancy and plates

A table set for the Passover Seder. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 30: The intensive search for chametz is over, and tonight, Jews begin the joyous festival of Passover—the most widely observed of all Jewish traditions. After weeks of painstakingly ridding their homes of chametzany grain product associated with fermentation—Jews join family and friends for a Passover Seder (ritual meal). It’s the 15th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, and tonight, the seven- or eight-day festival of Passover begins, commemorating the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. (Jews in Israel observe Passover for seven days, and Jews of the Diaspora observe eight.)

Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the Seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn; for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom. The Passover Seder is an extended meal that often lasts several hours, and is filled with ceremonial prayers, rituals, specific foods and drinks and careful table settings. During the Seder, the story of the Exodus is recalled through a recitation of the Haggadah.

Did you know? In Jewish families, young and old get involved in cleaning out the chametz as a way of remembering this key part of the Exodus: As the Israelites left Egypt, they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. To this day, unleavened matzo bread is a common element on Seder tables.

Passover lasts for seven days in Israel, and eight days outside of Israel. During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. The omer, a unit of measure, is used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

MATZO: THE 18-MINUTE CHALLENGE

Bowl of matzo soup on wood table

Matzo ball soup, common fare for Passover. Photo by Amy Ross, courtesy of Flickr

Baking matzo is no easy feat: only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise.

Many Jewish families switch to different dishes, eating utensils and cooking equipment to avoid any contact with traces of foods containing chametz. Chametz is defined as anything involving biological leavening, including simply wetting grains and let them stand for more than 18 minutes. Five grains, in particular, are identified: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

THE SEDER

The Seder includes many steps and lasts for hours. (Stressing over the pressure of hosting a Seder? Take some advice from a cookbook veteran in this article from the Washington Post. Or, try a Passover app.) All adults present at the Seder are required to drink a total of four cups of wine during the Passover Seder, and further, the Mishnah commands that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink. Interspersed throughout prayer and stories are the breaking of matzah (unleavened) bread; the washing of the hands; the eating of the symbolic elements on the Seder plate; and, of course, the eating of the holiday meal itself. The whole evening ends with a joint exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

For the next seven days—or eight, in the Diaspora—Jews will partake of no chametz at any meal. Jews commonly enjoy foods such as potato starch cakes, Gelfite fish, chicken soup with matzah balls and generous amounts of egg. Beginning on the second night of Passover, Jews begin the Counting of the Omer—a 50-day countdown to the holiday of Shavuot.

SEDERS, THE LAST SUPPER—AND A COMMON LINK

Christians teach that Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem was to observe Passover, forever linking the two sacred seasons. Yet while biblical scholars disagree on whether Jesus’s Last Supper was an actual seder, “Christianized” Seders are widespread at this time of year—and the practice appears to be growing among evangelicals. Sometimes called “baptized” or “Messianic” seders, the traditional Jewish ritual is changed to turn the meal into a remembrance of Jesus’s Last Supper.

This practice has always been controversial in interfaith settings. Jewish leaders complain that the practice distorts their traditions. That’s why the world’s largest Christian church, the Catholic church, forbids its parishes to Christianize the Seder. Catholic leaders encourage their billion-plus followers to visit authentic Seders—or to invite a rabbi to lead a model Seder to demonstrate the ritual for Christians. Catholic bishops say that “the primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation. Any sense of restaging the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided.” Jewish leaders welcome this approach to sharing their traditional meal.

Invited to a Jewish Passover Seder? The proper greeting is “Happy Passover” or “Happy holiday,” which in Hebrew is “Chag samayach” (hahg sah-MAY-ahk). A Seder plate will be located on most Seder tables, on which are symbols of various aspects of the Passover story. A Haggadah (hah-GAH-dah), a text in Hebrew and English that tells the Passover story and its meaning for each generation, is read during the meal. There are hundreds of different versions of the Haggadah, with many focusing on different elements of the holiday or interpreting it from a particular perspective, such as feminism or ecology. Learn more at ReadTheSpirit’s helpful resource, Ask an expert what to do at a Passover Seder.

Looking for interactive resources, stories, recipes and hosting ideas for Passover? Check out ReadTheSpirit’s own Feed The Spirit column for a recipe for homemade matzoh balls, or visit Chabad.org, the Jewish Virtual Library, Aish.com and Wikipedia.

Care to read more?

Over the past decade, our online magazine has published more than a hundred Passover-themed stories and we can heartily recommend some of our most popular holiday reading:

Debra Darvick shares Passover reflections from her popular book This Jewish Life.

Our Feed The Spirit columns, over the years, have published delicious Passover stories including tasty recipes. Here’s a story that includes Vegetable Kugel you can make at home. And here’s a column with a great recipe for potato gnocchi, because that preparation can be made kosher for Passover.

Fanny Neuda’s Passover prayer was written more than 150 years ago and was recovered by poet Dinah Berland—and Dinah gave us her permission to publish that prayer 10 years ago! Since we first published that text, thousands of readers around the world have read that prayer in our pages.

Rabbi Bob Alper also is famous coast to coast as the rabbi who does clean standup routines—and often has appeared on stage with comedians who are Christian and Muslim to promote interfaith understanding. Bob has written many stories, and two books, for us over the past decade. Here’s one of our most popular Bob Alper columns about the stories he tells in Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

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Categories: Jewish

Purim: Jews masquerade, celebrate Esther and victory

Two plates of triangular-shaped, jelly-filled pastries

These pastries, called “Haman’s pockets,” are a popular treat for Purim. Photo by xeno4ka, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Eat! Drink! Be merry!

The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. Today, with the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. Interestingly, the name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, and many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d “hidden” behind the scenes.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

The turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mor- dechai.’ In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.”

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMENTASCHEN

The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamentaschen, or Hamantash: Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.

EXTRA RECIPES: An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.

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Categories: Jewish

Hanukkah: Jews worldwide remember the miracle of the oil

Lights on menorah

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNSET TUESDAY, DECEMBER 12: Set up the menorah, fry up the latkes and try your luck at a game of dreidel, because the first night of Hanukkah has arrived! Though not as religiously significant as some other Jewish holidays—Yom Kippur, Sukkot or Passover, just to name a few—Hanukkah is widely celebrated, and is easily recognized even by non-Jews.

Each evening during Hanukkah, Jewish families light candles on a menorah, in honor of the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Greeks in the 2nd century BCE. As the traditional story is retold: Once the Second Temple had been reclaimed from the Greeks, purified and rededicated, there was only enough sacred oil found to burn for one day—but, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. In celebration, Jews today partake in foods fried in oil, light candles, play traditional games and sing songs.

Pile of fried latkes

Latkes for Hanukkah. Photo by Tim Sackton, courtesy of Flickr

THE MENORAH, SHAMASH AND THE DREIDEL

Hanukkah is faithfully observed by most Jews with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched Menorah, with one candle for each of the eight nights and one extra candle (the shamash), which is often placed separately from the others. The shamash must be used for “practical” purposes, so that the remaining candles may be used solely for publicizing the miracle of the oil.

While a menorah lights up a window, a game of dreidel is often played. The four-sided spinning top that is the centerpiece of the game has a Hebrew letter imprinted on each of its sides. The letters are an acronym for “A great miracle happened there.” Candies, money or chocolate gelt (coins) are often wagered in a game of dreidel.

Meanwhile, the sound of spattering, hot oil fills the Jewish kitchen, as devotees cook latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyots (doughnuts) and other deep-fried foods. Some partake in dairy foods, too, in remembrance of Judith and her involvement in helping to defeat the enemy.

NOT CHRISTMAS: The 8-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah is not like Christmas, so far-flung Jewish relatives don’t rush home for these holidays as Christian families migrate for Christmas day. However, the whole point of lighting the Hanukkah candles, each night, is to remember connections stretching back thousands of years. Often, parents and their children enjoy the ritual together to establish this tradition for future generations.

HANUKKAH: AN AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE

In her inspiring book, This Jewish Life, Debra Darvick writes dozens of true stories about Jewish men and women experiencing the seasons in Judaism. In one section of her book, she explains the basics about Hanukkah’s commemoration:

“In 167 BC, Antiochus decreed the practice of Judaism to be an offense punishable by death. The Temple was desecrated, and the Syrians went so far as to sacrifice pigs in the Temple. A Jew named Mattathias and his five sons began a revolt not only against Antiochus, but against the Jews who were quite willing to take on the ways of the majority population and jettison Jewish practice. Three years later, the Maccabees, as the Jewish fighters were known, and their followers, were victorious and the Temple was once again in Jewish hands.”

She further explains:

“According to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was finally cleansed for re-dedication, there was but a single day’s supply of ritually pure oil for the ner tamid, the everlasting light that hangs in every synagogue as a symbol of God’s ever-presence. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the time needed to press and ritually purify additional oil for the ner tamid.”

FRONT-PORCH LATKES: THE STORY OF A NEW TRADITION: Every week, Bobbie Lewis brings readers a new story about the way food connects with faith and family traditions in her popular column FeedTheSpirit. For Hanukkah (or “Chanukah,” as Bobbie spells it), she invited writer Sheri Schiff to share her delightful story about latkes. You’ll love this story: One year, Sheri dreamed up a solution to making latkes without leaving a heavy aroma in her home—and her clever idea wound up feeding friends and neighbors! Now, her front-porch latkes are a beloved neighborhood tradition. And, yes, Sheri shares a yummy latke recipe with readers.

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Categories: Jewish

Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah: Jews pray for rain, rejoice in the Torah

Rabbi holds up a Torah scroll, rocks in background

A rabbi holds a Torah scroll. Photo by Josh Evnin, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11 and SUNSET THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12: Jewish families around the world mark Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, a time of “rejoicing in the Torah” and asking for G_d’s blessings. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah combine to make one holiday; outside of Israel, the holidays fall over the course of two days. Though Shemini Atzeret technically falls within Sukkot, none of the blessings associated with Sukkot are carried over onto this—separate—holiday.

Prayers for rain commence on Shemini Atzeret; on Simchat Torah, the annual cycle of the weekly Torah readings is complete. In synagogues and temples, portions of the Torah are read each week of the year, and as the end is reached on Simchat Torah, Jews demonstrate the continuing cycle of life with the Torah by immediately re-rolling the scrolls and reading the first passage of Genesis.

To celebrate the Torah, lively processions around the synagogue take place with participants carrying Torah scrolls and singing and dancing. As many adherents as possible are given the chance to recite a blessing over the Torah—even children.

Though people today may not be as dependent on yearly rainfall for their sustenance, Shemini Atzeret serves as a reminder that human actions still effect the weather and environment—perhaps more now than ever.

 

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Jews fast, repent, end High Holidays on holiest day of the year

Kol Nidre, or All Vows, composed by Max Bruch, performed by Pablo Casals and remixed with artwork edited by Leo Bar for Pix in Motion. Fonts are from a 19th-century Jewish prayer book. You also can view this video on Vimeo.

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SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: From the sweet wishes of Rosh Hashanah and through the High Holidays, Jews arrive tonight at what is often referred to as the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur.

YOM KIPPUR AROUND THE WORLD: Wherever they find themselves, Jews fast and gather at Yom Kippur for traditional prayers. This photo shows U.S. Navy Lt. Yonina Creditor, originally from Virginia, leading Yom Kippur services aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. U.S. Navy photo by William Pittman released for public use.

A solemn observance, Yom Kippur (also called the Day of Atonement) is believed to be the final opportunity to make amends before one’s fate is sealed for the coming year.

Did you know? Throughout history, when Jews were forced to publicly convert to another religion, the Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service would annul those vows.

For 25 hours–this year, from sunset on September 29, the official start of Yom Kippur–Jews uphold a strict fast. Intense prayer accompanies the fasting, and many Jews spend hours repenting. Having asked forgiveness from others and made amends in the days preceding Yom Kippur, Jews ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre, or “All Vows,” gathers the larger Jewish community and begins Yom Kippur evening services; Ne’ilah, a service during which the Torah ark remains open and the congregation stands, is the final plea to God for forgiveness. A blast from the shofar follows the final prayers.

Why is Kol Nidre so significant? Kol Nidre is a deeply emotional experience for many Jews. At the start of Yom Kippur, amends are made and the community symbolically opens itself to regular members as well as others who rarely attend services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre—and there are many examples in Jewish fiction of moving scenes set at Kol Nidre. Overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

YOM KIPPUR: A PACKED SYNAGOGUE

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions; Yom Kippur is the main holiday when all the partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and the majority of the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day. We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.

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Categories: Jewish

Rosh Hashanah: Jews ring in a new year, begin High Holidays

Apples, honey, pomegranates on silver trays

Traditional foods for a “sweet” New Year, or Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Sufeco, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20: Wish your neighbor L’shanah tovah: “For a good year!” It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. For two days, Jews around the world attend services, seek forgiveness and joyfully enter the annual period known as the High Holy Days. Sometimes called the Days of Awe, this period culminates in Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement (which starts at sunset on Friday, September 29 this year).

Did you know? You can find biblical background on these Days of Awe in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus.

Literally “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah was never referred to by name in the Bible. Instead, references in Leviticus were made to Yom Teruah, the day of the sounding of the shofar. There are many stories and lessons associated with the blowing of the shofar now, but the Bible does not clearly explain the symbol. In the synagogue, 100 notes are blown each day of the New Year festivities; some refer to this noise as a “call to repentance.” Traditionally, Jewish teaching associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

DATES, HONEY AND A ‘SWEET’ NEW YEAR

For Rosh Hashanah, honey and apples are the most famous holiday foods in the United States; other foods, including dates and pomegranates, have ancient associations with the New Year and still are enjoyed in Jewish communities around the world. The honey-and-apples symbol, often seen on holiday cards and other Rosh Hashanah media, is a reminder of the joy in welcoming a “sweet” new year.

New Year recipes: Looking to bake up something delicious this Rosh Hashanah? Try Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples or a Rosh Hashanah honey cake, courtesy of the New York Times. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out Chabad.org, AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

Tashlikh: A lesser-known Jewish tradition related to Rosh Hashanah is tashlikh, or “casting off.” After filling their pockets—most often with small bits of bread—devotees walk to flowing water and empty their pockets, thereby symbolically “casting off” the sins of the old year.

BEGINNING THE HIGH HOLIDAYS

Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and, often, the days in between the two holidays. 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.”

IN THE NEWS: ROSH HASHANAH 2017

What’s buzzing in news headlines this Rosh Hashanah?

  • Rosh Hashanah facts every Jew should know: Chabad.org has compiled a list of 17 Rosh Hashanah facts every Jew should have (read it here).
  • Traditional gift guide: Are you wanting to give a traditional gift (or a few) this Rosh Hashanah, but stumped on what to buy? The Jerusalem Post has put together a Rosh Hashanah 2017/2018 Traditional Gift Guide (check it out here).
  • Christians celebrating Rosh Hashanah: According to statistics, Christians celebrating Rosh Hashanah is a growing trend. Read the story in the Times of Israel.
  • A chef inspired (plus recipes): Cookbook author and food connoisseur Joan Nathan reports that experiencing Rosh Hashanah abroad is what first got her passionately interested in food. In this article, the OC Register has some of her Rosh Hashanah recipes.

 

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Categories: Jewish