Sukkot: Jews gather ‘neath the sukkah for the Feast of Booths

Branches and dried stalks building structure with wooden table in the middle

A sukkah. Photo by Jeremy Price, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23—SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30: Jewish families around the world spend time in temporary outdoor shelters to celebrate the ancient harvest festival: Sukkot. Following the Jewish High Holidays each year, Jews enter a joyous “Season of our Rejoicing.”

The tradition calls on Jews to construct and dwell in temporary structures, called sukkahs, in memory of the ancient Israelites’ living quarters during their 40 years in the desert. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and, as such, 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).

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.) 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.

Yellow citrus fruit hanging from branch surrounded by green leaves

An etrog. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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. (Wikipedia has details.)

Note: The two days following Sukkot are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

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

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

Black-and-white drawing of soldiers gathered in room around man speaking

A Kol Nidre service for Jewish soldiers during the Franco-German War, depicted by Hermann Junker. Photo by Center for Jewish History, NYC, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18: The high hopes and sweetness of Rosh Hashanah have passed, and 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 5779 (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, the main holiday when all partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and everyone in the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Services open with Kol Nidre, now widely regarded as a deeply emotional moment when the larger Jewish community gathers, 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, 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.

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Rosh Hashanah: Jews anticipate a ‘sweet’ New Year, kick off High Holidays

Apple cake on sheet with apple in background

Apple cakes are common fare for Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 9 to SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Bring out the apples and honey and wish your neighbor a happy New Year—L’shanah tovah 5779! It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

For two days, Jews around the world attend services, seek forgiveness and joyfully enter the annual High Holy Days. Sometimes called the Days of Awe, this period culminates in Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement starting at sunset on Tuesday, September 18 this year. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the New Year begins; on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

APPLES AND HONEY FOR A ‘SWEET’ YEAR

Honey and apples are the most famous holiday foods for Rosh Hashanah—often seen on holiday cards and other media as a reminder of the joy in welcoming a “sweet” New Year—but other foods, including dates and pomegranates, have ancient associations with the New Year and still are enjoyed in Jewish communities around the world.

Looking to pair your favorite apple variety with its ideal type of honey? Check out this article from epicurious.

For apple-and-honey recipes, try an apple and honey cake from Haaretz; or try one of the recipes that will “impress your Jewish grandma,” according to Buzzfeed.

THE HEAD OF THE YEAR & THE SHOFAR

Literally “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah was never referred to by name in the Bible; rather, 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.”

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

Hoping to better understand the meaning behind five of the most popular Rosh Hashanah traditions? Learn more from this article, courtesy TIME.

Attention: Rabbis (and any Jew looking to reflect): In a day and age when examples of atonement from public or well-known figures can be hard to find, this piece from the Washington Post provides inspiration and ideas, as well as specific examples.

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Categories: Jewish

Tisha B’Av: Jews recall tragic events on annual day of mourning with a 25-hour fast

Stack of books with cloth on top

A traditional Jewish Tallit and several Hebrew texts. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 21: Three weeks of reflection has prepared men and women for this, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar: the Ninth of Av, known as Tisha B’Av. Observant Jews who are healthy enough to undertake the 25-hour fast will follow five traditional prohibitions: No eating or drinking; no bathing; no use of creams or oils; no leather shoes; no marital relations. The final meal consumed before the start of the Tisha B’Av fast traditionally consists of a hard boiled egg and a piece of bread, dipped into ashes.

The desolate tone of Tisha B’Av is in recollection of the many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the Ninth of Av—including, most prominently, the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The ark—the cabinet where the Torah is kept, in the synagogue—is draped in black; the book of Lamentations may be read.

MOURNING: FEELING GRIEF AFTER MILLENNIA

Today, the observance of Tisha B’Av gets mixed response, as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in a column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?” (Debra also wrote about the holiday for her book, This Jewish Life.)

A MULTITUDE OF MEMORIES

Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans. According to Jewish tradition, 9 Av is associated with other tragic milestones, as well, which have been added to this annual day of remembrance.

Also on 9 Av: The Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

NEWS 2018

Israelis clash over restaurant and entertainment closures on Tisha B’Av: The chairman of the Jewish Home faction in Tel Aviv and the owner of a pizzeria, disagreed the request to close restaurants and entertainment venues on Tisha B’Av, as they are already closed on Shabbat and Yom Kippur. Read the story from the Israeli National News.

Modern-day mourning: world hunger and environmental crises: A writer from the Arizona Jewish Post relates Tisha B’Av mourning to something relevant to today: world hunger and the environmental crisis. Read the story here.

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The Three Weeks: Jews lament and fast ‘between the straits’

Portrayal of white temple

Herod’s Temple as imagined in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. During the Three Weeks, Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 29: 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 historical misfortunes of the Jewish people: A solemn period, including a time of fasting, begins for Jews around the world in a tradition known as “the Three Weeks.” 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, traditionally 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,” or “between the straits,” from the Book of Lamentations.

A TIME TO STUDY TORAH, DO GOOD

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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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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