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Jewish Holiday Resources

HavdalahPassover  |  Yom Hashoah  |  Yom Hazikaron & Yom Ha'atzmaut   |  Shavuot  | Tisha B'Av  |  Tu B'Av  |  Elul  |  Rosh Hashanah  |  Yom Kippur  |  Sukkot  |  Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah  |  Hanukkah  |  Purim

HAVDALAH

Our rabbis teach that on Shabbat, we are given an extra soul. At Havdalah we relinquish that extra soul but hope that the sweetness and holiness of the day will remain with us during the week. 

This beautiful weekly ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the new week includes four blessings. If you'd like the Hebrew (or transliteration) PJTC uses during the ritual, you can download a copy HERE

If you are observing the holiday at home, you can purchase or make your own ritual objects. The items you will need are:

  1. A cup filled with grape juice (or wine if there are adults present). 
  2. A spice box. You can make one in a mint tinin a spice bag, or stud an orange with cloves! (Really all you need is something that smells nice.)
  3. A havdalah candle. This would either be multi-wick candle or you can hold any two candles together.

 

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PASSOVER

During Passover, we ask "Why is tonight different?"

 

Because in the past, we were slaves. Tonight, thanks to our covenant with the Holy One, the Source of all our blessings, and our connection to each other, we are free.

 

That’s the answer: We are free. We are free to exercise good judgment that is already saving the lives of the people we care about the most. We are free to draw on the tradition of the Jewish people, of course, but this year we are also blessed by unprecedented Jewish creativity, creativity that has blossomed in the past few weeks to not just make the best of this unprecedented moment, but to make it holy. We are free to add new traditions - even as we’re prompted to add new things to our Seder plate - that will mark this year in our families memories as “that time we got through together, and triumphed.”

 

To learn more about the Passover holiday and its rituals and to find online resources and details about PJTC's Passover programming, click here.

 

Counting the Omer and Making It Count: 

A spiritual practice to inform and enrich our lives.

From the Torah we learn to count 49 days starting on the second night of Pesach all the way to Shavuot. It is written: “You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days, and you shall present a new meal offering to God”. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

Since most of us do not work the land as our ancestors did, why do we still count? Our rabbis suggest that counting can help us not only in a ritualistic way, allowing us to engage daily with the world of mitzvot, but perhaps it can also provide us an opportunity to dive into a more personal and spiritual journey. 

CLICK HERE to view information on how to count the omer and find links to more resources.

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YOM HASHOAH

A day honoring both those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, those who survived, and those who resisted. 

We are tested to live in a time that reminds us of the fragility and preciousness of life, yet we are blessed with a tradition that calls and inspires us with this charge: "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh" - We are all responsible for one another. This teaching shares a page of the Talmud (Shevuot 39a) and an intention with another teaching: That the Torah was given not only to those who stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to hear the Holy One speak the Ten Commandments; it was given to all who would be a part of our family in the future, whether born into our family, or inspired to join it. 

We are responsible not only for the lives and safety of those in our homes today. We are also responsible for remembering those who came before us. And, we are responsible for the safeguarding of future generations. In this spirit, and in this moment, we will not forget the sacrifices of our ancestors. We will not neglect the honor of those survivors we are blessed to have among us today. We will never again allow indifference to life permit the spread of death within our gates. Instead, we will remember. We will mourn. We will learn. We will grow, as ever, stronger together.

Yom Hashoah Ritual Mitvah 

It is customary to light a memorial candle on the eve of Yom HaShoah, as one does for the eve of a Yahrtzeit or Yizkor. Ideally, this should be a candle that burns all night and through the day, like the usual Jewish memorial / yartzeit candles you might find at the supermarket.

Your candle should be lit shortly before sundown Monday evening. Place it in a safe location, such as in a sink or on a stovetop away from flammable materials, so that it may be allowed to burn completely over the course of the day and extinguish itself.

Jewish law does not insist on a particular prayer to be said. You may take a moment of silence, or speak whatever is in your heart on the occasion. Please see the resources below for poems or prayers you might like to share in your home.

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YOM HAzikaron & Yom Ha'atzmaut

We are called to join in solidarity with our Israeli community in the State of Israel during two important and holy days: Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

 

Yom Hazikaron honors both those who have fallen in military service to the State of Israel as well as those who have fallen as victims of terrorism within the State of Israel, from before the birth of the modern state to this very day.

 

Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

 

It's possible to think of these days as the Israeli equivalent of our Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively, with one important difference: They are always observed together. These days are observed every year on the 4th and 5th days of the Hebrew month of Iyar (this year starting Monday night 4/27) except if either of those days would overlap Shabbat; then both days are moved earlier or later, so that public commemorations and celebrations can go on without the limitations of traditional Shabbat observance.

 

First, it's remarkable that the State of Israel, which typically uses the Gregorian or "secular" calendar for most official business, decided to anchor the celebration to the same Jewish calendar that we use for all of our Jewish holidays. Marking these days is not just a show of patriotism at home and solidarity abroad; it is that, and much more: a holy act, a mitzvah, for Jewish people worldwide, whatever calendar they follow in their workaday lives.

 

Second, it's important to note that when they are moved, both days are moved. They are never split up. The spirit of holding these days together is that celebrating independence, the realization of a Jewish dream of millennia, is inseparable from honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice to help that dream come true, and to continue to bring that dream to fruition.

 

Imagine what it would be like in the United States if we held our Memorial Day, always observed in late May, on July 3rdinstead. Would our honoring of the fallen be deepened by concluding it with joyous celebration of what they fought for? Would our sense of independence a nation be elevated if we were presently reminded that it was not secured merely by the signing of one document on one day, but something constantly renewed and sustained by virtue of ongoing sacrifice?

 

As we approach this holy time, both for the people of the State of Israel and for us, the Children of Israel as a whole, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources listed below, so that in spirit we can experience the full range of Jewish emotion - mourning and celebration, honor and joy - together.

 

An article about Yom Hazikaron by My Jewish Learning

 

An article about Yom Ha'Atzmaut by My Jewish Learning

 

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Shavuot

One of Judaism’s three major pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot originated as an agricultural celebration during which the Israelites brought their first summer harvest to the Temple as a crop offering. By the era of the Talmud, the meaning of Shavuot had shifted to a celebration of the arrival of the Torah, gifted to the Israelites in the form of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai after the mass exodus. Today, Shavuot combines the celebration of these two major religious events to connect us back to both our agricultural roots and our study of the Torah.

In celebration, many families participate in Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study session of the Torah demonstrating their dedication to the text and the ancient Jewish traditions that it holds. Additionally, dairy foods are consumed to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, and homes are decorated with flowers and lush greenery to symbolize the blooming flowers found at Mount Sinai before the arrival of the Torah.

With a strong focus on theology, Shavuot symbolizes the beginning of a covenant or formal agreement between God and the Jewish people. It reminds us to embrace and study the Torah, and inspires us with the wisdom of Jewish tradition.

For more information on Shavuot, its customs and traditions, helpful online resources and PJTC Shavuot programming, click here.

 

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TISHA B'AV

On the ninth day of Av, we come together for a day of communal mourning. It is said that the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem occurred centuries apart on this day, and that many other tragedies have surrounded the day. We come together on this day to not only mourn those misfortunes, but to also lament major calamites that have befallen the Jewish people, such as the Crusades and the Holocaust.

To observe this day of mourning, we fast (no eating or drinking from sunset to sunset) and we disengage from pleasurable activities, such as adorning ourselves with riches, playing games and intimate relations, and spend the day in a more serious manner. The Book of Lamentations is read in synagogue, or at home if you cannot join your community in person.

Have more questions about Tisha B’Av? Click here for some FAQs answered by MyJewishLearning.com.

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TU B'AV

The casual Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av is a relatively new incarnation of an older annual event, first mentioned in the Mishnah at the end of the second century. The 15th of Av, during ancient times, was traditionally a matchmaking day, pairing up unmarried women with suitors. Today, it is treated similarly to Valentine’s Day, looked at as a day celebrating love.

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ELUL

The month prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is Elul. It is used as a time to mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepare for the transition to a new year. Jewish leaders encourage the month of Elul to be a time of introspection and personal stock-taking (known in Hebrew as cheshbon hanefesh…an accounting of the soul), as well as a time for repentance (known in Hebrew as teshuvah...returning). The customs of Elul are meant as preparation for Rosh Hashanah, when Jewish tradition teaches us that divine judgement and forgiveness is given.

What are these customs?

The blowing of the shofar: It is tradition to blow the shofar every weekday after morning services to rouse us from complacency and jolt us into repentance.

Psalm 27: It is customary to recite daily Psalm 27, which assures us of God’s protection and also pleas that he not forsake his people.

S’lichot: The prayers of forgiveness called S’lichot, including also the 13 Attributes of Mercy, are recited during Elul. Some communities begin the recitation at the beginning of Elul, though Ashkenazi Jews generally begin the practice on the Saturday prior to Rosh Hashanah. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF S'LICHOT, RESOURCES & PROGRAMMING.

Elul’s Weekly Torah Readings: The Torah readings during the month of Elul provide timely cues for people to awaken to reflection and observe their lives…

  • Parashat Re’eh – Reminds us to see clearly the possibilities presented in each moment and to choose the path of blessing.
  • Parashat Shoftim – Invites us to consider the unfinished business that tears at our hearts.
  • Parashat Ki Teitzei – Demands that rather than impulsively ceding to our desires, we watch them for deeper truths to be revealed.

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ROSH HASHANAH

Let's take stock and rejoice!

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, taking place at the beginning of the month of Tishrei - the beginning of the Jewish civil calendar year. It is a two-day celebration of the new year, which follows a month of spiritual and emotional preparation during the month of Elul. This celebration is meant to both rejoice in the completion of another year and to look inward and take stock of that year that has passed. Rosh Hashanah also precedes the Ten Days of Repentance, also known as the Days of Awe, which concludes in the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. A major part of the Jewish High Holy Day traditions, Rosh Hashanah has its own customs we practice.

To learn more about the customs and significance of Rosh Hashanah, as well as find some helpful online resources, click here.

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YOM KIPPUR

May you be inscribed for a good year in the Book of Life! 

Yom Kippur is the Jewish religion's Day of Atonement (reparation for a wrong or injury). Jews traditionally ask for forgiveness for their wrongdoings over the past year, believing that on this day, God places a seal on the Book of Life, in which he has inscribed our names for the year to come. This one day of observation falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the following day.

To learn more about the customs and significance of Yom Kippur, as well as find some helpful online resources and details about our upcoming programming and services, click here.

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SUKKOT

Sukkot, named after the huts that Jewish people are supposed to dwell within during this week-long celebration, begins five days after Yom Kippur. These sukkot (the huts) represent the temporary structures the Israelites constructed and lived in during their 40 years of desert wandering following their escape from slavery in Egypt. Also referred to as hag ha-asif (the harvest festival), much of the ritual of Sukkot is centered around thanking God for the completed harvest before the coming of the winter rains.

Significance

Sukkot is a joyful holiday, focused on rejoicing about the bounties provided to us by the land and God’s will. The simplicity of spending as much time as possible in nature and within the very basic, temporary shelter of a sukkah is meant to remind us of what is actually important in life, taking focus away from material possessions and modern world complications.

Rituals

  • Attending services is customary during Sukkot. Readings from Leviticus, focused on divinely ordained festivals, and Sukkot specifically, are heard during these services. This includes Hallel (Psalms of Praise) and Hoshana (prayers asking God to save us), ending with the Hoshanah Rabba (the Great Hoshanah) on the seventh and last day of Sukkot’s festival. During the Hoshana prayers, congregants will march around the synagogue holding the lulav and etrog.
  • Building of a sukkah, at home or in a communal location, as soon as possible after the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The sukkah is a flimsy structure with at least three sides, with a roof made out of thatch or branches (commonly, palm fronds). It is meant to provide shade, but also allow the stars to be seen at night. If you are unable to build your own sukkah or visit a community sukkah, get creative at home…a fort in the living room, a blanket and decorations over the dining room table, an embellished umbrella on a balcony – these are all ways to create a temporary shelter and take part in this celebration.
  • Decorating the sukkah with a harvest theme, often with garland and dried fruits, is a festive practice of Sukkot.
  • Once your sukkah is built and ready, we welcome ushpizin (guests) from the Bible symbolically partake in the meals with us. Feel free to invite your own ancestors and favorite historical figures as well – the more the merrier on this joyful holiday.
  • Spending as much time as possible in the sukkah each day of the week-long holiday – sitting, eating meals, and even sleeping under its shelter overnight – is a mitzvah (commandment) expected during Sukkot.
  • Shaking the lulav and etrog is a ritual gesture done in commemoration of the bounty of the Holy Land. Etrog is citron, and the lulav consists of palm, myrtle and willow.
  • Inviting friends and family into your sukkah for meals or company as you sit helps to enrich the meaning of the holiday and sharing in the prosperity of the harvest.
  • Outside of this, and Sukkot services, during Hol HaMoed (the interim days of Sukkot), it is expected that normal life ensues.

For a dictionary of Hebrew words and terms you may need to know during Sukkot, click here.

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SHEMINI ATZERET & SIMCHAT TORAH

After the seven joyous days of Sukkot, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret (The Eighth day of Assembly), marking the end of Sukkot. During Shemini Atzeret, we gather again in the sukkah to celebrate God and our bounty, but without ritual and prayer…like the last guests at the party who have so much reason to rejoice that they stick around for one more hoorah. During Shemini Atzeret, we also pray for the rejuvenating rains of the next season.

Shemini Atzeret transitions us into Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in Torah), when – just as we mark the transition from harvest season to our rainy season of winter – we mark the end of the yearly cycle of public readings from the Torah and commemorate the beginning of a new cycle of Torah readings.

Significance

Continuing the season with joy, Shemini Atzeret celebrates the bounty of our ending harvest season and the promise of the rains of winter to come. Simchat Torah is a celebration of the Jewish love of Torah and study - the day when Jews come together as a community to be in direct contact with the Torah, a source of our Jewish identity and a precious gift from God. Coming on the heels of Sukkot, we are simultaneously celebrating the transitions and gifts of nature and our transition from one annual cycle of Torah readings to the beginning of the next.

Rituals

  • Beginning on Shemini Atzeret and lasting through Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), a prayer for rain is added to the Amidah Prayer.
  • The Yizkor (memorial service) is customarily included in services on Shemini Atzeret.
  • To demonstrate their joy for the Torah, congregants will dance and sing, taking seven hakafot (circuits) around the synagogue with the Torah during Simchat Torah services.
  • Continuing the annual cycle of Torah readings unbroken, Simchat Torah ends with the final portion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the beginning of the Book of Genesis.
  • It is custom for congregants to receive an aliyah (the honor of being called upon to make one set of the blessings said before and after each section of the Torah reading), or aliyot in plural, as individuals or in groups.
  • To read more about one rabbi says about just "hanging out" on Shemini Atzeret to really understand the spirit of the holiday, click here.
  • To read more in depth about what generally happens in synagogue on Simchat Torah, click here.

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HANUKKAH

Hanukkah - also known as "The Festival of Lights" and "The Festival of Rededication" - is observed beginning on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev (usually in December, but sometimes in late November). It is a celebration of when the Jewish people of Judea (what is now central Israel) rose up against the Syrian Greeks who had taken over the land, attempting to oppress and assimilate the Jews to Hellenic culture. Led by Judah Maccabee, the Jewish forces that revolted against King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine. The story tells us that Judah and his followers lit the Temple with only one small bottle of oil, which miraculously lasted for eight days, as they cleansed and rededicated the Temple to Israel's God. The eight days of Hanukkah represent the eight miraculous days of light and restoration of the beloved Temple.

Hanukkah's core is a celebration of our ancestors' fight against religious oppression and of the Divine miracle that lit the Temple in Jerusalem, allowing Judah and his followers to restore and reclaim it for the Jewish people. The holiday is a symbol of Zionism in today's world as well as a reminder that religious freedom is worth fighting for, protecting and even rebuilding when necessary.

For more information about Hanukkah's customs, fun & helpful resources and PJTC's holiday programming, click here.

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PURIM

Purim - The Feast of Lots - is a celebration of the saving of the Jewish people from a massacre in Persia (modern day Iran) during the period of 539-330BC. The heroine of the story is Esther, as told in her namesake scroll "The Book of Esther." She was a Jewish woman who rose to become the Queen of Persia (though most people were not aware she was Jewish, including the King). When the hateful grand vizier, Haman, plots the destruction of the Jewish people, Queen Esther's cousin and guardian, Mordecai, convinces her to use her power to help her Jewish brethren. Despite being scared for her own life, she bravely reveals her Jewish identity to her husband, King Ahashverosh, and asks him to support her and the Jewish people...and he does! Haman and his followers are punished in place of the Jews that they targeted.

Purim's core is a celebration of Esther's courage and her care for her community over her own safety, which saved the Jewish people in Persia from an evil plot to destroy them. We focus on the joy of knowing our people were saved. We focus on Esther as a role model for putting the care of your community first. And, we focus on the hope that this story gives us - that through the bravery of individuals and the will of God, everything will be alright in the end. 

 

For more information about Purim's customs, fun & helpful resources and PJTC's holiday programming, click here.

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Wed, December 8 2021 4 Tevet 5782