Most American first graders can tell you that October is the month of pumpkins, November is about turkey, and February means chocolate and valentines cards. To be a member of a particular culture is to know viscerally the distinctive colors, images, tastes, songs and stories of each season of the year.
The Jewish year has its own sequence of tastes and songs and colors. And our Jewish festivals (holidays) are a symphony in food, in text, in symbol and in song, expressing with outrageous humor and awesome profundity every great idea and emotion of our religion. With the holidays and their sensory messages, we initiate our children into the Jewish culture, and each year we add a chapter to the book of our own Jewish life. There are seven primary festivals:
1. Passover: season of birth, of new love, freedom and matzah.
2. Shavuot: recalling a mountain in the desert on fire with the voice of God.
3. Rosh Hashanah: the cry of the ram’s horn and apples and honey.
4. Yom Kippur: day of fasting, purity and exaltation.
5. Sukkot: magical meals under the stars in a richly decorated sukkah.
6. Chanukah: mid-winter festival of light and latkes.
7. Purim: marking the end of winter with masks, costumes, and hamentaschen.
It takes courage and creativity to live by the rhythms of the Jewish year in a town with a small Jewish population. With good friends, however, it becomes not only possible, but fun.
Each holiday is an invitation to explore and evaluate:
- Where am I in my life?
- What are my personal goals?
- What relationships are working in my life and which ones need some attention?
- How do I feel about prayer and Gd?
- What is my relationship with death?
- When do I feel joy and delight?
- Is rest and relaxation part of my weekly life rhythm?
Inspiration for Your Personal Practice
- Take Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seriously as a time for self-examination
- Fast on Yom Kippur
- Build a sukkah and eat your meals in it
- Invite guests (Jewish and non-Jewish) to your sukkah
- Light the Chanukah menorah all eight nights
- Bake hamentaschen on Purim and give some to your friends
- Wear a costume to Temple on Purim
- Conduct your own Passover seder
- Stay up all night studying on Shavuot
- Plant a tree/garden on Tu B’Shvat
- Have a bonfire on Lag BaOmer
- Acknowledge the Jewish festivals with candles and a special meal