High Holy Days
The High Holy Days are a pivotal and special time of the year at Beth Shalom. This is the time of the year when most Jews gather with family and friends and attend synagogue. At Beth Shalom, it is a time of reflection, learning and prayer. We join in song with our Adult and Junior Choirs, listen to the sound of the Shofar, and reflect on the words of our rabbi. Our introspection begins with the observance of Selichot and continues throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services provide children’s programming so that they may learn and reflect in a way that is meaningful to them. After Rosh Hashanah service, we gather as a congregation for Tashlikh, where we cast our sins into the lake. Yom Kippur concludes with a joyous Break the Fast, where we gather again as a family.
Shortly after Yom Kippur, we enjoy the holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest. It addition, it commemorates the wandering of the Jews in the desert after receiving The Ten Commandments. A joyous time at Beth Shalom, members build a sukkah under which our children eat and say prayers with the Lulav and Etrog.
Simchat Torah, the celebration of the ending and beginning of the Torah, follows Sukkot. At Beth Shalom, we have a joyous and lively Shabbat service in which there is singing and dancing. At this service, we also hold our Kindergarten Consecration ceremony, which marks the beginning of our kindergartners’ formal Jewish education. They receive a special blessing and their own “little” Torah scroll.
At Hanukkah, we remember the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the liberation and “re-dedication” of the Temple in Jerusalem. The celebration of Hanukkah focuses on the lighting of the menorah, the eating of foods prepared in oil including latkes and sufganiyout (jelly doughnuts), singing special songs and playing games like Dreidel. At Beth Shalom, we enjoy these traditions in our Religious School curriculum and at our annual Religious School Hanukkah party.
Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song, is a very celebratory evening. Congregants become active participants along with the musicians and singers. With it’s own siddur (prayer book), it has a variety of songs, both traditional and contemporary, including Miriam’s song during which the women of the congregation dance around the Torah.
Tu B’Shevat or the “New Year of the Trees” is Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday is observed on the 15th (tu) of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat. Scholars believe that originally Tu B’Shevat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. In the 17th century, Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu B’Shevat that is similar to a Passover seder. Today, many Jews hold a modern version of the Tu B’Shevat seder each year. The holiday also has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of loved ones and friends.
Purim is the holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from their imminent destruction at the hands of Haman, the evil advisor to the King of Persia, King Ahasuerus. Our congregation celebrates this holiday in two parts. First, we read from the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) on the Friday night closest to the actual Hebrew day of Purim (Adar 14, or Adar II 14 on leap years). Groggers are distributed at the service, encouraging participation and fun. We may have additional readings and songs to also celebrate the festival.
On the following Saturday evening, we have an adult Purim party, full of fun, food, drinks and dancing. Over the past few years, we have had various plays and musicals (don’t fret, Broadway has nothing to worry about), which retell the story of Esther. Feel free to look at pictures in our picture archive of prior years’ plays.
At Beth Shalom Religious School, Purim is a fun and celebratory holiday. We encourage the children to dress up in costume, and our sixth grade puts on a skit for the entire school. Afterward, the children have fun at the annual Purim Carnival, which is full of games and food.
Pesach represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but the primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. In addition to including aspects of Pesach into the Shabbat service that occurs during the eight day holiday, one long-standing Beth Shalom tradition is to hold a community seder on the second night. We typically have 80-100 people attending our family-oriented seder, at which we read from the Haggadah and eat a meal of salad, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, baked chicken and tasty desserts.
Each year, on the Shabbat preceding the Yom HaShoah remembrance, we dedicate the entire Shabbat service to remember the Six Million. We plan for a touching service with stirring songs, readings, and visualizations. In recent years, we’ve featured a ceremony where families directly connected with the Holocaust come forward to light memorial candles on the bimah.
In our Religious School, during Yom HaShoah, the younger children focus on the differences and similarities among people and the importance of treating others with respect. The older students learn about the Shoah and this remembrance. They also participate either in the Yom HaShoah community event or in a memorial service, which often includes a guest speaker at Beth Shalom.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAatzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.
The Israeli Knesset established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles.
Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April.
Lag B’Omer (Hebrew: ל״ג בעומר), also known as Lag LaOmer amongst Sephardi Jews, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of Iyar. One reason given for the holiday is as the day of passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Modern Jewish tradition links the holiday to the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire (132-135 CE). In Israel, it is celebrated as a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit.
Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurs seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life. During this holiday, we honor our Beth Shalom teachers and our recent high school graduates at a special Shabbat service.