Please visit our calendar for dates and times of holiday worship and celebrations.
Holiday celebrations and observances are the touchstones of Jewish life. Learn more about the Jewish Holidays by reading below.
Tu Bish’vat – the New Year for Trees – is a time when trees start drinking the New Year’s rainwater and the sun renews itself.
On the third day of creation, God created “seed-bearing plants, fruit trees after their kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it” (Genesis 1:11). God then put Adam in the garden to “till it and tend it” ( 2:15 ), making humans stewards of the earth.
According to the Mishna, where it is first mentioned, Tu Bish’vat – the 15th day of the month of Shevat – is the date used by farmers to calculate the year’s crop yield and determine the tithe that the Bible requires. It also marks the beginning and end of the first three and four years of a tree’s growth, during which it is forbidden to eat its fruit.
During the early pioneer movement in late 18th and early 19th century Palestine, Jewish pioneers linked the environmentalism of Tu Bish’vat with the practice of planting trees in the land of Israel. In recent years, Jewish environmentalists adopted Tu Bish’vat as a “Jewish Earth Day,” with organized Seders, tree-plantings and ecological restoration activities, as a way to express a specifically Jewish commitment to caring for nature and protecting the land.
Celebrating Tu Bish’vat with a Seder has become traditional for families and congregations around the world. During a Tu Bish’vat Seder, seven species of fruits and grains from Israel are blessed and eaten. The seven species are wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive and dates (Deuteronomy 8:8). It is also customary to dance the ‘Mayim,’ the Jewish dance for water, during a Tu Bish’vat Seder.
In Israel , Tu Bish’vat is a time for families to get together, visit forests and plant trees. A 2002 poll showed that 93% of Israelis believe that Tu Bish’vat tree plantings are essential to enlarging the country’s green belts. More than two million trees are planted annually in Israel during Tu Bish’vat alone.
About the Jewish National Fund
As the Jewish Arbor Day, Tu Bish’vat embodies the strong dedication to ecology, environmentalism and conservation that Jewish National Fund has championed since its inception in 1901. Since its founding, JNF has planted more than 240 million trees in Israel to protect the land, prevent soil erosion, green the landscape and preserve vital ecosystems. The trees maintain forest health, combat desertification, protect watersheds and manage water flow. Additionally, they create a ‘green lung’ to combat carbon dioxide emissions in the region. JNF’s success at planting trees in Israel has resulted in naturally expanded forests and reclaimed deserts. Per Russell F. Robinson, CEO, “Over the years, Tu Bish’vat has taken on the theme of planting trees in Israel , making it JNF’s holiday.”
To Plant a Tree in Israel
Visit the Jewish National Fund’s website at www.jnf.org or call 1-800-542-TREE.
The Tu Bish’vat Seder
A Tu Bish’vat Hagaddah
Wheat (bread), barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive
(olive oil) and dates.
Four glasses of wine – both red and white to reflect the changing colors of Israel ‘s landscape.
First cup (white wine): represents October, after Sukkot when the first light-colored wild flowers – crocuses, narcissus, and sand lilies – come to life.
Recite blessing for fruit and taste grapes, pomegranate, fig, and dates (often people will eat a new fruit on Tu Bish’vat, an occasion to say the Sh’Hecheyanu blessing)
Recite blessing for nuts and taste:
Second Cup (white wine with a bit of red): represents November and December, Israel’s rainy season, when the colors of the landscape are changing and white and pink cyclamens and early red anemones appear.
Recite blessing on bread, then dip bread in olive oil and taste
Serve Festive Meal:
Third Cup (half white and half red wine): represents the time around Tu Bish’vat, winter in Israel, when the groundwater begins warming and rising through the roots into the trees. Red leaf buds appear on the fig and pomegranate trees. Almond trees start blooming pink and white flowers.
Fourth cup (red wine): represents Pesach , Israel’s springtime, when red buttercups, poppies and pomegranate flowers are all in bloom.
Purim is a one-day, carnival-like festival, which takes place on the 14th of Adar (usually in late February or March in the secular calendar). The story of Purim is told in the book of Esther, which is read during the holiday. It is traditionally read from a scroll, a Megillah, which means “rolled.” The story is one about human actions and does not mention God even once. Indeed, it is an ancient tale of court intrigue, deception, miscommunication, drunken feasts, murder schemes, a foolish king, a defiant queen, villains, a strong hero and a beautiful heroine. In addition, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud called Megillah devoted to discussing various issues regarding the book of Esther.
The Book of Esther
The Book of Esther, is part of the Ketuvim (the Writings) section of the TaNaKh. Megillat Esther, which is Hebrew for the Scroll of Esther, begins with a description of King Ahasuerus’s empire and leadership. His empire is vast, stretching from what would be from today’s Ethiopia to India. Yet, despite ruling over such far-reaching territories, the king was busy throwing lavish feasts which lasted for extended periods of time (one of them lasted 180 days!). During one of these feasts, and after a lot of food and wine, the king called for his wife, the proud Queen Vashti, to appear. However, Vashti did not appreciate being summoned on demand and refused. When she did not appear, the King became very angry. His advisers, fearing their own wives would take courage from Vashti and might also disobey their husbands, told the king to banish her.
Once Vashti lost her royal position, the king is advised to stage a beauty contest to choose a new wife. The king chooses Esther, a beautiful Jewish orphan whose Hebrew name is Hadassah, as the new queen. However, on the advice of her uncle Mordecai, Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Soon after Esther becomes queen, Mordecai overhears an assassination plot against the King. He reports the conversation to the palace, and the two perpetrators, Bigtan and Teresh, are apprehended. The incident is recorded in the king’s chronicles, and, although Mordecai saved the king’s life, his efforts are not immediately rewarded.
Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king is appointed as the King’s new Prime Minister. Haman quickly passes an edict that all must bow before him. Soon after Mordecai refuses to bow down to him, Haman convinces the king to decree that all Jews be executed. Lots (called “pur”) are cast and a day is chosen for the annihilation of the Jews. The name of the holiday Purim comes from these purim, lottery. That day selected, of course, was the 13th of Adar.
Now Esther, the Jewish woman who has become queen, must plead with the king to save her people. She his initially afraid to approach her husband, but Mordecai convinces her that she must. In preparation for this confrontation, she and her people fast and pray. The Fast of Esther (Ta’anit Esther), during which some Jews fast during the day before Purim starts, is reminiscent of this fast.
Esther then visits the king uninvited, an act punishable by death, and invites the king and Haman to a special feast. However, at the banquet Esther does not answer any of Ahasuerus’s questions and instead requests that the king and Haman attend a second banquet.
Haman is thrilled to be honored with such an invitation. While rushing home to tell his wife Zeresh, he bumps into Mordecai. Seeing Mordecai again incenses him and, urged on by his wife and friends, he erects huge gallows on which he expects to hang Mordecai. At the same time, the king is having trouble sleeping. He finally remembers Mordecai, who had exposed an assassination plot against him and, when he is told that Mordecai was never rewarded, decides to reward him. Haman assumes the King wants to honor him and advises the king that the honoree should be adorned in the king’s robes and crown, paraded through the streets on the king’s horse, and proclaimed as the king’s honored subject. Soon after, Haman discovers that he is the king’s choice to parade Mordecai through the streets of the capital and, humiliated, he carries out the king’s orders. This is the beginning of Haman’s downfall.
When Haman attends Esther’s second banquet, Esther reveals that she is Jewish and foils Haman’s plot to kill her people. The king orders Haman killed and he is hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai. Because Haman’s decree against his Jewish subjects already bears the king’s seal, the king does not rescind it but instead allows the Jews to arm themselves and fight.
The Jews defeated their enemies in the provinces on the 13th of Adar and their enemies in Shushan and in the cities and the 13th and 14th of Adar. For this reason, a day expected to be one of grief and mourning became one of joy and celebration for the Jewish people.
The Megillah of Esther is read in the synagogue on the eve of Purim and again on Purim day. Every Jew is commanded to hear and remember the story of Purim.
On the eve of Purim, the synagogue is the place for the entire family. Children are encouraged to come in full costume. When Haman’s name is read from the Megillah, we are expected to make a lot of noise to drown out the sound of his name. At Rodeph Sholom, after the Megillah is read, the youth groups and clergy stage a Purim schpiel. The schpiel is a humorous play that reenacts and spoofs the story of Purim. It is another link to the joy of Purim.
Ad She Lo Yada (until one does not know)
A third century Babylonian teacher named Rava said that on Purim one should drink enough wine until one does not know the difference between “blessed Mordacai and cursed Haman.”
Despite the fact that the Rabbis frequently tried to curb excessive drinking, Rava’s statement has become a Purim custom, although today it is losing popularity. The Hebrew words for “until one does not know” are “ad lo yada.”
“The victory was on the 13th day of the month of Adar, while the deliverance was realized on the 14th of the month. Whereas the Jews who were in Shushan assembled on the 13th and 14th of the month, and realized deliverance on the 15th of the month, making it a day of feasting and rejoicing.”
– Esther 9:17-18
Because the Jews of Shushan fought against their enemies for an extra day and did not rest until the 15th of Adar, they observed Purim on the 15th of the month rather than the 14th of the month. When the Rabbis instituted Purim, they took into account that Shushan was a walled city and ruled that all cities walled at the time of Joshua would observe Purim as in Shushan. Thus, Purim is observed on the 15th of Adar in Jerusalem, which is the only city that was definitely walled at the time of Joshua. The Megillah is also read on the 15th in other cities in Israel—such as Jaffa and Akko—only as a custom based on a doubt over whether these cities were surrounded by walls at the time of Joshua.
On the Shabbat before Purim we read an additional selection from the Torah, Deut. 25:17-19. It begins with the word Zachor (which means “remember”), commands us to remember what Amalek did to us in the desert, and orders us to blot out his memory. According to tradition, Haman directly descended from Amalek, so it is a Mitzvah to wipe out the memory of Haman. The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, after the first word of the additional reading.
Family Activities for Purim
Make a Purim Gr0gger:
Materials needed: Popping corn or dried beans; pencil; empty juice can (with only 2 holes at the top that were used for pouring); cardboard; scissors; colored felt; household cement; glue.
1.Put a handful of popping corn into the can through the 2 holes. Trace the base of the can onto the cardboard. Cut the cardboard and trim the circle so it fits snugly onto the side of the can with the holes.
2.Trace the base onto the large piece of felt and cut each circle so that it is about 1 inch larger all the way around. You’ll need darts in the felt to stretch it over the ends, so cut them every 2 inches to the correct size of the circle. Glue the felt over each end using household cement Wrap the rest of the can with more felt, trim, and glue it to the can.
3.Decorate the grogger using glue and other colors of felt.
4.Shake and use.
Make a Purim Mask:
Materials needed: balloon; glue; water; newspaper; paints and paint brush; construction paper; aluminum foil; glitter; cotton balls; and yarn.
1.Blow up a balloon so that it is a little larger than the head of whomever will be wearing the mask.
2.In a bowl, combine 1 part glue to about 4 parts warm water and mix thoroughly. Cut strips of newspaper about 1 inch wide and soak them one at a time in the glue mixture and wrap them around the balloon. Cover the balloon completely with two layers of newspaper. Let it dry overnight.
3.When the balloon is dry, cut it in half lengthwise. Now cut two holes in one of the halves for eyes.
4.Paint the outer side of the mask and allow it to dry before decoration with paper, paint, or any other materials.
5.Make holes on either side of the mask to attach pieces of yarn for ties around the head.
6.Wear your mask to the Megillah reading or the Purim carnival!
2/3 cup butter
½ cup sugar
¼ cup orange juice
1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour
Filling: prune, poppy seeds, various preservatives or pie fillings
1.Blend butter and sugar. Add the egg and blend. Add juice and blend. Add flour, ½ cup at a time, alternating white and wheat. Blend.
2.Refrigerate batter for three hours. Roll thin. Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle. Squeeze the corners tightly.
3.Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Design and deliver gift baskets:
1.Prepare and deliver Mishloach Manot baskets to family, friends, hospitals, and retirement homes. A typical basket may consist of fruit, one of more baked goods, sweets, and wine or grape juice. Decorate a basket, plate or paper bag with crayons, markers, glitter, or just about anything else.
2.Matanot L’evyonim (gifts to the poor) is a Purim custom that symbolizes the human role in redeeming and perfecting the world in partnership with God. It is customary to give donations to at least two needy individuals or needy organizations.
Purim will begin on the following days of the secular calendar. Holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the specified date.
Pesach, known as Passover in English, is a major Jewish spring festival, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the seder (meaning “order”) and a festive meal; the prohibition of chametz (leaven); and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread). On the eve of the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, we read from a book called the Hagaddah, meaning “telling,” which contains the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Pesach seder. The Pesach seder is the only ritual meal in the Jewish calendar year for which such an order is prescribed, hence its name.
Day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust.
Join us before the reading of names to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust – a reminder that we have a responsibility to prevent history from repeating itself.
Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzamaut
As is done in Israel we mourn those who have given their lives for Israel’s freedom on Yom HaZikaron, and one day later, celebrate Israel’s independence and our hopes for her strong and peaceful future.
One of the three great agricultural festivals of ancient Israel, Shavuot is originally the feast of the first fruits. The holiday begins the day after our ancestors had finished the counting of the omer, a period of 49 days during which the grain ripened – marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest – 49 days of hope and anxiety, and counted from the night marking the second day of Pesach. The name Shavuot, “Weeks,” then symbolizes the completion of a seven-week journey.
Rabbinic tradition however, connects this harvest festival with the giving of the Torah on Sinai. Thus, Shavuot is also known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. Leviticus 23:21 commands: “And you shall proclaim that day (the fiftieth day) to be a holy convocation…”.
Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. Another tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which symbolizes our commitment to the Torah, and that we are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. Traditionally, dairy dishes are served on this holiday to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the “land of milk and honey”.
Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning and fasting, primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the second by the Romans in 70 CE). In contrast to Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism has never assigned a central religious role to the ancient Temple. Therefore, mourning the destruction of the Temple in such an elaborate fashion did not seem meaningful. More recently, in Reform Judaism Tisha B’Av has been transformed into a day to remember many Jewish tragedies that have occurred throughout history, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
During the High Holy Days we have many opportunities to demonstrate to God that we have made sincere efforts to change our behavior from that which is hurtful or wrong to that which is constructive and healing. We also have many opportunities to reflect on our behavior and ask for God’s help to lead better lives.
Selichot, meaning forgiveness, refers to the penitential prayers recited by Jews prior to the onset of the High Holy Day season. It is a solemn and fitting preparation for ten days of reflection and self-examination. As the month of Elul draws to a close, the mood of repentance becomes more urgent. Many Jews prepare spiritually for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by attending the special Selichot service designed to help worshipers direct their hearts and minds to the process of teshuvah.
The Selichot service is traditionally held on a Saturday evening the week or two preceding Rosh Hashanah, in order to give people a chance to reflect on the changes of behavior that they wish to make. Worshipers begin to examine their deeds of the past year, seeking forgiveness from God, and promising to improve their behavior in the New Year.
A fundamental part of the Selichot service is the repeated recitation of the “Thirteen Attributes”, a list of God’s thirteen attributes of mercy that were revealed to Moses after the sin of the golden calf (Exodus 34:6-7): God , God , God , merciful , and gracious , long-suffering , abundant in goodness  and truth , keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation , forgiving iniquity  and transgression  and sin , who cleanses .
Some of the prayers and music for the Selichot service are taken from the services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This provides a musical transition between the “old year” and the New Year.
Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”) refers to the celebration of the Jewish New Year. The holiday is observed on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which usually falls in September or October, and marks the beginning of a ten-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance, which culminate on the fast day of Yom Kippur. These ten days are referred to as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe or the High Holy Days.
Yom Kippur is the “Day of Atonement” and refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer and repentance. This is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In three separate passages in the Torah, the Jewish people are told, “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.” (Leviticus 23:27). Fasting is seen as fulfilling this biblical commandment. The Yom Kippur fast also enables us to put aside our physical desires and to concentrate on our spiritual needs through prayer, repentance and self-improvement. It is customary in the days before Yom Kippur for Jews to seek out friends and family whom they have wronged and personally ask for their forgiveness.
Sukkot, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts”, refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei, and is marked by several distinct traditions. One tradition, which takes the commandment to “dwell in booths” literally, is to build a sukkah, a booth or hut. A sukkah is often erected by Jews during this festival, and it is common practice for some to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot.
Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
Simchat Torah, Hebrew for “rejoicing in the Law”, celebrates the completion of the annual reading of the Torah. Simchat Torah is a joyous festival, in which we affirm our view of the Torah as a tree of life and demonstrate a living example of never-ending, lifelong study. Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the Torah service, the concluding section of Deuteronomy is read, and immediately following, the opening section of Genesis, or B’reishit as it is called in Hebrew, is read.
Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days. On each night of Chanukah, we light candles, which brighten the dark winter days. We also say the “Al Hanissim” prayer, a special prayer that begins:
We thank You also for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and acts of salvation, wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.
The prayer concludes by recounting the events that led up to the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah. We might expect that the prayer would mention of the “miracle” of the oil, but it does not. Instead, it emphasizes that the miracle was defeating the Greeks and purifying the Temple.
When we celebrate Chanukah, we are also celebrating the determination of our ancestors—the Maccabees—to fight for their Jewish ideals. Chanukah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, commemorates the Maccabean victory over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. After their victory, the Maccabees regained control over Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to the service of God. Chanukah symbolizes the struggle of a people few in number whose religious freedom was at stake to overcome a seemingly overwhelming majority. It is a time for rededication and renewal.
The Chanukah story will not be found in the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, or Writings). It is first told in the Apocrypha’s books of the Maccabees, which is part of post-biblical literature. The story we most commonly associate with Chanukah—the legend of the miracle of the oil—originates in the Babylonian Talmud.
Lighting the Chanukah Candles
In ancient times, there was a difference of opinion as to how to celebrate Chanukah. The students of one Rabbi, Shammai, believed that the celebration of Chanukah should begin with eight candles, taking one away each night. The students of Hillel insisted upon starting with one candle and then adding one more each night. The school of Rabbi Hillel prevailed because “holiness is something that must grow, not diminish.” And the spirit of holiness needs to be communicated and shared. Therefore, it is a Mitzvah to place the Chanukah lights at a window facing the street.
The candles are put in place starting with the right-hand side of the chanukiah (the Chanukah menorah). The shamash candle, the servant candle, is used only to light the other candles. It is lit first and lights the candles from left to right (the last one placed is the first one lit).
When we light the candles, we say three prayers: the prayer over the candles (l’hadlik nayr shel Chanukah), the prayer for the “miracle” of Chanukah (se-asah nisim l’avoteinu), and, on the first night, the Shehechyanu prayer.
On Erev Shabbat (Friday evening), the Chanukah lights are kindled before the Shabbat candles.
It is traditional to eat fried foods, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts), on Chanukah because of the significance of oil to the holiday.
Another Chanukah tradition is playing dreidel, a game played with a spinning square top. Most people play for peanuts, pennies, or gelt (chocolate coins). A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin, which are coincidentally the first letters of the expression “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (“A Great Miracle Happened There”). However, they actually represent the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game.
Want to know more about the history of Chanukah? Read on . . .
In the 4th century, Alexander the Great conquered the Near East and instituted Greek rule over all of Judea and of Israel. While in power, Alexander allowed the Jews to maintain their religious and national autonomy. After his death, the kingdom was divided between the Ptolemies, who ruled in Egypt, and the house of the Seleucids, who ruled in Syria. Both kingdoms fought for control of Judea. In 198 B.C.E. the king of Syria, Antiochus III, conquered Judea and reconfirmed the Jews’ religious and national autonomy.
When Antiochus IV, Antiochus Epiphanes, rose to power in 175 B.C.E. in Greece, the situation changed. As a Hellenist, Antiochus Epiphanes wished to make Jerusalem a Greek city and, therefore, imposed edicts against the Jewish religion, prohibiting Shabbat observance, circumcision and Torah study. He built an altar in the Temple and even forced the Jews to sacrifice to the Greek gods. The Jews became increasingly bitter, which led to the revolt against Greek rule in Judea in 167 B.C.E.
A popular movement arose among those Jews who remained faithful to the Jewish religion and tradition and rejected Greek culture. Calling themselves “Hasidim,” they opposed the domination of Hellenistic culture, which they feared would lead to the destruction of Jewish life.
One family of Hasidim was the Hasmoneans of Modin, who were of priestly descent and were led by their father Mattathias. They took to the hills and then pursued guerilla tactics of attacking small bands of soldiers and hellenized Jews. Mattathias was accompanied by his five sons: Yohanan, Shimon, Judah, Jonathan and Elazar. Many Jews, mainly farmers, gathered around Mattathias and his sons in order to combat the Greeks. Mattathias’ son, Judah Maccabee, led this army to defeat Antiochus’ army and liberate Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E.
On the 25th of Kislev, Judah purified the Temple and arranged for a special rededication. The fighting continued after the Temple was rededicated and Judah Maccabee fell in battle. However, his brothers Jonathan and Shimon carried on his legacy and instituted the Hasmonean dynasty, which reigned until the death of the last Hasmonean king in 37 B.C.E.