Rosh Hashannah is a joyous holiday in celebration of a new year filled with new and exciting possibilities. We dip apples in honey, and wish one another a sweet new year.
Rosh Hashannah is also a day of introspection and self-reflection. We listen to the call of the Shofar, which stirs us from our slumber and calls us to action. We consider our actions in this past year, and take steps towards improving upon our past actions in order to better ourselves in the coming year.
Yom Kippur is the day of repentance. It is customary to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes we have made and to work toward forgiving others in preparation for this day. On Yom Kippur, we ask God for forgiveness, as we fast, and pray from the heart.
You shall dwell in booths seven days...that your generations may know that I made the Israelites dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt. - Leviticus 23:42-43
Sukkot is a holiday of great joy and celebration. In ancient days, Israelites would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem in a portion of the first fruits of the new year, as a symbol of thanks for a bountiful fall harvest.
Today, Sukkot is a festival celebrating the protection of Jews were granted as they wandered through the desert.
Typically, Jews live in huts for the 7 days of Sukkot. At Temple Emanu-El, we decorate a beautiful Sukkah, in which we hold sukkot services, eat meals, and shake the lulav (which consists of two willow branches, a palm branch and three myrtle branches) and the etrog (a citris fruit similar to a lemon).
On Simchat Torah we finish our cycle of reading the Torah, and begin reading it once again. A day of great joy, we dance with the Torah and celebrate in the new faces beginning their Jewish education at Temple Emanu-El's religious school.
Named for the Hebrew world for "dedication," Chanukah commemorates the Maccabees' defeat of the Syrians, which led to liberation of the Jews and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. Chanukah also is known as the "Festival of Lights" because of the custom of lighting bright lights in celebration for eight days. Today, this is done most commonly by lighting candles in the nine-branches Chanukah menorah(chanukiyah).
Tu B'Shevat, is the New Year for the Trees or the Jewish Arbor Day. It takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat, which usually falls in February. Most scholars believe it was originally an agricultural festival celebrated just before Spring. Up until around 70 CS, Israelites brought tithes of the first crop to the Temple in Jerusalem on this day. People planted new trees, often in honor of children born in the preceding year.
Today, Jews celebrate Tu B'Shevat by planting trees in their own communities and in the land of Israel through the Jewish National Fund http://www.jnf.org/ .
At Temple Emanu-El, we have a Tu B'Shevat Seder each year, modeled after the Passover Seder. In it, we drink four cups of grape juice, and eat a variety of fruits, while showing God our appreciation for the beautiful world we are blessed to inhabit.
Purim is a day of joy. On it, we read the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther, which tells the story of Jewish survival in the face of our foes. While this is not a unique theme (Chanukah is similar), the Book of Esther is unique in that it is the only book in the Hebrew Bible which does not mention God.
On Purim, everything is turned upside down. Dressing up in costume, drinking, playing pranks and acting silly are all part of the day. Temple Emanu-El has Purim services, a dinner, carnival, and a Purim shpiel (play) bringing the day's fun to a new level.
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) lasts 7 (or 8 days, depending on your community's observance). It commemorates the Hebrews' exodus from their bondage in Egypt towards freedom as they began their journey to the Promised Land.
On Passover, it is customary to have a seder, complete with the retelling of the story, a variety of symbolic foods, such as the matzah, songs, and practices. Temple Emanu-El has a communal Seder on the first night of Passover each year.
From the Hebrew word for "weeks," Shavuot is a reference to the seven weeks it took for the Jews to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai and the declaration of the 50th day as a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:21).
On Shavuot, we read the Ten Commandments, which Moses received at Mount Sinai. We also read the Book of Ruth, which tells an inspiring story of one of the first poeple to convert to Judaism.
It is customary to study texts well into the night.