Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, celebrates the establishment of Israel. On May 14th of 1948, after proclaiming independence, Ben-Gurion announced the ending of the restrictions on Jewish immigration into Israel; Israel was now open to every Jew who wished to return to Israel. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of recognizing joyous occasions in times of sadness and vice versa, Yom Ha’Atzmaut begins at sundown following Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day.
Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Traditionally observed around the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, this annual day of remembrance commemorates the atrocities perpetuated against Jews and others like the Roma, LGBT individuals, and those who tried to protect the persecuted. It remembers the 6,000,000 Jews and 5,000,000 Roma, LGBT, and others who were systematically murdered as part of Nazi Germany's "final solution."
Passover, or Pesach , is an 8-day holiday (in Israel it’s celebrated for only 7 days) when we commemorate the Jewish People’s redemption from slavery in Egypt thanks to G-d’s miracles. Traditionally, our observance of this festival begins with a Seder, a special meal on the first and second nights.
Purim commemorates the celebration of the Jews in the Persian Empire when they were saved from their aggressor Haman. In the 4th Century BCE, the Jews were ruled by Achashverosh, King of the Persian Empire. While he was no friend to the Jews, his most trusted advisor Haman, was worse. Haman sought out a decree that would allow him to kill all Jews in the land, beginning with a man named Mordechai, who was uncle to the new queen.
Tu B’shevat, meaning the 15th of Shevat, marks the new year of Israel’s trees and, this year, begins on the eve of Wednesday, January 15. By the middle of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the rains that began during Sukkot have absorbed into the soil and we see new growth in the form of fruits. It is a Jewish custom to eat more fruits than usual in an effort to give thanks to G-d for all forms of fruits created.
Hanukkah is the eight-day celebration that marks the triumph of a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, over the Greek Empire, which ruled Babylonia at the time. In the 2nd century B.C.E., the ruling Greeks sought to assimilate the people of Israel, making it illegal to practice some Jewish rituals. But the Maccabees overpowered the Greeks and reclaimed the Holy Temple.
Simchat Torah may be one of the reasons why Jews are referred
to as ‘the People of the Book.’ At the end of the festival of Sukkot,
we celebrate Simchat Torah, ‘rejoicing with the Torah,’ which marks
the completion and rebooting of the weekly Torah reading cycle.
Jewish communities have special celebrations of dancing, singing
and rejoicing with their Torah scrolls as they turn them from Devarim,
the last portion of the Torah describing the end of wandering in the
desert, to Bereshit, the first portion of the Torah and the essential
story of new beginnings...
Sukkot, the first of three pilgrimage festivals and four days
after the High Holidays, helps us experience the uncertainty our
ancestors felt for forty years of desert-wandering and the complete
dependence on G-d for their basic survival. The festival also celebrates the moment in early fall when farmers in
Israel harvest the food that will sustain them, their families and
their communities until the following summer...
No matter where you have navigated, searched or browsed
throughout the year, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur give the Jewish people an opportunity to come home, to
return to who they really are or who they want to be...
During their high school years, most teenagers wrestle with what seems like endless questions, and very few answers. Questions that, as I now look back, allowed me to explore and connect with my heritage and culture, and to develop my Jewish identity.