Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication,” is the Festival of Lights, and is celebrated this year starting with the first night on December 22nd. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah.The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found, with just enough oil to last one day, yet it lasted for eight full days.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and while it is a day to celebrate our creation, it is also a day of accounting and judgment for our actions throughout the year. It is at this time that we look to God as our ultimate judge. The Book of Life is opened (it's not a real book) and we become our own advocates in making sure our names are inscribed for another year.
As difficult as it is, we review the choices we've made over the past year, and we honestly try to evaluate those choices -- what has worked and what hasn't, what our intentions were and what we hope they could be in the new year.
The Shofar is blown like a trumpet during the month of Elul that leads up to Rosh Hashanah, at Rosh Hashanah services and again at the end of Yom Kippur. Hearing the ram's horn is a stark reminder to look inward and repent for the sins of the past year.
Yom Kippur begins the 10th day of Tishrei - or several minutes before sunset on Tuesday, October 8th, until after nightfall on Wednesday, October 9th.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, when we are closest to God. For about 26 hours we abstain from food and drink, do not wash, do not wear leather footwear and abstain from marital relations. We spend the day in synagogue praying for forgiveness.
No work is to be done on Yom Kippur, from the time the sun sets until the stars come out in the evening of the next day.
There are five (5) prayer services:
Maariv: the solemn Kol Nidrei service;
Shacharit: the morning prayer followed by Yizkor;
Musaf: including a detailed account of the Yom Kippur service;
Minchah: reading the Book of Jonah;
Neilah: the "closing of the gates" services at sunset, followed by the shofar blast marking the end of the fast.
We traditionally eat sweet foods to symbolize a sweet new year. Apples and honey, challah, tzimmes, chicken and brisket, pomegranates, leeks and pumpkins are all traditional foods eaten for the holiday.
Interesting tidbit: Challah is a round reminder of the never-ending circle of life.
Even though Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year, there is an undeniable undercurrent of joy. Being immersed in the spirituality of the day leaves us with the confidence that God will accept our prayers, forgive our sins and seal our verdict for a year of health and happiness.
After Yom Kippur we immediately begin planning construction of the Sukkah which we will use to celebrate the joyous holiday of Sukkot, which follows just 5 days later.
Click here to learn more about our beautiful Sukkah.