Understanding All Those Jewish Holidays in September and October

RABBI DANIEL PERNICK, Campus Ministry

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School begins and then, WHAM! You have a class or a meeting cancelled or moved because of a Jewish holiday. Maybe it even happens more than once. That would not be unusual, since more than half of the first three weeks of the Jewish year feature a holiday.

What is going on? Here is a brief guide to the major holidays taking place over the first twenty-three days of the Jewish new year:

The period from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur is known collectively as “The High Holy Days”. Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year, began on Sunday night, September 13, this year and continued through sundown on Tuesday, September 15. The holiday is filled with prayers for forgiveness and lots of sweet food, in the hope for a sweet year ahead.  The traditional greeting for the holiday is “L’shana tova tikatayvu,” which means “May you be written in the Book of Life for a good year.”

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins on Tuesday evening, September 22, and continues through sundown on Wednesday, September 23. This is a day of self denial and focusing on our sins. It is marked by fasting, prayer and remembering departed loved ones.

Beginning on Sunday evening, September 27, Jews celebrate the joyous festival of Sukkot. This harvest festival recalls how God protected our people in Biblical times during the forty years of wandering through the desert. It is customary to eat some meals and perhaps sleep in a sukkah, a temporary booth, often set up on a porch or a balcony.  These times in the sukkah help to connect us with experience of the Exodus from Egypt.   Blessings are recited over branches of myrtle, willow and palm (known collectively as a Lulav) and the fragrant fruit known as an etrog. This environmentally-conscious festival lasts seven or eight days (depending on one’s denomination and location) and is followed by the joyous festival of Simkhat Torah, a party-like holiday which celebrates the conclusion of the reading of the Torah for the year.  

The Torah is the sacred, handwritten scroll containing the first five books of the Bible. It

is read in the synagogue on every Sabbath, Mondays, Thursdays and other occasions.

With Torah being so central to Judaism, as soon as we reach the end (which tells of the

death of Moses), we renew the cycle by returning to the beginning of Genesis and the

Creation narrative. Simkhat Torah is observed any time from Sunday evening, October 4,

to Tuesday, October 6, depending on one’s denomination and location.

Everyone is welcome to join in these celebrations at local synagogues.  Anyone wishing

to attend at my temple in Pearl River can contact me at dpernick@stac.edu or check the

Temple website for schedule information www.bethamtemple.org.

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