Rosh Haahanah (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 Yamin 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.
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, meaning "dedication" in Hebrew refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Macabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the chanukiah, a special menorah for Chanukah; unique foods, latkes and jelly doughnuts; and special songs and games.
Tu BiSh'vat or the "New Year of the Trees" is Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday is observed on the fifteenth (tu) of Sh'vat. Scholars believe that Tu BiSh'vat was originally an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.C.E. this holiday was a way for Jews to symbolically bind themselves to their former homeland by eating foods that could be found in Israel. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century Kabbalists created a ritual for Tu BiSh'vat similar to the Passover seder. Today, Tu BiSh'vat has also become a tree planting festival in Israel, in which both Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of a loved one or friend.
Purim is celebrated by the reading of the Scroll of Esther, known in Hebrew as the Megillat Esther, which relates the basic story of Purim. Under the rule of King Ahashuerus, Haman, the King's prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of the land from destruction. The reading of the megillah is typically a rowdy affair, which is punctuated by booing and noisemaking when Haman's name is read aloud.
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
Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on the 27th of Nissan. "Shoah", which means catastrophe or utter destruction in Hebrew, refers to the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish people during World War II. This is a memorial day for those who died in the Shoah
Yom Ha'atzma-ut, Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April.
Shavuot is a Hebrew word meaning "weeks" and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot, like so many other Jewish holidays began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. Shavuot was distinguished in ancient times by bringing crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Tisha B'Av, which means the "Ninth of Av", refers to a traditional day of mourning the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem. 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.