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Jewish Life & Learning: Resources

The Jewish Calendar

"There was evening and there was morning, one day." - Genesis 1:5
From this passage, Jews infer that rather than lasting from sunrise to sunset, a "day" begins at sunset and ends the following sunset.

This is why the J closes early on the "eve" of a days that we are closed for a holiday. Between April 1 and September 30, we close at 7:00 pm. If a holiday falls between Oct 1 and March 31, we close at 6:00 pm. While these hours may not correspond exactly with sunset, our early closure is our way of honoring the sacred time.

Our Weekly Rest: Shabbat
Lit. “sabbath”, lasting from Friday to Saturday, sunset to sunset.

  • Shabbat is a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. Jews are commanded to "remember and observe” the Sabbath according to their level of observance and what they find to be meaningful. This may take the form of attending worship services on Friday evening and Saturday, refraining from any manner of work, and/or “simply” enjoying a joyful meal with friends and family.
  • To welcome Shabbat, it is customary to light candles, traditionally two, but many families personalize this ritual by lighting more; to say a blessing over wine, and to say a blessing over specially braided egg bread called challah. It is also traditional to give tzedakah (lit. “righteousness”, but more commonly translated as charity), to sing songs, and to bestow blessings on loved ones.

    TIME: Every week of the year, beginning at sunset on Fridays and ending when there are "
    3 stars in the sky" on Saturday evening.

    SYMBOLS: The Torah, challah, wine, candles.
Shabbat begins at sunset, which is why the J closes early on Friday. Between April 1 and September 30, we close at 7:00 pm. and between Oct 1 and March 31, we close at 6:00 pm. While these hours may not correspond exactly with sunset, our early closure is our way of honoring the sacred time.

Rosh Hashana

 Evening, October 2  - Evening October 4, 2016 

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Lit. "Head of the year." Rosh Hashana is the new year for the purpose of counting years.

  • Rosh Hashana is a highly spiritual holiday contrasting starkly with secular new year celebrations.
  • Jews gather in synagogue for personal and communal worship and to hear the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) announce the new year. In the spirit of prayerful self-reflection, gratitude and hope, they look forward to a year in which they are granted health and shalom (peace).
  • The ritual of tashlich (casting off) is traditionally performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana. Prayers are recited near natural flowing water and one's sins are symbolically cast into the water.
  • Rosh Hashana ushers in 10 days of "relationship building" - seeking forgiveness from others and from God for past sins, forgiving others for sins against us and seeking to become closer to God through righteous behavior.

    TIME: September or October;

    SYMBOLS: Shofar to awaken us to the new year; Torah, apples and honey for a sweet new year.
Rosh Hashana begins at sunset, so the J closes at 6:00 pm on Sunday, Oct. 2 and then we are closed for TWO days (October 3 & 4). It is customary for people to wish each other a good year and to express the hope that friends will be "written into the book of life" for the next year. We often offer apples and honey for a sweet new year.

Yom Kippur

Evening, October 11 - Evening, October 12, 2016

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Lit. "Day of Atonement," Yom Kippur is considered to be the holiest day of the Jewish year.

  • Yom Kippur us marked by a sunset to sunset fast and synagogue worship focused on repentance for past sins, forgiveness of others who have sinned against us, gratitude for God's mercy and a commitment to improved behavior in the future. Friends and families often gather after sunset to break the fast.
  • TIME: Yom Kippur takes place 10 days after Rosh Hashana.

    SYMBOLS: Torah, Shofar
Yom Kippur begins at sunset, so we close at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, October 11 and remain closed on Wednesday, October 12. It is common for people to wish each other a meaningful fast.


Evening, October 16 - Evening, October 17

(Traditional: October 23), 2016

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Lit. "booths," or flimsy, portable huts reminiscent of the shelters built by ancient Jews when they wandered through the desert prior to entering the land of Israel.

  • Sukkot is a joyous holiday marked by the construction of temporary outdoor huts or sukkot (singular: sukkah)  in which friends and families gather for meals, and more traditionally, to live in. The tops of the sukkah must not completely obscure a view of the sky, and one wall must be open for guests to enter. This open and insecure structure remind us of the years in which Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to Canaan and causes us to consider our own vulnerability.  Sukkot is also a  fall harvest holiday. 
  • It is traditional to wave arba minim ("4 species of plants): an etrog (similar to a lemon, native to Israel); a palm branch, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches. Collectively, the four plants are called a lulav (palm, the largest of the species). The lulav is waved in all six directions - up, down, back, front, left and right, while we recite a blessing acknowledging that God is everywhere.
  • TIME: Five days after Yom Kippur, in September or October; Sukkot lasts for seven days. The two days following the festival, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah  are separate holidays but are related to Sukkot and are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.
  • SYMBOLS: Sukkah and lulav
Sukkot begins at sunset, so the J closes at 6:00 pm on Sunday, October 16.  We closed for the first day, October 17 and the eighth day, which is more correctly the first day after the holiday of Sukkot--an additional holiday called  Shemini Atzeret  (October 24).

Simchat Torah

Evening, October 24 - Evening October 25, 2016

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Lit. "Joy in the Torah." Simchat Torah celebrates the end of the annual cycle of reading Torah portions. On this day, the last portion in the Torah is read, and immediately the cycle is begun again as the first Torah portion is read.

  • Jews gather in synagogue to read the very last, and then the very first Torah portions, accompanied by parades and joyous dancing with the Torah.
  • TIME: Two days after the last day of Sukkot, one day after Shemini Atzeret, in September or October.
  • SYMBOLS: The Torah
Simchat Torah begins at sunset on a day we are already closed--Shemini Atzeret --and ends at sunset on Monday, October 25. We are open on the 25th so watch for preschoolers parading throughout the main floor of the campus!


Evening December 24 - Evening  December 31, 2016

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Lit. "dedication." Chanukah is a religiously minor holiday, but culturally, a very important holiday commemorating the ancient victory of a band of Jewish zealots (the Maccabees) over a much larger Syrian-Greek army. The Jews regained their holiest site, the Temple in Jerusalem and re-dedicated it to Jewish worship. Jewish tradition holds that during the process of cleaning the Temple, a portion of oil, necessary for the re-dedication, was found and burned miraculously for 8 days.

  • Gathering with friends and family to light a chanukiah (nine-branched candelabrum - one to hold a candle for each night of the holiday plus a shamash ("servant" candle used to light the others). On the first night, the shamash lights one candle; on the second night, the shamash lights the frst candle and one more, etc. until on the eighth night, the servant lights all eight candles. It is traditional to place the Chanukia, in the window so that it is visible to the world.
  • Chanukah is a joyous holiday marked by festive meals featuring fried foods (evoking the miracle of the oil, playing games with dreydels (spinning tops) and exchanging gifts for eight nights.
  • TIME: November or December. Lasts eight days.
  • SYMBOLS: Chanukiah, candles, dreydels, fried foods particularly latkes (fried potato pancakes and sufganiyot (doughnuts).
Because Chanukah is a minor holiday, there is no interruption in programming at the JCC. Watch for special community events, chanukiot in the building, gelt, chocolate shaped like coins and covered in gold foil!


Evening March 23 - Evening March 24, 2016

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Lit. "lots" (as in "lotteries") Purim commemorates the defeat of a plot to exterminate the Jews in ancient Persia.

  • Jews gather in synagogue to hear the story of how the beautiful queen Esther mustered the courage to carry out a plan to prevent the death of Jews (herself included). Traditionally the story is read from a sacred text, but just as often it is much more informally presented as a raucous tale, parody, musical or children's play. In every case, each time the villain in the story is mentioned (his name is Haman), the audience makes noises so that no one can hear his name.
  • Along with hearing the story, we are commanded to eat (particularly, hamentaschen, cookies made in triangles to look like Haman's hat); drink and be merry. In fact, we are to drink until we can't tell the difference between the villain Haman and Queen Esther's heroic uncle Mordechai.
  • TIME: March or April
  • SYMBOLS: Hamentaschen, groggers (music makers to drown out the name of the villain); masks and spirits
There is no interruption in programming at the JCC. We decorate and not infrequently dress in costume to create a playful atmosphere and we may distribute hamentaschen.



Evening April 22 - Evening, April 30, 2016


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Lit. "to pass through, be exempt from." Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the passage from freedom to slavery as first steps twoard peoplehood..

  • On the first night of Pesach (first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), Jews gather in homes to retell the story of the exodus--the escape from slavery in Egypt, under Moses's leadership) according to a script called the Haggadah (the story). There are thousands of versions of haggadot (pl. of haggadah), as this is perhaps the most widely observed holiday in the Jewish calendar.
  • In conjunction with hearing the story/following the script, Jews partake in a ceremonial meal called a seder ("order"). The seder includes foods which symbolize our history and the spirit of the season.
  • For the duration of the holiday, seven or eight days (see TIME, below), we are prohibited from eating food including anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that have not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after first coming into contact with water. Collectively these grains, or foods containing them, are referred to as chametz.
  • TIME: March or April. Jews differ regarding the timing of the holiday. In Israel and among many Jews outside of Israel, the holiday lasts for seven days and Jews are to refrain from work on the first and seventh days. More traditionally observant Jews outside of Israel observe the holiday for eight days and refrain from work on the first, second, seventh and eighth days.
  • SYMBOLS: Food at the seder table: matzoh (unleavened bread, representing extreme humility, as well as the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt, so that there was no time for their bread to rise; burnt egg, representing re-birth; greens representing spring, shank bone reminding us of the sacrifices offered to God in contrition or for health, happiness and prosperity; bitter herbs and also saltwater, representing the bitterness and the tears of our ancestors in slavery. Matzoh is the most prominent symbol, as it is used to replace bread in a wide variety of dishes.

Passover begins at sunset and Jewish staff members are permitted to leave in the early afternoon to prepare for seders. We're closed the first (April 23) and seventh (April 29) days of the holiday. Aside from observing Passover dietary restrictions at meetings and events, we operate business as usual on the days in between, except on the second and eighth days, which are observed by more traditional Jews in our community. We do not offer schedule special events, meetings or classes on the second and eighth days if even one person would be absent because of his/her observance of Passover. In addition, you will see that vending machines offering food that does not comply with the strict dietary laws in effect during Passover will be turned off.


Evening, June 11 - Evening, June 14, 2016

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Lit. "weeks" Shavuot takes place 7 weeks and one day, (50 days) after the second day of Passover. It commemorates the Jews receiving the Torah and is also a spring harvest festival.

  • It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah as a community.
  • It is also customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot.
  • TIME: May or June. In Israel and among many Jews outside of Israel, the holiday lasts for one day. More traditionall observant Jews outside of Israel observe the holiday for two days.
  • SYMBOLS: The Torah; dairy foods, fruits that are grown in Israel.
Shavuot begins at sunset on Saturday, June 11, then we are closed for one day (Sunday, June 12).

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