Festivals are an important part of Jewish life and in the life of every Jew. They play a crucial role in keeping tradition alive, contributing a sense of community and belonging, and reminding us of important historical events – as well as providing the chance for reflection and celebration. The Festivals also allow us to celebrate and commemorate our people’s religious journey within the context of the changing seasons.
The most important Jewish holy days are the Sabbath, the two High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot). It is customary to not work on these days. The High Holy Days call us to account for our deeds during the preceding year. “The Days of Awe” are 10 days which begin on Rosh Hashanah and run till the end of Yom Kippur, and are devoted to introspection, repentance, and atonement for sin. According to Jewish tradition, it is during the Days of Awe that God decides on each person’s fate over the next year. God writes these judgments in “books” on Rosh Hashanah, but they can be changed until the end of Yom Kippur, when the books are “sealed”.
Pesach (Passover) is the holiday that commemorates the Exodus, the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan and and ends on the 21st. It is a joyful time of family togetherness, where the story is handed from generation to generation during a special meal, known as the Seder (Order).
Shavuot, the festival of weeks occurring seven weeks after Pesach, celebrates the gift of Torah. It is commemorated by engaging in study of Torah and Jewish texts late into the night, in addition to the services and Torah readings of the festival. Sukkot is a harvest holiday that lasts for seven days. The festival begins on the 15th of Tishrei and is a transition from the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the joy of a harvest festival. The primary observance associated with Sukkot is the building and dwelling in a temporary shelter, a sukkah, as a way of remembering the time our ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness.
There are other more minor festivals such as Chanukah, Tu B’shvat and Purim, each with special historical and religious significance and specific traditions. For more information about them please find each festival’s unique tab under Holidays and Festivals.