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 “re-dedication” 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.
Passover is the holiday that reminds the Jewish people that once “we” were slaves in Egypt. Passover tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and about Moses, who (acting as God’s messenger) led the Jews to freedom. From that moment, Jews developed a sense of being a “people.” We went into Egypt as a few families, and left Egypt as a nation.
A Passover Seder is a service and a meal that is woven into one. Seders are tradiitionally held on the first and second nights of Passover. Seder means “order”, and we tell the story in the same order, every year.
The Seder is a reanactment of our liberation. The Hagaddah (the special book that is read at the Seder) reminds us to consider the story as if we were there, and it was our freedom that was won during the Exodus. It is also the way that we turn the story of Passover into an experience for our children and ourselves.
The Seder table is set with specific, ritual items, each symbolizing a part of the story, each with different interpretations:
Charoset: symbolizes the mortar with which the Hebrew slaves in Egypt created and used to build various buildings and cities for the Pharaoh (the King of Egypt). Biblical commentators also saw an indirect reference in the word Charoset to the Hebrew word Charsis or CHeres, meaning “clay” in Hebrew. Charoset is typically made with sweet tasting foods (i.e., apples, honey, raisins, dates, apricots, oranges, etc.).
Maror: a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
Salt Water: to remind us of the tears shed by those enslaved.
Parsley: We dip parsley into salt water. The parsley reminds us that spring is here and new life will grow. The salt water reminds us of the tears of the Jewish slaves.
Roasted (hard boiled) egg: as a symbol of new life.
Shank Bone: can symbolize the outstretched arm that God used in delivering the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. It is either a roasted lamb shank bone or if one is not available, a roasted chicken shank bone or roasted chicken neck. A shank bone or a humerus bone is a long bone in either the arm or the forelimb that runs from the shoulder to the elbow. Vegetarians use a beet instead of a bone.
Matzoh: reminds us that when the Jews left Egypt they had no time to bake their bread. They took the raw dough on their journey and baked it in the hot desert sun into hard crackers called matzoh.
Hagaddah: the special book that tells the story of Passover
(from “Drops of Honey”, a Torahaura production, written by Idie Benjamin and Dales Sides Cooperman)
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.