What is this? This is the Jewish Year, which starts in the month of Tishrei, usually September in the British calendar.
The words in purple are the main Jewish Festivals of the year. Move the mouse over them to see a few words about that festival. A click on a festival name will take you to more information about it. To get back to here just click the ‘X’ at the top right of the text box.
Rosh Hashanah means “Head of the Year”
Tishri, the first month of the Jewish Year
Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement
Sukkot and Simchat Torah – The Season of Rejoicing
The Festival of Lights
Purim is a fun day and is celebrated each year on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March or April.
The Festival of Freedom More than 3000 years ago the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. Now every year at Pesach time, which is in March or April, we celebrate our freedom from slavery.
On Shavuot we celebrate the time when the Jews arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה
The month of Tishrei, which usually falls in September, is a very busy time for us.
The first two days of the month are Rosh Hashanah, the New Year or ‘The Head of the Year’.
This is a time to think about the way we behaved last year and how we can become better people this year. We have ten days before the next festival, Yom Kippur, to think about our sins and ask for forgiveness.
Rosh Hashanah is a very special day and, like on Shabbat, we do not do any work. We all go to the Synagogue wearing our very best clothes. We listen to the Rabbi blowing the Shofar, which is a ram’s horn. This is like a wake-up call, waking up our soul and reminding us to return to G-d.
Foods we eat on Rosh Hashanah
• Apple and honey for a fruitful and sweet year
• Pomegranate as their many seeds represent each person is full of good deeds
• A round Challah loaf instead of a long one, symbolising that the year should roll round and be complete.
Detail in depth
Tishrei (Tishri), the first month of the Jewish year (the seventh when counting from Nisan), is full of momentous and meaningful days of celebration. Beginning with the High Holidays, in this month we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Each one is filled with its own meaningful customs and rituals. Some are serious, awesome days set aside for reflection and soul-searching. Some are joyous days full of happy and cheerful celebration.
Yom Kippur יום כפור
The Holiest Day of the Year
Yom Kippur is the day when G-d forgives all our sins.
It is a serious day when we think hard about all the things we have done during the year – all the good things and all the mistakes we have made, and we think about how we are going to change what we do for the better.
We do not eat or drink for twenty-five hours.
We remember our loved ones who have passed away in a special prayer called Yiskor. We think about the good things they did and promise ourselves that we will live in the same positive way.
At the end of Yom Kippur the Ark is opened, we have one last chance to ask for forgiveness and the day ends as the shofar is blown.
The Season of Rejoicing
This eight-day holiday in Autumn is packed with celebrations. When Moses led our people out of Egypt they faced hard times in the desert but G-d protected them and sent them food. On Sukkot we build an outdoor shelter called a sukkah to remind us of G-d’s love and protection. We have lots of fun building the sukkah with branches and leaves for the roof. For eight days we spend as much time as possible in it, eating all our meals there and sometimes sleeping in it.
The Lulav and Etrog
We gather four different types of plants – two branches of willow, three of myrtle and an etrog fruit. We hold them in our hands and say a blessing. While we pray we shake the plants in six directions – North, East, South, West, up and down.
Simchat Torah שמחת תורה
After eight days of sitting and eating in the Sukkah, it is time for the exciting festival of Simchat Torah.
Every Shabbat a section of the Torah is read from the scroll and it takes a whole year to read from the beginning to the end. On Simchat Torah the last part of the Torah is read, the scroll is rolled to the beginning and then the first part is read, but not before the Rabbi and all the men have danced and sung, taking it in turns to dance round the Synagogue with the Torah in their arms. The women dance and clap and throw sweets for the children to catch. The children dance round the Bimah waving colourful flags. Everyone is happy on this day of celebration.
Detail in depth
The Festival of Lights
Chanukah celebrates the victory over the Syrian-Greek army and the miracle of the oil. What happened long ago?
Over two thousand years ago, the Jewish people living in the Syrian-Greek empire were in trouble because the government wouldn’t let them be Jewish. They would not let them pray or do any of the Jewish customs and traditions. The Jewish people did not give in. They met in secret caves to study Torah and when they heard the footsteps of Greek soldiers the youngsters quickly hid their books and started to play games of dreidel, a four-sided spinning top.
In 169 B.C.E., Judah the Maccabee led a small Jewish army into battle against the huge Greek army. The Jewish army won the battle but when they returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they were horrified to find that the Temple had been trashed. The Maccabees got back the Temple but when they went to relight the golden Menorah all they could find was one tiny flask of oil, only enough to last for one day. But it would take eight days to make more purified oil. Then a miracle happened. The oil in the Menorah burned for eight whole days.
Chanukah begins on the 25th day of Kislev (usually around December) and the holiday lasts for eight days. During the eight nights of Chanukah, we remember the miracle by lighting the Chanukiah in our homes and Synagogues. We begin with one light on the first night and we add one each night, until the last night of Chanukah when eight lights are lit. Each night we also have a lighter candle on our Chanukiah.
We place our Chanukiahs in the window so that everyone can see that we are celebrating a victory over oppression. On Chanukah we eat latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts, food that is fried in oil to remind us of that small jar of oil that burned for eight days.
Detail in depth
Purim is a fun day and is celebrated each year on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March or April
What happened over 2000 years ago? The Jewish people were living in exile in Babylonia under the rule of the Persian King Achashverosh. The King’s evil advisor, Haman, convinced him to kill all the Jews. The Jews prayed to G-d for help and it came in the form of a wonderful plan that had everyone fooled.
The King chose a beautiful woman named Esther to be his Queen. What the King did not know was that Esther was Jewish and her cousin was the great Rabbi Mordechai. With her cousin’s guidance, her faith in G-d and her bravery and courage, she saved the whole Jewish nation.
How we remember and celebrate Purim This is a time for dressing up in fancy costumes. Just as the miracle of Purim was hidden, so we hide who we are with masks, wigs and fun outfits.
The story was recorded in a scroll called the Megillah and every Purim we listen to the story read from it in the evening and in the morning. Every time we hear the name of the evil Haman, we shake large rattles (called graggers), stamp our feet and make a lot of noise. After listening to the Megillah, we eat a festive meal that includes hamantaschen, a pastry with three corners like the hat that Haman was said to wear.
Purim is a time when we think about friendship and helping others. We give gifts of food to friends and charity to the needy.
The Festival of Freedom
More than 3000 years ago the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. Now every year at Pesach time, which is in March or April, we celebrate our freedom from slavery.
What happened over 3000 years ago? The Jews were slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh forced them to do hard labour. G-d spoke to Moses. He told him to go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go!” Moses did as G-d said but Pharaoh refused to listen.G-d sent plagues that spread throughout the land of Egypt.
The TEN PLAGUES
4. Wild animals
Still Pharaoh would not let the Jews leave Egypt and so G-d sent down the final and most terrible plague of all: 10. Killing of the firstborn
.The Jewish families had smeared the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so that their firstborn were not killed.
Now Pharaoh told Moses that his people should go. They packed quickly in case Pharaoh changed his mind. They did not even have time to let their bread dough rise. Their bread was baked by the sun on their backs and became Matzah – flat crackers.
Moses led them across the desert towards the Reed Sea, but Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his men to bring them back. When they reached the Reed Sea they were trapped but G-d parted the water so they could escape. When Pharaoh’s men arrived, the water returned and his men were drowned.
How we remember and celebrate Pesach
Before Pesach begins we clean the house making sure there is not even a crumb of bread or cake because these are chametz (leavened food). For the next eight days we will only eat food that is Kosher for Pesach.
On the first and second night of Pesach every Jewish family has a special meal called a Seder, which means order.
Together we read the Haggadah, to remind us of the story of slavery under Pharaoh and the exodus from Egypt. In the centre of the table we have the Seder Plate that has on it a shank bone, egg, bitter herbs, vegetable, and a sweet paste called charoset.
We eat this food to remind us of what happened:
- The Matzah that was baked on our backs;
- The maror (bitter herbs) to remind us of the bitter taste of slavery;
- The charoset (a mixture of nuts, fruit and wine that looks like cement) for the cement and bricks that the slaves used;
- Vegetable dipped into salt water for the bitter tears;
- Four cups of wine to celebrate our freedom;
The holiday of Shavuot is on 6th and 7th days of Sivan, usually around June. It is forty-nine days after Pesach when the Jewish people left Egypt.
On Shavuot we celebrate the time when the Jews arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. Moses spent forty days on the mountain where he was taught the entire Torah and was given two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them.
The whole Jewish nation gathered round Mount Sinai and heard G-d say the Ten Commandments.
Every year, on Shavuot, we decorate the Synagogue with flowers and gather together in the Synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments being read out loud. This is to show that we have renewed our acceptance of G-d’s gift to us, the gift that we received from Him over 3,300 years ago.
The Ten Commandments
- 1. I am your G-d.
- 2. Do not have other gods.
- 3. Do not use G-d’s name in vain.
- 4. Keep Shabbat holy.
- 5. Honour your parents.
- 6. Do not murder.
- 7. Do not act unfaithfully in marriage.
- 8. Do not steal.
- 9. Do not lie.
- 10. Do not be jealous of other people’s things.
After we have heard the Ten Commandments, we share a lunch of dairy with lots of cheesecake and ice cream.
People meet to study the words of the Torah and their meaning. Sometimes they stay up all night on Shavuot studying.
Detail in depth