Temples, synagogues, chapels are the structures we create to provide familiar, comforting, warm, even beautiful surroundings in which we address our spiritual needs. But, as with anything and everything that humans create, they are all temporary. Everlasting are the Sacred Times when we address the Eternal One. Those times when we leave the mundane, everyday routines of our lives, to join our family and friends, and (metaphorically) the generations of our ancestors and future progeny in meditation and prayer.
Hadlakat Neirot/Candle Lighting – We encourage all congregants to light Shabbat and Festival candles at the times listed on the calendar, which are the customary 18 minutes before sundown.
The very first chapter of Torah describes the first six days of Creation. Chapter 2 continues:
Completed now were heaven and earth and all their host. On the seventh day, God had completed the work that had been done, ceasing then on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, and ceased from all the creative work that [God had ] chosen to do.
The word קדש —holy—appears for the first time in describing the seventh day. As Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed and He hallowed the seventh day.”
(Heschel, the SABBATH, it’s meaning for modern man)
For six days we work, we create, we carry on our business, but on the seventh, Shabbat, we cease from all these and appreciate our freedom from the pressures of the material world. It is the day the Creator has gifted us the freedom to contemplate the greater purpose of our existence.
Rosh Chodesh – Judaism is based on a lunar calendar. Each month begins with the appearance of the new moon. The first of each new month is an occasion for special prayers and celebration. It is called Rosh Chodesh (the head of the month) and is observed for one or two days. Rosh Chodesh is announced in the synagogue on the preceding Sabbath with a special Prayer for the New Month.
Rosh HaShanah – The first of the month of Tishrei marks the beginning of the New Year and of the ten day period of self-examination which continues through Yom Kippur. The Torah designates this as a day of memorial, proclaimed with the blast of the Shofar. Rabbinic tradition identifies Rosh HaShanah as Judgment Day, with the image of God as Judge about to inscribe human beings, according to their deeds in the Book of Life.
The afternoon concludes with Tashlich at the home of our congregants. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are one’s sins symbolically carried away. In this way we hope to start the New Year with a clean slate.
For the second day of Rosh HaShanah, our morning service includes blessings of babies who have been born in the past year. For our congregants whose new grandchildren or great-grandchildren live out of town, we invite them to bring photos of their little ones and join the clergy on the bimah to share in this special moment of new beginnings. A special gift goes to each child. The public is invited to join us for services on the second day of the New Year.
Kol Nidre is the opening prayer and the name for the evening service that begins Yom Kippur, meaning “all vows.” We hear this beautiful beloved melody at the beginning of the service played on the cello, and then sung by the Cantor and professional choir.
Yom Kippur – occurs on the tenth of Tishrei and is the culmination of the ten days of repentance. Known as the Day of Atonement, it is a day of concentration on the past, so that the future may be better for us as individuals and as a community. It is a day devoted totally to self-examination, confession and atonement, with reconciliation as the goal of the day’s prayers and fast.
Our Yizkor (memorial) service is open to the community. Neilah is the concluding service of Yom Kippur which is followed by a break-the-fast prepared by our Brotherhood.
Sukkot – The Feast of Tabernacles begins on the fifteenth of Tishrei and concludes on the twenty-second with Atzeret/Simchat Torah. Sukkot is the fall harvest festival and the commemoration of the journey of the Jewish people through the wilderness toward the land of Israel. Sukkot is designated as the season of rejoicing. We build a sukkah that is decorated by our School of Early Learning and Mensch Lab children; it is used for services and meals throughout the week-long holiday. Students newly-enrolled in our Mensch Lab are invited to participate in an evening service that includes Consecration, special blessings just for them. They receive a miniature Torah, symbolic of the studies they are just beginning.
Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah – As Sukkot comes to an end, we encounter additional special days in the Jewish calendar: Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Sh’mini Atzeret, Hebrew for “eighth-day convocation,” is the name given to the eighth day of Sukkot. Leviticus 23:36 proclaims: “On the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation.” Jews in biblical times observed Sukkot for seven days. The eighth day of Sukkot, Sh’mini Atzeret, is traditionally a separate festival in its own right. In Reform congregations, which generally observe one day of holiday, rather than two, Sh’mini Atzeret is observed concurrently with Simchat Torah, the festival of “Rejoicing in the Torah.”
Simchat Torah celebrates the end (and the beginning) of the annual Torah-reading cycle. Just as we reach the concluding section of Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Torah), we start over once again with Genesis (the first book of the Torah). Simchat Torah is a joyous celebration during which the Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried by congregants around the synagogue seven times. Those not carrying Torahs wave brightly colored flags and sing Hebrew songs. Here, on Erev Simchat Torah, children (and their families) who will become Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the year that has just begun, participate in a special ceremony. The entire Torah is unrolled, supported literally by each Bar/Bat Mitzvah family.
Chanukah – begins on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev and lasts for eight days. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the forces of the Syrian tyrant Antiochus and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The nightly kindling of the Chanukiah with its increasingly brighter light has become a symbol for both our physical and spiritual resistance to tyranny and assimilation. We proudly celebrate Chanukah with the community by lighting a 9-foot tall outdoor Chanukiah (menorah).
Tu B’Shevat – The fifteenth day of Shevat is designated by the Mishnah as “Rosh HaShanah L’Iylanot,” the New Year for Trees. It is a minor holiday, known as Jewish Arbor Day and it is customary to eat fruits grown in Israel. Our Mensch Lab students enjoy age-appropriate Tu B’Shevat programming, incorporating environmental/ecological themes.
Purim – occurs on the fourteenth day of Adar. It is a celebration of the events described in the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther). It focuses on the theme of survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of their enemies to destroy them – survival and triumph over evil and tyranny. Purim is a happy holiday with its joyous carnival-like atmosphere, so we hold a Purim Carnival with games and prizes for children of all ages on the Sunday morning closest to the holiday. Our celebrations include adult and student Megillah readings during which we shake groggers (noise makers) whenever the name of evil Haman is read.
Pesach – (Passover) begins on the fifteenth of Nisan and lasts seven days. It commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. The highlight of Pesach is the Seder with its many symbolic foods and the eating of unleavened bread, its elaborate liturgy of the Haggadah which reflects the historic experience of the Jewish people. It is a mitzvah to recite Yizkor on the concluding seventh day of Pesach.
Lag B’Omer – This is the 33rd day of the Omer. The period between Pesach and Shavuot is known as Sefirah “counting”, or “Sefirat Ha-Omer”, “counting the wave offering”. This is considered a period of semi-mourning because, according to Talmudic tradition, 12,000 of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples were killed between Pesach and Shavuot (135 C.E.), but these deaths miraculously ceased on the 33rd day of counting.
Shavuot – occurs on the sixth of Sivan. The name Shavuot (weeks) is derived from its celebration seven weeks (a week of weeks) after Pesach. Current observance is based on the events at Sinai and is referred to as the season of the giving of the Torah. On Shavuot we celebrate our covenantal relationship with God and reaffirm our commitment to a Jewish life of study and mitzvot. Thus, the Reform Movement initiated a Confirmation ceremony for post Bar/Bat Mitzvah age students in the 10th grade to affirm their relationship to Judaism. This ceremonial affirmation remains a vibrant and integral part of the Beth Am Mensch Lab experience. Yizkor is observed on Shavuot memorializing our deceased relatives and friends and the martyrs of our people.