Holidays can mean
different things to different people
Many of us do not belong to a synagogue or a
temple but feel a form of emptiness or longing as a Jewish holiday
For many of you, no Jewish writing or
teaching will dictate how, and there will be no “correct’ way for
you, to celebrate a holiday. Some will look at halacha (Jewish law)
and decide that: if there are relevant biblically ordained
commandments, they must be followed; if they are rabbinically
ordained, they should be followed; and that if the practices are
deemed to be customs, they are optional.
Can the celebrations of the holidays be
relevant to our personal and public lives and consistent with our
What does it mean to be relevant? What is
important to me, for myself, for my family, for my community, for
While many of the holidays have pagan or
nature oriented origins, over time many of them became associated
with historical myths or events, related customs were adopted and
values were adopted as themes.
The holidays occur on the same dates of the
Jewish calendar each year.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar one and consists of twelve 28
day months with one month added 7 times in every 19 year
For example, the lights at Hannukah derive
from primitive winter solstice traditions as people urgently
“prayed” that even though there was less and less sunlight each day,
the sun would not disappear. The eight days for the candles were
connected to the victory of the Macabees. The themes of the story
include integrity, justice, and discrimination
The celebrations of the holidays provide an
opportunity to meaningfully connect to the issues important to you.
These issues may be personal (aging, mental and physical
disabilities, abortion, environmental pollution and intermarriage)
or community (children’s rights, public education, employment
discrimination, urban poverty and homelessness) or global (the war
Israel/Palestine conflict and international human rights).
For Purim one might consider the role and
treatment of women in the family or alcohol and substance
abuse. The theme could be explored in a variety of Jewish writings.
Staff of a local homeless shelter would be in invited to talk about
the needs of the shelter.
For over fifteen years as members of the
Alternative Jewish Community (ARC) havurah, we struggled with the
issue of how to observe the holidays.
You are encouraged to develop your own
approach but here is what we did in our havurah: We first read about
each holiday. (Two valuable resources are The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and
Commentary by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and www.socialaction.com ) We learned
about the roots of the holiday in nature; the historical events
attributed to it; the traditional Jewish readings, prayers and
teachings; the customs and ceremonies; and the themes, issues,
values and morals which have become associated with the
decided what relevance this had to issues in our lives, planned an
observance, undertook our “assignments” for the event and then
participated in what we hoped was a meaningful experience for us and
We believe that if you address your
personal, community and/or global concerns (alone or with your
immediate family, a havurah, a study group or a social action
organization) through the integration of Jewish values, teachings
and practices, you will not only more appreciate the intrinsic value
and worth of Judaism but enjoy, and derive satisfaction from, the
WE HAVE PREPARED
TO HELP YOU DESIGN
OBSERVANCE OF ROSH HASHANAH , THE JEWISH NEW YEAR
OBSERVANCE FOR YOM KIPPUR , THE DAY OF ATONEMENT.
PLEASE CONTACT US FOR ADDITIONAL