The start of the new year brings our annual chance to step out of our daily routines and try to recapture a sense of possibility. Happy birthday, world.
Each year, it's our tradition to gather in song and community at Santa Monica Beach the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for a ritual "casting away" of our missteps, mistakes and bad patterns -- all the things we don't want to bring with us into the New Year.
Intensive self-relection – heshbon hanefesh -- is the name of the game on Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days overall. The centerpiece is teshuvah, the idea that change is possible within all living systems. That’s true for individuals, communities and entire societies. For 25 hours we abstain from food and drink, and we wear white and take an honest look inside to reflect on who we have become and who we could be.
As soon as Yom Kippur ends, we move from the realm of the soul and plant our feet firmly back on the ground. For seven days we eat (and for some, sleep) in a sukkah, a makeshift hut that is just susceptible enough to the elements to remind us of our vulnerability and also the blessings of security.
Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah
Sh’mini/Simhat Torah: The final chapters of the high holies. As the holiday season culminates I an outburst of joy, we affirm that despite hardships we may encounter, the Torah affirms and enriches our lives.
The 8-day festival of lights that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple is an affirmation that we can fix things that are broken, we can heal, and we can rebuild. The essence of the holiday, though, is pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miraculous. We read that as a call to radiate light and hope – an act of holy defiance against darkness.
We celebrate the New Year of the Trees by rejoicing in the beauty of nature and expressing gratitude to God for the environment. We plant trees and eat new fruit and recommit to caring for and protecting the earth so that we can continue to enjoy its gifts.
Purim reminds us of the capriciousness of life, the recognition of the reality that no matter how hard we work to control our lives, no matter how diligently we plan and prepare, life is unpredictable. There is more chaos than order in this world. Amazingly, Judaism tells us to respond to this terrifying reality simultaneously with revelry and with a renewed commitment to social change. We can’t control history, but we must control how we treat humanity.
The Passover story and the Exodus from Egypt holds the deepest truth that Judaism makes about human beings in the world: the eternal possibility that individuals and even entire nations can move from slavery to freedom, from mourning to celebration, from degradation to dignity. It should not be possible to come out of the Passover Seder the same people we were before we went in.
A celebration of the formal establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Israel’s Memorial Day, to honor its fallen soldiers.
Holocaust Remembrance Day - which we mark with reflection, the recounting of survivor testimonies, and, in Israel, a two-minute siren that stops commerce and conversation across the State.
This is the darkest day in the Jewish calendar, on which we remember many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, such as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. It is a day of fasting and sadness and we read the Book of Lamentations.
Coming out of the darkness of Tisha b’Av, the rabbis knew there was only one response: love. Tu b’Av, sometimes called Jewish Valentine’s Day, is a celebration of hope and possibility.
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