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Jewish Holidays

holiday-celebrationsLearn about the Jewish holidays and observances

  • Jewish holidays follow the Hebrew lunar calendar, so holidays change date from year to year.
  • Jewish holidays always begin and end at sundown.
  • The holidays are listed here in chronological order (i.e., Rosh Hashanah is the first holiday on the Jewish calendar).

Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

The Jewish High Holidays

The Jewish High Holidays, also called the Days of Awe or the 10 Days of Repentance, refer to the 10 day period which begins on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and ends on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). These solemn days are considered a time to reflect on the past year, ask forgiveness, and pray for a good year to come.

Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiRosh Hashanah

What is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”) is the celebration of the Jewish New Year, and is observed on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This year marks the Jewish Year 5779. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated from sundown on

Sunday, September 9 until sundown Tuesday, September 11, 2018.

How do I say it?
ROSH hah SHA nah

How is it celebrated?
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by many different customs including attending synagogue, hearing the shofar, sending and receiving greeting cards, eating round challah*, dipping apples in honey to signify the hope for a sweet new year, and symbolically casting away sins by throwing breadcrumbs into a body of water.

What is the holiday greeting?
Wish someone a happy new year in Hebrew! Simply say “Sha NAH toh VAH: May you have a good year.”

Yom Kippur

What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur is the Jewish “Day of Atonement” and refers to the annual observance of fasting, prayer, and repentance. This solemn day is a time to reflect on the past year, ask forgiveness from the Divine and anyone else who one may have wronged, and pray for a good year to come.

This is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The central themes are:

Acknowledging personal misdeeds and falling short of one’s potential.
Asking those we’ve wronged for forgiveness.
Praying for forgiveness.

Once our misdeeds are recognized, we commit to do better in the future.

When is Yom Kippur?
This year, Yom Kippur is celebrated from sundown Tuesday, September 18 until sundown Wednesday, September 19, 2018.

How do I say it?

How is it observed?
Yom Kippur is observed by listening to the shofar*, fasting from food and drink for the entire 25 hours of the holiday, refraining from pleasurable and social activities, praying/asking for forgiveness, and silent confession.

What are the holiday greetings?
Greet someone for Yom Kippur in hebrew by saying “Tzohm Kal:  May you have an easy fast,” or “Geh MAR  khah tee mah  TOH vah: May you be inscribed for a good life.”

*Shofar: an ancient musical instrument crafted from a ram’s horn. Hearing the sound of the shofar is one of the highlights of the service in the synagogue. It is customary for 100 blasts to be sounded in the course of the Rosh Hashanah service.

*Challah: an egg bread eaten on the Sabbath and other festive times. Usually, challah is shaped into a long braided loaf. On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat the same bread, but in a round shape symbolizing the cyclical nature of life.

Sukkot & Simchat Torah

Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiSukkot

What is Sukkot?
Sukkot, the Fall harvest festival, is named after the booths or huts in which Jews are supposed to “live” during this week-long holiday. The booths are to be a physical reminder of the flimsy houses the Israelites lived in during the 40-year journey through the desert toward the land of Israel. Eating and living in this temporary structure–called a sukkah*–helps people focus on the important things in life, and helps one separate from material possessions.

When is it?
Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur. This year, Sukkot is celebrated from sundown Monday, September 24 until sundown, Monday, October 1, 2018. It concludes with a holiday called Simchat Torah – a celebration of the Hebrew Bible (Torah).

How do I say it?
soo KOHT

How is it celebrated?
Sukkot is observed by building a temporary dwelling called a sukkah* and focuses on welcoming guests, caring for the environment, and taking time to be joyful. The lulav* and etrog* are ritual objects that are used only during Sukkot. Held together, the lulav and etrog are waved in many directions while reciting a special blessing. The act represents, among other things, life, rebirth, and respect for the earth.

What is the holiday greeting?
KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh: joyous festival

Simchat Torah

What is it?
Simchat Torah is a one-day holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah.

When it is?
This year, Simchat Torah is celebrated from sundown

Monday, October 2 until sundown Tuesday, October 3,2018 depending on observance.

How do I say it?
sim-khat to-RUH

How is it celebrated?
Simchat Torah begins in the evening and involves raucous dancing and singing with Torah scrolls. Children parade around on parents’ shoulders and wave homemade flags. The holiday focuses on joyful celebration of Jewish life and the importance of the Torah to Jewish culture.

What is the holiday greeting?
KHANG say-MEJHY-ahkh: joyous festival

*Etrog: a citrus fruit that looks similar to a lemon

*Lulav: a bundle of willow, palm, and myrtle branches.

*Torah: the first five books of the Hebrew bible.

*Sukkah: A sukkah is a temporary structure with at least three sides and a roof made out of thatch or branches. The roof should provide some shade or protection from the sun, but still allow you to see the stars at night. A sukkah can be built out of wood, fabric, tarps, metal, or anything else you happen to have lying around the house. Traditionally the sukkah is decorated with everything from posters to gourds to paper chains. Meals are eaten in the sukkah (weather permitting) and many people choose to sleep there, too.


Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiHanukkah

What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E after the military victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greco-Syrians who had made it illegal for Jews to worship.

Legend tells us that when the Macabees regained control of the Temple, they found only enough oil to light the menorah* for one day. The oil miraculously lasted for 8 days, and so Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 days.

When is it?
This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from sundown Monday, December 3 until sundown, Monday, December 10, 2017.

How do I say it?

How is it celebrated?
On each night, an additional candle on the Hanukkah menorah is lit. Many families exchange gifts, foods that are fried in oil, such as latkes* and sufganiyot* are special treats.

What is the holiday greeting?
Happy Hanukkah or KHANG say-MEHY-ahkh: joyus festival

*Dreidel: a spinning top with Hebrew letters that stand for “A Great Miracle Happened There”

*Gelt: chocolate coins often given as gifts

*Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiyah: a 9-branched candelabra

*Latkes: potato pancakes

*Sufganiyot : jelly donuts

Tu B'Shevat

Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiTu B’Shevat

What is Tu B’Shevat?
Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. “Tu” is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat marks the beginning of planting season in Israel.

When is it?
This year, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated on Wednesday, January 21st, 2019.

How do I say it?
TOO beesh-VAHT

How is it celebrated?
Around the world, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated in several ways that connect people to the land and its produce. It is a day to remember the environment by doing activities related to reducing, reusing, and recycling materials. One can plant seeds, especially parsley, which can grow in time to be used at the Passover meal two months from now. It’s also common to eat some of the seven fruits and grains native to the land of Israel, called the Seven Species: wheat, barley, pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, and grapes.

A Tu B’Shevat Seder, a special ritual meal similar to the Passover Seder, is a practice started by Jewish mystics (Kabbalists) in the 16th century. During the Seder, the seven species are eaten and four cups of wine (or grape juice) are drunk. Each food and cup represents different aspects of the Seder and aspects of Creation.

What is the holiday greeting?
Happy Tu B’Shevat or KHANG say-MEHY-ahkh: joyous festival


Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiPurim

What is Purim?
Purim is a fun and celebratory holiday that commemorates the Jewish people’s survival against great odds, as chronicled in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. In the Purim story, the brave Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordecai save the Jewish people from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. Purim elevates laughter to a religious category. It falls in late Winter, near the vernal equinox. Purim is sometimes considered the Jewish equivalent of Mardi Gras, a giddy outburst of energy and excess.

When is it?
This year, Purim is celebrated from sundown, March 21, 2019.

How do I say it?

How is it celebrated?
Purim is celebrated by reading the Book of Esther story from the Bible, dressing in costume, sharing gifts of food and Hamentaschen* with friends (mishloach manot), and donating food to those in need (mishloach l’evyonim).

What is the holiday greeting?
KHANG say-MEHY-ahkh: joyous festival

*Hamantaschen: Triangle-shaped, fruit-filled cookies reminiscent of Haman’s 3-cornered hat.


Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiPassover

What is Passover?
Passover is an eight-day spring holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery and their exodus from Egypt.

The story of the exodus begins with the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt by the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh. Fearing the growth of the Israelite population, Pharaoh decreed that all newborn Jewish males should be thrown into the Nile River and drowned. One mother, Yocheved, saved her son, Moses by hiding him in a basket and placing it among the reeds. Pharoah’s daughter found Moses and raised him in the royal household.

After growing up, one day Moses noticed an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster, and killed the taskmaster. He fled to the desert and lived as a shepherd. God spoke from a burning bush, and asked Moses to go back to Egypt to lead the Israelites to freedom. With his brother Aaron at his side, Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Pharaoh continually refused as God sent a series of 10 plagues culminating with the death of the firstborn. The Israelite firstborn sons were spared from death because the Israelites marked their doorposts and the Angel of Death “passed over” their homes. Pharaoh then allowed the Israelites’ release, but soon sent his army after them. God performed the miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds so that the Israelites could pass through.

When is it?
This year, Passover is celebrated from sundown, Friday, April 20 through sundown, Saturday,  April 27, 2019.

How do I say it?
English: Passover; Hebrew: Pesach (PAY-sach)

How is it celebrated?
Passover is the most widely observed holiday in Jewish tradition. During the Passover week, people refrain from eating certain foods including grain that has been leavened (bread).

Each Passover, Jews retell this story of the exodus at a festive meal called a seder. Using a special book called a Haggadah, people eat symbolic foods, including an unleavened, cracker-like bread called matzah, and a special fruit paste called charoset. Families invite guests to join the seder meal where they sing songs, and recite blessings as they reflect on the meaning of freedom. Children have an important role in the Seder. The youngest asks Four Questions which lead to the retelling of the story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery. There are songs, blessings, and reflections on the meaning of freedom.

What is the holiday greeting?
Happy Passover or KHANG say-MEHY-ahkh: joyous festival

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

What is Yom HaShoah?
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, is an international day of commemoration for the six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. It was officially instituted as a public holiday in 1953 by then Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.

When is it?
This year, Yom HaShoah is commemorated from sundown Wednesday,May 1 – sundown, May 2, 2019. These days correspond to the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar.

How do I say it?

How is it commemorated?
Yom HaShoah is usually commemorated with a public ceremony filled with songs, poems, a memorial candle lighting, and testimonies by Holocaust survivors or their descendants.

Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom HaShoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion. The siren blows at sundown and once again at 11:00 A.M. on this date. All radio and television programs during this day are connected in one way or another with the Jewish destiny in World War II, including personal interviews with survivors. Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom HaShoah. There is no public entertainment on Yom HaShoah, as theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel.

Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day)

Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day)

What is Yom HaZikaron?
The day preceding Israel’s Independence Day, was declared by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) to be a Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israel’s armed forces. Joining these two days together conveys a simple message: Israelis owe the independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.

When is it?
This year, Yom HaZikaron is observed from sundown,Tuesday, May 7 through Wedensday, May 8, 2019, which corresponds to the 4th of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar.

How do I say it?
YOHM ha-zee-ka-ROHN

How is it observed?
The Israeli Memorial Day is different in character and mood from the American Memorial Day. In Jewish communities across the world, it is observed by holding a public ceremony filled with readings, poems, and songs for those who have fallen.

In Israel, for the 24 hours of the holiday, all places of public entertainment are closed. The most noticeable feature is the sound of a siren that is heard throughout the country twice, during which the entire nation observes a “standstill” of all traffic and daily activities (similar to Holocaust Memorial Day the previous week). The first siren marks the beginning of Memorial Day at 8pm, and the second is at 11am, before the public recitation of prayers in the military cemeteries. All radio and television stations broadcast programs portraying the lives and heroic deeds of the fallen.

Yom HaZikaron was established as one of four modern civil Israeli holidays. By design, it is scheduled right before Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut). The official “switch” from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown, with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in which the Israeli flag is raised from half-staff to the top of the pole. Scheduling the two holidays so closely together is intended to remind people of the sacrifice soldiers and their families have paid for Israel’s independence and security. It also connects to the Jewish themes of hope and the value of celebrating life. Part of the human condition is to acknowledge, remember, and mourn. But, then one must return to living life by turning from mourning to celebration.

Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)

Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)

What is Yom HaAtzmaut?
Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel’s Independence Day. Historically, an independent Jewish kingdom existed more than 2,000 years ago in the land that is modern Israel, and the biblical sanctity of Israel as a spiritual home continued. However, the modern State of Israel wasn’t established until May 14, 1948, when Prime Minister David Ben Gurion publicly read Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

When is it?
This year, Yom HaAtzmaut is celebrated from sundown Wednesday, May 8 through Thursday, May 9, 2019, which corresponds to the 5th day of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar.

How is it celebrated?
Israelis celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut in a variety of ways. In cities and towns, arrays of nighttime festivities fill the streets. Crowds gather to watch public shows offered for free by the municipalities. Many celebrants spend the night dancing Israeli folk dances, singing Israeli songs, and more recently, attending all nighttime concerts. During the following day, it is common for families go out on hikes and picnics. Yom HaAtzmaut concludes with a ceremony that grants the “Israel Prize” which recognizes individual Israelis for their unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts, and humanities.

Locally, and in communities throughout the world, Yom HaAztmaut is celebrated with festivals that highlight Israeli food, music, and culture. Before the festivities begin, communities will transition from the somber mood of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) by raising the Israeli flag to full-mast and holding a torch lighting ceremony that recognizes individual and communal contributions to the Jewish homeland.

Lag B'Omer

Lag B’Omer

What is Lag B’Omer?
Lag B’omer; A minor Jewish holiday that falls on the 33rd (lag) day of the Omer (a period between Passover and Shavuot).

When is it?
This year,Lag B’omer is celebrated from sundown Wednesday, May 22, through Thursday, May 23, 2019.

How is it celebrated?
Lag B’Omer is celebrated with outdoor field games, hikes in the woods, bonfires and cookouts. The period of the Omer is considered a time of solemnity between two major holidays, so many happy activities are limited according to Jewish tradition. During Lag B’Omer, these restrictions are lifted. It is even considered an auspicious day for couples to marry!


Celebrate and learn about Jewish holidays in CincinnatiShavuot

What is Shavuot?
Shavuot is a springtime Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah (Hebrew bible), at Mount Sinai. The holiday also has agricultural ties to the seasons in the Land of Israel. Shavuot commemorates the time when the first fruits, (i.e., the best of the crop) were harvested and brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, Shavuot is also known as the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah and the Festival of the First Fruits.

When is it?
This year, Shavuot is celebrated from sundown, Saturday, June 8, through Monday, June 21, 2019.

How do I say it?

How is it celebrated?
Some people stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah. It is customary to eat a dairy meal (special treats like blintzes, chocolate milk, and puddings are especially popular). This may be as a reminder of the promise that the land of Israel is a land flowing with “milk and honey.”

What is the holiday greeting?
Happy Shavuot or KHANG say-MEHY-ahkh: joyous festival