Jewish Calendar 101
Jewish Holidays* and Modern Celebrations
*Holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date noted.
High Holidays 2023/5783
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 and ends on Yom Kippur. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to examine our own shortcomings, engaging in repentance and the improvement of our ways in anticipation of the new year.
Rosh HaShanah: The Jewish New Year
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 5781. Special customs include attending synagogue, hearing the shofar (an ancient musical instrument crafted from a ram’s horn), sending greeting cards, eating round challah, dipping apples in honey for a sweet new year and symbolically casting away sins by throwing breadcrumbs into a body of natural water.
2023: September 16-17
Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
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 for forgiveness and for a good year to come. This day is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is observed by fasting for the entire 25 hours of the holiday, refraining from social activities, engaging in prayer/asking for forgiveness, silent confession, and hearing the shofar.
2023: October 25
Sukkot: The Feast of the Tabernacles
During the seven days of Sukkot, we eat our meals in temporary huts covered in greenery to commemorate G-d sheltering our ancestors in the desert on their journey to the Promised Land.
2023: September 30- October 6
Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: The Eight Day of Assembly and Rejoicing in the Torah
The first day after the end of Sukkot is known as Shemini Atzeret in the diaspora. The second day is known as Simchat Torah. On Shemini Atzeret we dwell in the sukkah and say the prayer for the departed. On Simchat Torah we celebrate reading the last section of the Torah before immediately beginning with Genesis. Customs include dancing, carrying the Torah around the synagogue seven times,and a festive meal.
2023: October 7-8
Chanukah: Celebrating when the courageous Maccabees regained control of the Temple.
During Chanukah we celebrate Juddah and the Maccabees defeating the Greco-Syrian army in 165 BCE. Legend tells us that when the Maccabees regained control of the Temple they only found enough oil to light the menorah for one day, yet it miraculously lasted for eight days. This is why we now light a Chanukiyah (a candelabra with nine branches) for eight days. Customs include exchanging gifts, playing dreidel, winning or giving gelt (chocolate coins), and eating fried foods such as latkes, keftes, sufganiyot, and bimuelos. It is a wintertime “festival of lights”.
2022: December 19-26
2023: December 9-15
Tu B’Shevat: The New Year of the Trees
Tu B’Shevat is also known as the New Year of the Trees because it was used for calculating the age of trees for tithing. The Torah teaches that fruit from a tree may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for G-d, and after this, you can eat the fruit. It is customary to eat a new fruit on this holiday or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim) that are abundant in Israel. The Seven Species are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives,and dates. Some people also plant trees on this day. Tu B’Shevat began as a minor holiday marked by a festive meal and it has grown into a modern Jewish Earth Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate our growing sense of environmental responsibility and Jewish tradition.
2023: February 6
This jolly festivity commemorates the defeat of Haman’s plot, the prime minister of King Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire. During 357 BCE, Haman planned to massacre the Jews, as recorded in the book of Esther in the Torah. The Jews were saved by the heroic Queen Esther, who married Ahasuerus. When Ahasuerus discovers that his wife Esther is Jewish, he decides to reverse Haman’s decree, and instead of the Jews being killed, Haman, his sons, and other enemies are killed instead. We celebrate dressing up in costume, some people choose to dress as characters from the Purim story. It is a mitzvah (commandment) to listen to the story of Purim chanted from Megillat Esther (“The Scroll of Esther”). We also send Mishloach manot, packages of treats and goodies to friends and family. A traditional cookie is eaten called Hamentaschen, which our seniors department at the JCC bake every year!
2023: March 7
The battles fought between the Jews and their enemies throughout the Persian empire took place on Adar 13. The Jews rested and celebrated the victory on the following day, Adar 14. However, the fighting lasted longer in the Persian capital of Shushan. The victory celebration was held on the 15th of Adar in Shushan.
2023: March 8
Pesach (Passover): The Holiday of Our Freedom
Pesach is the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt; our journey from a narrow place of slavery to freedom. The week-long holiday begins with a Seder (order) meal with foods that symbolize this journey, accompanied by the retelling of the exodus story.
2023: April 6-13
Sefirat HaOmer: Counting of the Omer
We count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot because these it took seven weeks to reach Mount Sinai and receive the Torah. Each day of the Counting of the Omer represents spiritual preparation in anticipation of receiving the Torah.
2023: April 6 – May 24
Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day
This day commemorates the approximately six million Jews and others who perished in the Holocaust and due to the Nazis.
2023: April 18
Yom HaZikaron: Israeli Memorial Day
Israel dedicates this day of remembrance to the memory of those who have fallen in defence of Israel and to the Victims of Terror.
2023: April 25
Yom HaAtzmaut: Israeli Independence Day
This date celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s indepence. It was proclaimed when David Ben- Gurion – the de facto leader of the jewish community – read the declaration of indepence.
2023: April 26
Pesach Sheni: Second Passover
This holiday provides an opportunity to those who were unable to participate in the earlier Passover. Nowadays, we celebrate Pesach Sheni symbolically by eating a piece of matzah on the day.
2023: May 5
Lag BaOmer: 33rd Day of Counting the Omer
This holiday commemorates the passing of the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the kabbalistic book the Zohar (Book of Splendor), a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. It’s tradition on thisday to have picnics and light bonfires.
2023: May 9
Yom Yerushalayim: Jerusalem Day
National Israeli holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day War.
2023: May 19
Shavuot: The Festival of Weeks
A doubly significant holiday, marking Israel’s wheat harvest, and also commemorates when the Torah was given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai.
2023: May 26-27
Fast of the 9th of Av – Tisha Be Av
The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we fast, deprive ourselves and pray. It is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
2023: July 27
Tu B’ Av – 15th of Av
Tu B’Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the Second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B’Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation it is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, slightly resembling Valentine’s Day.
2023: August 2