In this Centric Commemorates, we’re celebrating Jewish High Holidays. Our colleague Stephanie Pasch shares her appreciation for the holidays and other people’s traditions.
When a colleague and friend asked me to write a Centric Commemorates post about Yom Kippur, I hesitated as I thought about all the potential topics I could cover.
Should I write strictly about Yom Kippur, or cover the entire High Holiday season? Should I discuss the ways people celebrate them? Do I provide questions to consider as we enter the Jewish new year?
As I write this, I find myself in a familiar situation: The Jewish woman who was asked to teach her non-Jewish co-workers about Judaism. I am certainly not opposed to teaching others. In fact, I think we should all strive to learn more about each other’s religions. Unfortunately, in my experience, I’ve found that when I talk about Judaism, one of two things will happen:
- The people I’m talking to will assume I am extremely religious. Or,
- The people I’m talking to will assume I only show up for presents at Hanukkah.
The truth is: I’m somewhere in the middle. So, how do I write about these holidays? I want you to learn about them, but I don’t want to share traditions that I personally don’t practice. I don’t want you to assume I am an expert in Judaism (and then be disappointed when I’m not). And I don’t want you to assume I’m a “bad Jew,” when, in fact, there is no such thing.
It is entirely up to each Jewish person to decide how they want to celebrate (or not celebrate) each holiday. Therefore, I have decided to use this forum to define the four holidays that make up the High Holidays and provide resources if you’d like to learn more.
- Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. A time to reflect on the past year and plan for the next one. This year, Rosh Hashanah began at sunset Sunday, Sept. 25, or the first of Tishrei, year 5783.
- Yom Kippur is the day of atonement. It is the holiest day in the Jewish year, a day set aside for thinking about the mistakes we’ve made in the past year and how to grow in the next one. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sunset, Tuesday, Oct. 4.
- Sukkot is a week-long harvest festival during which some Jewish people eat, relax and enjoy each other’s company in huts (called Sukkahs) built in their backyard. This year, Sukkot begins at sunset, Sunday, Oct. 9.
- Simchat Torah celebrates the conclusion of the annual reading of the Torah and the start of reading it all over again. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are celebrated at a place of worship with prayer, Simchat Torah is celebrated with dancing and singing. Simchat Torah begins at sunset, Monday, Oct. 17.
My wish in writing this post was to be authentic. It is OK that I don’t follow all traditions, just as it’s OK that some Jewish people do them all. And the traditions are endless! To describe the many ways people celebrate each holiday and the symbolism of all the different foods and activities, I would need to review a High Holidays reference guide.
I did spend time with family on Rosh Hashanah, and I went to my synagogue. I will go back for Yom Kippur. I will not eat that day, and I will enjoy a traditional break-fast dinner with more family. Some Jewish people may wear all white as a symbol of making a fresh start. I will not do that – it is after Labor Day after all. I am not building a Sukkah (but I would love to come to yours!) and I am probably not going to celebrate Simchat Torah, although I do love a good Hora.
As I conclude, I want to remind you that the High Holidays are a time for reflection and planning. I briefly mentioned above that I believe we should all learn more about different religions. I do not often set personal goals for myself, but in 5783, I am committing myself to do just that. Perhaps if we knew more about each other’s beliefs, we could make 2023 better too.
Shanah Tovah U’metukah! May you have a good and sweet new year!
Through these stories, we’ll seek to learn, understand, and empathize. We’ll celebrate our differences and realize that though we have varied backgrounds and perspectives, we are one team.