(This article on the Jewish holidays was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of The Transmitter)
A series of articles continuing from “Spring Jewish Holidays” appearing in is the Spring 2017 issue of “The Transmitter”
by Lt. Col. Karen Semple
CDI, Montana Wing
Lt Col Semple is an Air Force veteran who has been in CAP 16 years. She is currently serving at the wing level as CDI, facilitating character development forums at a local squadron. as well as Public Information Officer and Assistant Inspector General.
“And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the children of Yisra’el, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall you have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of horns, a holy gathering. You shall do no servile work…also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be a holy gathering to you; and you shall afflict your souls…You shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls: on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening shall you celebrate your sabbath….Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the tree hadar, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick leaved trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days…and it shall be a statute for ever in your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home born in Yisra’el shall dwell in booths: that your generations may know that I made the children of Yisra’el to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Mizrayim: I am the Lord your God.”
…. Leviticus 23:23-43, The Koren Tanach
And so the Scriptures record the establishment of what are called by many, “High Holidays.” Why high? Because once out of the wilderness, the observances of these holy days were centered around “going up” to Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, which is higher in elevation than the areas surrounding it. The roads up to it are steep, somewhat like in San Francisco. Most traveled by foot. Let’s look at them individually for a quick overview.First, we have Rosh Hashanah (Rosh Ha-sha-nah’) – literally, Head of the Year, which begins the evening of 20 September and continues for two days outside Israel. It’s when the Jewish calendar begins each year – this Rosh Hashanah will begin the year 5778. Unlike the civil New Year, it isn’t a time of parties and celebration, but, rather, a time of sober, spiritual introspection, reflection and mending relationship fences that actually began a month previously during the month of Elul (E-lool’). The ram’s horn, (sho-far’), is sounded daily, calling Jews to repent and return (tesh-oo- vah’) to the way of the Lord. Around the world at religious services during this holy day, the shofar is sounded repeatedly calling us back to the Lord. After praying many very serious prayers, it’s a hair-raising and spine-tingling sound, calling us back to the Lord – reaching to the very depths of our soul. It’s a time of scrupulously examining the conscience and making amends, if we haven’t already done so, with our fellow human beings we may have offended or sinned against in any way. The very last thing we want is to begin this time with any offence or sin against our fellow man on our conscience, burning our guilt into us while asking forgiveness for our offences and sins against the Lord.
On the afternoon of the first day, we go to a body of living water (lake, pond, river, stream or ocean) and symbolically cast pieces of bread into it with each piece representing a failing, sin or weakness we renounce.
From the month of Elul to Rosh Hashanah and through Sukkot* (Soo-kot’) we wish each other a “Sweet New Year” and the Hebrew words that mean, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life” and to demonstrate that materially, we serve symbolic foods – our bread is round and sweet, symbolizing the cycle of life and hope for a sweet new year. Carrot coins glazed in honey are a frequent sight at tables and other round, sweet foods. We serve apples dipped in honey at the first Rosh Hashanah meal, before the first service begins and again, wish each other a Sweet New Year. Many have the custom of wearing new clothing.
We believe the Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah and when it’s sealed, on Yom Kippur, (Yom Ke-poor’) our life is determined for the coming year: who shall live and who shall die, who shall be sick and who shall be well, etc. During the ten days we pray for a favorable decree from the Lord.
We’ve already dipped into Yom Kippur, this year beginning the evening of 29 September – the one aspect with which many are familiar concerning this holy day is that it’s a very serious and somber time when Jews attend religious services and fast from the very beginning on the first evening to when the first three stars show in the sky the following evening – that is just one aspect of how we obey the command to “afflict” our souls. Besides food, we forgo other luxuries: bathing, conjugal relations, wearing jewelry and leather. Certainly no cell phones, frivolous conversations, screen time or TV! The observance begins the first evening with a prayer of confession followed by Kol Nidrei (Kahl Need’-ray, ‘Every Vow’), a prayer to renounce all vows that we regret. This custom of Kol Nidrei began during forced conversions, on pain of death, to Christianity during the Inquisition and for other Jews in different parts of the world, forced conversion to Islam.
The key themes are atonement, confession, and purification– multiple times. The day itself, the tenth of Tishrei (Tish-ray) is described three times in the Torah as the Yom (Ha)Kippurim – literally, the “Day of Atonements” – to obliterate sin. The theme of the Yom Kippur services is a much more urgent call than Rosh Hashanah is reconciliation with our fellow man and a return to the Lord and His Torah from whom we have strayed. It’s a time of focused regret and begging forgiveness for our sins against the Lord, aloud – individually and communally. “Turn us back, O Lord, to You, and we will return. Renew our days as of old…” Two and a half pages of individual categories of sins are enumerated aloud multiple times throughout the observance of the day as we soberly strike the left side of the chest with the right fist while saying each of the sins. This prayer is prayed in addition to many other prayers of praise and worship at each of the services: evening, morning, early and late afternoon. The Torah and Scriptures calling us to return are read. We’re exhorted to return through teachings by spiritual leaders. The shofar is sounded repeatedly and then finally, as the Book of Life is sealed. After nightfall, we break the fast with a light meal. There is a lot more to be said; however, we’ve not got the space here to get into more detail. The next few days are spent preparing for the Feast of Booths, or as we call it, “Sukkot.”
Sukkot, is also known as the Time of Our Rejoicing. This year it begins the evening of 4 October. We celebrate forgiveness received, the harvest, our successful journey through the wilderness after we left Egypt, and we joyfully celebrate with singing and dancing! We take the “fruit of the tree hadar” – a citron (a large lemon-type fruit), together with a palm frond, willow and myrtle(“thick leaved tree”) sprigs and wave them to all the directions (North, South, East, West) in addition to up and down before the Lord. We have our “booth,” aka, in Hebrew, ‘sukkah’ (soo-kah’), a temporary structure that we’ve completed building in the days since Yom Kippur in which to dwell during the observance. We eat meals, pray, read, study, have company and generally spend quite a lot of time in our sukkah during the eight days. One custom is to serve a new fruit we haven’t eaten in a long time: star fruit and pomegranates are often just in season at this time. In the Land of Israel, Jews literally live in their sukkah for the entire time. The roof is not so solid that we cannot see the stars – ours is covered with pine boughs. There is no solid closing door – emphasizing the fact it is a temporary structure, just as a sukkah was in the wilderness, reminding us our home on earth is also temporary.
My kids often had friends over and slept in the different sukkahs they built over the years – until the year 2000, when drought and wildfires brought bears and mountain lions into our yard and neighborhood. That was the end of that! We didn’t get to spend much time at all in our sukkah that year. We’ve also had snowflakes falling into our chili or soup many times as we ate out there, bundled up, during colder years. (One very cold year, I read quite an amusing article in the Jerusalem Post by someone from British Columbia, entitled, “The Frozen Chosen.”) In speaking with Christian friends, we seem to have the same sadness taking our sukkah down and stowing away the decorations as they do taking down their Christmas tree and decorations. It’s a joyful holiday that ends as the shorter days and darkness of late autumn descend upon us.
In Civil Air Patrol, it’s vital to recognize the sacredness of these Holy Day Sabbaths and convey this information to commanders so trainings or other events aren’t scheduled that will result in excluding Jewish members. In my 17 years in CAP, I’ve missed more than a few events due to Holy Day conflicts. We wouldn’t think to schedule a training or SAREX for Christmas or Easter! Please extend the same consideration and courtesy to our Jewish members. Check the Jewish calendar at Aish.com, Chabad.org or hebcal.com or to get specific information on the exact timing for your area of when all Jewish holidays begin (with candle lighting times) and end.
While there’s much more to discuss, God willing, I’ll save it for this time next year. May you be well.