In the fall, five days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate Sukkot.
This festival is observed by building a sukkah (a temporary, outdoor structure) and following the ritual of the lulav and etrog. Its origins are as a harvest holiday, with an emphasis on gratitude. The sukkah also is reminiscent of the temporary dwellings we inhabited in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. It reminds us of our vulnerability, and our connection to the world around us.
At the end of Sukkot, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Simchat Torah marks the conclusion of the final book of the Torah, and the beginning of a new yearly cycle. We dance with the Torah scrolls and unroll one in its entirety, to see the beauty, and the scope, of our sacred text. Simchat Torah also is when we celebrate Consecration, formally welcoming our new Torah School students into our community of learners.
Pesach (Passover) is celebrated in the spring.
Like Sukkot, it has roots as an ancient festival of harvest and pilgrimage. Pesach features the powerful story of freedom from slavery and the exodus from Egypt.
Shavuot is observed as we draw closer to summer.
In the evening, we have our Confirmation Service, affirming our youth who have continued their formal Jewish education beyond bar/bat mitzvah. There also is a tradition of late-night study, Tikkun Leil Shavuot. We have services on the first morning of all the festivals, preceded by breakfast. On Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah and Pesach, Yizkor (the memorial service) is part of these morning prayers.
The Jewish holiday calendar also includes Chanukah, the eight-day festival of lights, in the winter. Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees against the Greek-Syrian empire, and celebrates religious freedom. We also tell the story of the miracle which helped bring light to our world. On the Friday that falls during Chanukah, we have a special service welcoming all our new members.
Early in the spring, we celebrate Purim. On Purim, we tell the story of the Book of Esther. Like Chanukah, it is a story of victory in the face of persecution, and courage in standing up for one’s ideals. Our congregants do a creative rendition of the story in a musical Purim shpiel, and we have a carnival for the children. Adults and children alike come in costume, celebrating the topsy-turvy nature of the world.
In addition to these celebrations, we also observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), including these more contemporary events in our ritual calendar.