Festivals and Holidays

The High Holiday period (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) actually begins with Selichot. Selichot is a hebrew word for forgiveness and refers to the special penitential prayers recited by Jews during the High Holiday season.  The S'lichot liturgy contains some of the finest Jewish religious poetry ever composed.
Rosh Hashanah
Happy New Year! This holiday marks the beginning of the Jewish year. It is a time of joy and celebration - of blowing the shofar to alert everyone to this important holiday- and of eating sweets like apples and honey in hopes of a sweet year.
Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Jewish people fast on this day and consider those we have wronged, admit to ourselves that mistakes have been made, and decide to make some necessary changes for the new year. By the end of the day, we should feel completely rejuvenated and ready to embrace the possibilites of a new year.
The holiday of Sukkot, which begins four days after Yom Kippur is a festival that commemorates the Israelites forty years of wandering in the wilderness, when they built temporary shelters to live in. Agriculturally, Sukkot celebrates the end of the harvest season. During this holiday, some families will build sukkahs and spend family time in it eating meals and inviting friends and family to come and visit. 

Simchat Torah
We celebrate Simchat Torah immediately following Sukkot. After a whole year of reading a section of the Torah each week in synagogue, on this holiday we celebrate because the cycle is finished and we start again. At Temple, there is singing and dancing. During services, everyone parades around the sanctuary.
Hanukkah begins this year on December 20,2011. This eight day holiday celebrates the miracles in the story of the military victory of Jews led by Judah Maccabee, over the Syrian government forces in 164 B.C.E. It is also known as the Festival of Lights.  Traditionally, children receive gelt (chocolate money) and gifts. We cook and enjoy foods that are fried in oil such as potato latkes and donuts.
Tu B'Shvat
This is the Jewish Arbor Day or Earth Day. The holiday comes on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat - thus the name Tu (the alphabetic equivalent of the number 15), and B'Shvat (meaning in Shvat). A communal meal with a set order - similar in format to the Passover Seder - is common on this holiday. However, instead of celebrating freedom from slavery, we celebrate the renewal of trees. Today, many Jews will plant a tree in on this holiday, eating a new fruit or collecting money to plant trees in Israel. It is customary to eat fruits that remind us of Israel such as grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates.

The story of Purim in the book of Esther is set in ancient Persia (modern day Iran). Its two heroes are Esther - a beautiful young Jewish woman - and her uncle Mordecai. Esther marries King Ahasuerus, and becomes Queen without disclosing that she is Jewish. The villian of the story, Haman, is the king's right hand man. He gets permission to kill all the Jews in the land. In the end, Esther asks the king to spare her people - revealing that she is a Jew. When the king realizes the full impact of Haman's plans, he arranges for the Jews to be saved and orders Haman to be put to death
This holiday occurs in the spring time and celebrates freedom of the Jews who were slaves in Egypt.  We remember that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt and retell the story of the Exodus - and how they were set free.  It is observed for seven or eight days. Most Reform Jews and Jews living in Israel observe it for 7 days.  Conservative & Orthodox Jews observe it for 8 days.  On the first evening (and sometimes the second), Jews attend a ritual Passover dinner called a "seder" where the story of the exodus from Egypt is retold.  During the entire holiday, many only eat food that is Kosher for Passover and is unleavened. 

Yom Ha'atzmaut
This is Israeli Independence Day when Israel became its own country and the Jewish people gained their national independence for the first time in nearly two thousand years. 
Yom Ha'Shoah
This is Holocaust Remembrance Day. People commemorate those lost in the Holocaust with special services and programs at synagogues, Jewish commuinity centers, and Holocaust memorials.
The holiday for Shavuot occurs seven weeks after Passover. It celebrates two things: the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai after the Israelites left Egypt, and also the first fruits of the harvest in ancient Israel.