Explanation of Major Jewish Holidays

Rosh Hashanah*
(Jewish New Year)

A two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year, traditions include eating sweet foods and blowing the shofar (ram’s horn). Many Jews attend synagogue on these two days and the preceding evening.


Yom Kippur*
(Day of Atonement)

The holiest and most solemn day of the year. Fasting begins at sundown the evening before and ends after nightfall. Most Jews attend synagogue on this day and the preceding evening, and all work is prohibited to mark a day of reflection and atonement for the new year.


Sukkot* and Shemini Atzeret*
(Feast of Tabernacles or Booths) (Eighth day of Sukkot)

An eight-day festival celebrated by the building of a sukkah, a temporary dwelling outdoors where Jewish people are commanded to eat and welcome guests. Work is prohibited on the first, second, and eighth day (Shemini Atzeret), although many less traditionally observant Jews do not follow this commandment.



Simchat Torah*
(Rejoicing of the Law)

Concludes and begins anew the annual reading cycle of the Torah, the five Books of Moses that make up the Jewish Bible. Immediately follows Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. Work is prohibited, although many less traditionally observant Jews do not follow this commandment.


(Festival of Lights)

An eight-day festival marked by the lighting of candles—one on the first night, two on the second, and so on—using a special candle holder called a menorah or chanukiah. Traditions include a game involving spinning dreidels (tops), eating potato latkes (pancakes), and giving gifts. Although there are no religious restrictions around this holiday, it is commonly celebrated with family and friends each night so please be considerate of nighttime activities.


Tu B'Shevat
(New Year of the Trees)

Originally celebrated as an agricultural festival marking the emergence of spring, today celebrations focus on environmental awareness. Trees are often planted in honor or memory of loved ones.



Commemorates the saving of the Jews of Persia as depicted in the Book of Esther. One of the most joyous Jewish holidays. Traditions include masquerading in costumes and giving care packages to those in need.



The most widely-observed Jewish holiday in the world. Commemorates the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. A feast called a seder is held on the first two nights of the eight-day holiday. No food that is leavened (e.g., bread, cake) or contains wheat is eaten. Matzah (unleavened bread) is often consumed instead. Work is traditionally prohibited on the first, second, seventh, and eighth days. While less traditionally observant Jews do not follow this commandment, many will still observe a special, Kosher-for-Passover diet for all eight days, requiring special attention to ingredients.


Yom Ha'Shoah
(Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Yom Ha’Shoah is a modern Jewish observance commemorating the lives of the six million Jewish people and five million others who perished in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. While there are no religious customs associated with this holiday, we encourage educators to talk with JCRC staff and the Holocaust and Humanities Center about ways to incorporate Holocaust lessons into their classrooms at this time of year.


Yom Hazikaron
(Israeli Memorial Day)

Yom Hazikaron is Israel’s Official Memorial Day for her fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. Falling either in late April or early May every year, Yom Hazikaron is an especially solemn time and marked by ceremonies and silences across the country.


Yom HaAtzmaut
(Israeli Independence Day)

Yom HaAtzmaut marks the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, which usually falls in April.


(Feast of Weeks, Pentecost)

According to Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai on this day. It is traditional to eat meals containing dairy. Work is prohibited as study of the Bible is encouraged instead, although many less traditionally observant Jews do not follow this commandment.


Tisha B'Av

Annual fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the land of Israel. Today in many modern Jewish communities, Tisha B’Av stands as a day to reflect on the suffering that still occurs in our world.

*These holidays are commonly observed by synagogue attendance or family gatherings. On these days work is traditionally prohibited; individuals may be absent from school or work.  Everyone observes the holidays differently, we encourage you to talk with your students or employees about their individual needs or reach out to the JCRC with any questions. Please note that Jewish holidays begin at sundown on the evening before.

Holidays begin the evening before the date indicated because a Jewish "day" begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight.