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Jewish festivals, holidays and celebrations

Jewish festivals, holidays and celebrations

Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world. It is a monotheistic religion which means that Jews believe in only one God. It began around the year 2,500 BC with a man called Abraham who believed that there was only one God at a time when other people believed in lots of different gods. 


Jews celebrate many different festivals and special days. Read on to learn about some of them. 


Shabbat

Shabbat is observed by Jewish people on the seventh day of the week. It is a day of rest and spiritual reflection. It begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday.


Shabbat activities might include learning about Shabbat, tasting challah bread and grape juice and listening to Shabbat blessings.

 

Wine, challah and candles for the Jewish Sabbath
Wine, challah and candles for the Jewish Sabbath

 


Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New year. It is when the birth of the universe is celebrated. The shofar, a ram’s horn, is sounded to wake up Jews and signify the new year has begun. The day is spent in prayer or quiet meditation and festive meals are shared.


Rosh Hashanah activities might include hearing or sounding the shofar, dipping apples into honey, tasting pomegranates, making or eating round challah and making Rosh Hashanah cards

 

A shofar, apples, honey and pomegranate
A shofar, apples, honey and pomegranate

 


Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. On this day Jews feel they are at their closest to God. It is a day of atonement and repentance. Atonement is when someone makes up for something they've done wrong or that they feel bad about. Repentance is when someone recognises that they've done something wrong and take steps to make it better. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a day-long fast, confession, and intensive prayer. Often, most of the day is spent in synagogue services. 


Yom Kippur activities might include hearing or playing the different notes on the shofar and talking about things that you might be sorry about.

 

A child blowing the shofar
A child blowing the shofar

 


Sukkot

Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest in Israel. Sukkot is a weeklong holiday where work is forbidden during the first two days. These days are called Yom Tov. During Sukkot, Jews build a Sukkah. A Sukkah is a dwelling which is covered with plants and decorated with fruits and vegetables. All meals during the festival are eaten in the sukkah. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, when Israelites who were able to made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.


Sukkot activities might include building a sukkah or a model of a sukkah, making decorations to hang in a sukkah and spending time completing Sukkot colouring pages.

 

A Sukkah
A Sukkah

 


Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

After the seven days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah is celebrated. The first day is Shemini Atzeret when Jews spend time in the sukkah and pray for rain. The second day is Simchat Torah, where Jews complete the annual torah reading cycle and start reading it again. It is a festive and joyful celebration of the Jewish people's love of, and commitment to, the Torah. 


Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah activities might include singing songs and listening to stories from the torah.

 

Reading the Torah
Reading the Torah

 


Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day festival during the winter. It is also referred to as the festival of lights. The festival is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, a special prayer and eating of fried foods. A Menorah is a special Jewish candle.


Hanukkah activities might include making traditional foods, retelling the story of Hanukkah and learning about the symbols of Hanukkah.

 

A family celebrating Hanukkah
A family celebrating Hanukkah

 


Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat is the birthday of trees. This is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, known as Tu B’Shevat. During this holiday, the seven species of Israel are celebrated. These include: wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olives and dates. In contemporary Israel, the day is celebrated as an ecological awareness day, and trees are planted in celebration.


Tu B’Shevat activities might include singing songs about trees and learning about the seven species.

 

Newly planted trees
Newly planted trees

 


Purim

The festival of Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot to kill the all the Jews. On this day, the Megilat Esther is read. Noises are made each time Haman’s name is heard. Food parcels including Hamantaschen are shared as part of the celebration.


Purim activities might include dressing up as royalty, making Hamantaschen, creating food parcels or giving money to charity.

 

Hamantaschen for Purim
Hamantaschen for Purim

 


Passover

Passover celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their freedom from slavery. The Passover Seder is a ritual feast at the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. During this time, anything that is leavened is avoided. Leavened food is food that rises when cooked, typically this includes foods containing yeast like bread. 


Passover activities might include retelling the story of exodus, learning about the Seder plate and making matzah.

 

A family celebrating passover together and breaking the matzah
A family celebrating passover together and breaking the matzah

 


Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is the holocaust memorial day. On this day Jews remember the victims of the holocaust and the heroism of survivors. On this day candles are lit in observance.


Yom HaShoah activities might include learning about what happened during the holocaust, talking about being singled out and learning about famous people.

 

Candles and the star of David, text says 'we will never forget'
Candles and the star of David

 


Shavuot

Shavuot is a two-day holiday marking the date that Jews believe God gave the Torah to the them at Mount Sinai. This happens 49 days after Passover. It is a day of preparation to receive the Torah. On this day, The Ten Commandments are read in synagogues. This day is also known as the Festival of Fruits. 


Shavuot activities might include learning the 10 commandments and eating foods that involve dairy.

 

Milk and fruits for Shavuot
Milk and fruits for Shavuot

 

 

Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah

A Bar Mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys when they reach the age of 12 or 13. A Bat Mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish girls when they reach the age of 12 or 13. Usually, children prepare for their Bar Mitzvah for a year. They practice reading the Torah and making a speech. This ceremony marks the time when they become a Jewish adult. After their Bar Mitzvah, they become responsible for their own actions and can decide how they would like to practice Judaism. 


Bar Mitzvah activities might include children thinking about meaningful milestones they have experienced and reading the Torah.

 

A Jewish girl reading for the Torah on her Bat Mitzvah day
A Jewish girl reading for the Torah on her Bat Mitzvah day

 

 

If you want to learn more about Judaism, read our inside a synagogue blog, and check out our collection of Jewish Religious Education schemes of work. Make sure you also read our blog all about how to embed RE into your curriculum.

 

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