Please note: Beth El has adopted a “mask optional” policy effective Friday, March 11, allowing members and guests to exercise their own discretion when it comes to wearing masks. For full NSS Beth El COVID-19 Guidelines for Activities and Religious Services please visit our COVID-19 Updates page.
The rhythm of our Jewish year is marked by the cycle of our holidays and festivals. For our Beth El community, they provide an opportunity to come together throughout the year to share in the traditions, to learn together, and to grow closer as individuals, families, and community members.
The festivals are sacred time periods that express particular teachings of Judaism and in their observance transfer them generation to generation. There are two categories of major festivals: The three biblical pilgrimage festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot, and Sukkot. and the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Pilgrimage Festivals each recall a special historic moment in the history of the Jewish people, recognize a stage in the harvest cycle, teach a specific religious truth and have particular rituals that include the prohibition of work and the addition and the recitation of special prayers.
We observe these festivals and the holidays throughout the year with special programs and services for children and adults. Please visit this page for updates for each holiday and festival. We look forward to sharing them you.
Notes Before Festival Begins
Eruv Tavshilin – When a Festival begins, special arrangements must be made to prepare food for Shabbat. Ordinarily, it is forbidden to cook or bake food for Shabbat during a Festival, just as it is forbidden to do so on Shabbat. If the preparation is begun before the Festival, however, it may be continued by cooking for Shabbat during the Festival. This Thursday before candlelighting, a bracha(blessing) is recited over some foods which have been cooked and baked for Shabbat. The food is then set aside to be eaten on Shabbat and further preparations for Shabbat may be made during the Festival. The brachot for Eruv Tavshilin can be found in Siddur Sim Shalom page 716 and Siddur Lev Shalem on page 78. For more information, see https://www.ou.org/life/torah/eruv-tavshilin-primer/
Lighting Yahrzeit candle – Before Yom Kippur and the final day of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, one should light the Yahrzeit memorial candle. This should be lit with the other Festival candles, beginning the Festival’s final day, when we say Yizkor. No blessing is recited over lighting this candle, though one may say a personal prayer keeping their beloved in mind. The flame should be left to go out on its own the next day. See below for lighting instructions.
Lighting Festival/Yahrzeit candles on the second night of a holiday – The Festival restrictions prohibit lighting a new flame, so when lighting these candles on the last night of a holiday, one does not strike a new match. However, one is permitted to transfer a flame from an existing source. To do this, one may light a long-lasting candle before the holiday’s first day and use any candle to use this flame to light the second-night holiday candles (A Hanukkah candle is recommended as it is safer than a match or shorter candle). Alternatively, if one has a pilot-light stove, one can use the ongoing flame from the burner as the source. After lighting the new holiday candles one should not blow out the candle but let it go out on its own (perhaps in a dish).
Selichot is a Hebrew word that means “forgiveness.” Selichot is observed on the Saturday prior to Rosh Hashanah. Through its rituals and solemn penitential prayers, Selichot helps to create a mindset of awareness and repentance prior to the beginning of the High Holidays.
Rosh Hashanah, means “head of the year.” It celebrates the Jewish new year and marks the beginning of ten-days of prayer, self-examination, repentance and spiritual renewal. This period of time is referred to as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe or the High Holy Days. It culminates with the fast day of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” is a time of reconciliation with God and man. The holiest day of our Jewish year, it is observed with fasting from evening to evening. Yizkor, a service in remembrance of our departed loved ones, is recited on the morning of the second day. Please check our calendar for updated times.
The third of the three major festivals, Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur. It recalls both the period in which the Jews lived in huts while wandering for 40 years in the desert and the end of the harvest. Sukkot, known as Zi’man Simhateinu, “the time of rejoicing,” has many traditions, among these, the building of a sukkah, a temporary booth-like structure, in which you are encouraged to eat and dwell during the weeklong festival. Congregants, including our teenagers, assist families in building their own sukkah while our younger children busily create decorations for our Beth El sukkah. Additional traditions that are central to Sukkot are the blessing with the lulav, made up of branches from the willow, myrtle, palm; and the etrog, which is a citrus fruit.
Schach (the covering, which is placed on top of the sukkah) as well as lulav and etrog are available for purchase through our synagogue.
We celebrate Sukkot with lively services in our Sager Beit Hamidrash chapel and our sanctuary, special programs for our children, and wonderful activities in our sukkah.
We encourage you to come and share these extraordinary celebrations and programs with our community.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are holidays that follow Sukkot. During the morning service of Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor, a service in remembrance of our departed loved ones, is recited.
Simchat Torah, (“Rejoicing in Torah”) is the contemporary name for the day after Shemini Atzeret. Joyous, noisy, and fun, we celebrate the completion of the annual reading of the Torah in which we affirm our view of the Torah as a tree of life and our dedication to never-ending, lifelong study.
Services begin at sundown on the eve of Simchat Torah. Beginning with traditional Festival services in the Sager Beit Hamidrash and parallel family services in our Cohen Religious School, we later join as a congregation for hakafot (traditional dancing and celebrating with the Torah). An ice cream social hosted by our youth community ends the evening.
During the morning services, hakafot again are held in the Field Family Sanctuary. We celebrate the completion and restarting of the Torah, and honor all members of the community present with an aliyah. We offer special honors to our chatan/kallat Torah (groom/bride of the Torah as it is completed), chatan/kallat Bereishit (groom/bride of Bereishit, as the Torah is restarted), and kol hane’arim (a member of the community who is called for an aliyah so that all of the children may come up to the Torah). Each of these three honorees are recognized for the great contributions of time and talent to our congregation; these recognitions are among the highest ritual honors our community bestows upon its members.
Known as “The Festival of Lights,” Hannukah is an eight night holiday that begins on the 25th of Kislev and celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in 165BC following the victory of thuds Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks. It is primarily a home-based festival in which the blessing are recited and the hanukiyah lighted – one candle added every night. Hallel, a particularly joyful prayer and a special Torah reading is recited at the morning service every day of Hanukkah. We have a number of programs in which we celebrate this festivals. We share prayers, latkes, songs and fun. Please check the calendar for up-to-date information.
Purim, the Feast of Lots, is a holiday based on the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther) recounting the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman. The primary observance connected with Purim is the reading of Megillat Esther where we hear again the powerful lesson not to despair.
At Beth El, our youth community organizes an extraordinary Purim Carnival for children of all ages. Our Cohen Religious School children participate in our annual Purim Shpiel, a comic dramatization of the Book of Esther, costumes are worn by our members, charity is given to those in need, and gifts of food given to family and friends. It’s an up-side-down holiday we all enjoy.
Passover (Hebrew: Pesach) commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Passover, celebrated for eight days, is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays. The ritual observance centers around a seder, home service. With the guidance of The Haggadah, which provides the order of the seder, we are transformed into storytellers as we retell the story of the Exodus.
The festival of Shavuot, (“Weeks”) is one of the major festivals and occurs seven weeks after Passover. It commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai. At Beth El, we commemorate the receiving of the Torah with all night study sessions. We also read Special customs we observe at Beth El include the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. We have guest lecturers and study Torah through the night.
Tish’a B’av is an annual fast day commemorating the destruction of both the First Temple and the Second Temple.