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Religious Diversity

Religious diversity is an often overlooked but very important and meaningful tenet of DEI.  As such, faculty member and DEI committee member Elisheva Shanes, MD has written a heartfelt description of the upcoming Jewish holidays to share the rich cultural experience and the meaning behind each observance.

Jewish Holidays in the Fall

Many of the major Jewish holidays occur every fall over the span of about one month. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar with regular “leap months” to keep holidays in the same season, so these holidays always occur in September and October, though on different dates.

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. It lasts two days and is celebrated with special synagogue services and the blowing of a shofar, a ram’s horn, as well as with large meals with family and friends. 

Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, is about a week after Rosh Hashana. This is a 25-hour fast day (starting at night) which is typically spent mostly in synagogue and/or in quiet study and contemplation. 

These two days are among the most universally observed Jewish holidays. According to the traditional liturgy, on Rosh Hashana our fates for the next year are written in the book of life and on Yom Kippur that book is sealed. The days between the two holidays are solemn ones in which people typically ask each other for forgiveness for any wrongs over the previous year and consider their relationships and behavior, and ways they can improve over the next year. In some ways this is much like New Year’s resolutions, but with a spiritual and interpersonal focus.

Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, follows 5 days after Yom Kippur. This is a lesser-known Jewish holiday, but an important one among observant Jews. This week-long holiday is related to the autumn harvest and was in ancient days one of the pilgrimage festivals in which people would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem with harvest offerings. In modern times Jews build a hut (sukkah) in their yards, typically with foliage and decorations, and eat all meals within them. Some even sleep in them. Jews also celebrate with an etrog (citron; like a large lemon) and a bundle called a lulav, made of palm fronds, myrtle, and willow, which are carried and waved during synagogue prayers.

At the end of the week of Sukkot is the holiday of Simchat Torah, which celebrates the conclusion of the annual cycle of synagogue Torah (Five Books of Moses) reading and the beginning of a new one. This is celebrated by dancing with the Torah scrolls and often with candy and other treats for the children.

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