Fast of Tevet: The Tenth of Tevet marks the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia, and the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon, and sent the Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile. The Tenth of Tevet is viewed as such a severe and important fast day that it is observed even if it falls on a Friday (erev Shabbat), while our other fast days are so arranged by calendar adjustments as to never fall on a Friday, so as not to interfere with Shabbat preparations.
Tu Bishvat: The fifteenth day of Sh'vat marks the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. In modern Israel the custom is to plant saplings and recultivate the land. Fast of Esther: This fast, conducted the day before Purim, commemorates the three-day fast by Queen Esther as she sought to overturn Haman's decree that all Jews of Shushan be killed.
Purim: The story of Purim is told in the biblical text of Megillat Esther. As the Megillah teaches, the Jews of Shushan were slated for destruction, but because of trust in G-d and sincere acts of repentance not to mention the courage of Queen Esther Jews were saved from the evil plot of Haman. There are four mitzvot associated with Purim: Reading or listening to the reading of the Megillah; Mishloach Manot - giving at least two gifts of food to at least one person; Matanot Le'evyonim - giving charity to at least two poor people; and Purim Seudah - eating the festive Purim feast with family, friends, and strangers.
Fast of the first born: During the time of Moses when the Jews where still in Egypt, G-d inflicted 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. The tenth plague was the killing of the first born child. This is declared as a fast day so that we are able to continually express our gratitude from being spared this severe plague.
Pesach (Passover): Pesach is a most special time in Jewish homes, when families and friends gather together for Seder meals. During Pesach, which always occurs in spring the season of growth and renewal, Jews celebrate the conclusion of 210 years of slavery under the Egyptians. For the Jewish people, freedom was not a result of their own intervention, but the culmination of G-d's revelation, through the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.These plagues convinced the Egyptians of G-d's strength. The 10th plague the slaying of the firstborn of all Egyptian households including Pharoah's, was the most powerful. G-d literally 'passed-over' Jewish homes, sparing Jewish children.Defeated, Pharoah let the Jewish people go. Because they left in such great haste, the yeast in their dough did not have a chance to ferment, and the bread could not rise, and was this unleavened bread (matzah) that Jews ate during the Exodus from Egypt.In each generation, G-d commands Jews to see themselves as if they have just left Egypt, and Jews do so by holding Pesach Seders, or ritual meals (one or two depending on whether the family is in Israel or the Diaspora). Seder means 'order', and the Pesach Haggadah, which means to 'tell over', spells out the 14 steps that allow Jews to relive the entire Egyptian experience, its origins, the Exodus, and the revelation of G-d. At designated passages in the service, Seder participants drink 4 cups of wine and eat matzah as well as bitter herbs. Each of the Seder's 14 parts is highly symbolic, reminding participants of the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of redemption.Pesach lasts for 8 days, with the 3rd through 6th as intermediate days (like Succot).Finally, on the 2nd night of Pesach, Jews begin counting 49 days until the holiday of Shavuot, when, on Mount Sinai, the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments, the Torah, and the oral law. Each day during the Sephirat Haomer (counting of the omer), Jews work at perfecting a personal spiritual attribute. Counting the Omer The 7 weeks from the 2nd night of Pesach until Shavuot are known as the Period of the Omer. It is a period of semimourning during which time no weddings, celebrations, or public musical performances take place, except on the days of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Yom Yerushalaim and Lag B'Omer.
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day): Holocaust Remembrance Day is where we honour the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II by learning about their heroism in the face of inhumanity, and exploring the roots of anti-Semitism. It is marked by public observances. Yom Hazikaron: This is the day when Israelis remember all those who fought and fell in defense of the country. Giving one's life in defence of the Jewish people is a mitzvah of the highest order. Every year, a state ceremony is held at Mt. Herzl, Israel's military cemetery in Jerusalem. The ceremony is on Adar 7, the Hebrew anniversary of the death of Moses.
Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day): On the 5th day of Iyar 5708 (5 May 1948), Israelis proclaimed their independence. Yom Ha'atzmaut marks the crucial point at which the modern state of Israel came into existence. Prior to that moment, it was a political non-entity. After, it came to life, with an army, a culture and a provisional government. Yom Ha'atzmaut marks the re-establishment of the first Jewish homeland in two millennia (more than 1900 years), offering shelter and enfranchisement to hundreds of thousands of Jews orphaned and ravaged by the Holocaust, to hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries, to thousands of Jews from around the world who came to their homeland to build batei ne'eman b'yisrael, faithful homes in Israel.
Lag B'Omer: The seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are the days of the "Counting of the Omer," the harvest festivities which were observed in the Land of Israel when the Temple stood on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. In the 2nd century during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, Rabbi Akiva's, (the rabbinic leader of world Jewry) 24,000 students died from a mysterious God-sent plague. It is taught that they died because they did not show proper respect to one another. "Lag B'Omer" is celebrated on the thirty-third day because on that day the plague ended and Rabbi Akiva's students stopped dying. Only 5 students survived; one of which was Rabbi Shimon who -despite terrible persecutions- ensured that the Torah would not be forgotten. Lag B'Omer marks the date of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's death. But if Lag B'Omer marks the date of Rabbi Shimon's death, why is it such a celebration? The reason is that Rabbi Shimon had been convicted of a capital crime by the Romans. By all rights, he should have died well before his time. But through tremendous self-sacrifice (hiding in the cave) and a series of miracles, Rabbi Shimon was able to live out a full life. The climax of this great life was the revelation of Torah's greatest inner secrets. All this is cause for celebration.Today, young people in the Diaspora celebrate Lag B'Omer with outings and other festivities. Many Israelis build bonfires to commemorate the great fire that surrounded Rabbi Shimon and they also visit his tomb in the Galilee town of Meiron. Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day): On the third day of the Six Day War (7 June 1967), the ancient city of Jerusalem -(the walled Old City, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall) - returned to Jewish hands. For the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem was under Jewish sovereignty. Yom Yerushalayim marks the reunification of Jerusalem.
Shavuot: Shavuot, which commemorates G-d's revelation and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, concludes the counting of the omer, which begins the evening following the first day of Pesach. Shavuot has a number of interesting customs. Every year since the first Shavuot, Jews have stayed up all night, studying various parts of the Torah. Another custom is eating dairy meals. One explanation is that after the Jews received the Torah, which included the dietary laws, they realised when they returned from Mount Sinai that their dishes were not kosher. Time was needed to purify their vessels, and so the people ate dairy food that did not require ritual slaughter or making their utensils kosher.According to tradition, when G-d descended on Mount Sinai, the mountain burst forth with grass, flowers and trees. This was taken as a sign that the Torah would be an eternal source of growth and vitality for the Jewish people. For this reason the custom is to bring plants into synagogues for the holiday. Tisha B'Av: Both the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The purpose of a fast day is to awaken our sense of loss over the destroyed Temple - and the subsequent Jewish journey into exile. This day has been marked by other catastrophes for Jews, such as the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.During evening services the Book of Lamentations is read. In the morning Kinot services are recited. They tell of the sorrow and suffering of the Jewish people throughout the ages.Tisha B'Av is also a day of hope: tradition teaches that the Messiah will arrive on this day.
Rosh Hashanah (New Year): Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of Tishrei, the eventh month, since this is traditionally considered to be the day on which the world was created. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated everywhere (including Israel) for two days. The Shofar (Ram's Horn) is blown each day of the festival, except on Shabbat. In the afternoon of the first day - unless this falls on Shabbat - it is customary in orthodox communities to assemble on the sea-shore, on the banks of a river or near water springs to say Tashlich. Should the first day fall on Shabbat, Tashlich is said on the second day. Tashlich is symbolic of cleansing oneself of sin.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): Yom Kippur means many things to Jews: It is the holiest day of the year; it is the day when G-d forgave the Jewish people for their sin of worshiping the golden calf after they received the Ten Commandments and the Torah; and it is the one special day of the calendar dedicated to G-d's mercy and forgiveness.Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and prayer, when Jews are commanded to abstain from eating, drinking, and intimate relations. In addition, Jews do not wear leather shoes or anoint themselves. The reasons for these prohibitions are this: Jews are to transcend their physical existence to more closely resemble the angels, so that they can pray, in a higher spiritual state, for the welfare of families, friends, and all humanity. Although G-d, on Rosh Hashanah, may have already inscribed each individual's fate, one can, according to Jewish theology, avert severe decrees on Yom Kippur, the day when our fates are sealed, through repentance, prayer, and charity.
Succot: Succot is called 'the season of our rejoicing'. After leaving Egypt, during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Jewish people were surrounded by protective 'clouds of glory'. In commemoration of that, and to enhance their awareness of G-d's protection, the Torah commands Jews: "In succot (booths) you shall dwell, seven days" (Lev. 23:42). During Succot, Jews all over the world erect succot of every description adjacent to homes and synagogues. During the first seven days of Succot, it is traditional to eat all meals in the succah. Succot has a singular mitzvah, the shaking of the 'Four Species', the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), three hadassim (myrtle branches), and two aravot (willow branches.) One explanation for this is that each type of plant represents a different type of Jew, and the mitzvah signifies our unity as a people. The 3rd through 7th day of the holiday is known as Chol Hamoed, intermediate days when meals are still eaten in the succah, but many prohibitions against work are eased.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: Yom Tov resumes on the 8th day of Succot, known as Shemini Atzeret, when we recite the prayer for rain. On the 9th day, known as Simchat Torah, we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of the Torah reading. In many communities, it is customary to dance in the streets with the Torah until early morning. On the morning of Simchat Torah, the final portion of the Torah is read, and then we immediately begin with the reading of the Torah from the Book of Genesis.
Chanukah: About 150 years before the Common Era, a 7-branched candelabrum (menorah) was kept lit in the Temple in Jerusalem as part of its daily services. Olive oil was used to light the menorah and was prepared in ritual purity and placed in vials. Enter the Maccabees, a group of Jewish priests turned warriors, who managed to vanquish the Greek armies. The Greeks, as their final act of revenge against the Jews, destroyed all the pure oil, leaving only the impure. They expected the Maccabees to use this impure oil, thereby defiling the Temple.Fortunately, The Greeks didn't quite finish the job. The Maccabees found 1 vial of purified oil, enough to kindle the menorah for only 1 day. But 7 days were required to make more oil in purity. The menorah was lit anyway, and it was here that the miracle occurred. The menorah burned for 8 days, allowing the Maccabees enough time to prepare more pure oil.Today, Jews light the Chanukah candles for 8 days, 1 for each day of the great miracle. Traditional foods made with oil, such as potato pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts are eaten. Gifts are exchanged, and dreidel games are played.