As a Jewish mom living in the Pensacola area, I often find myself describing/explaining Jewish holidays and rituals to friends as well as my children’s teachers, coaches, and friends. I enjoy sharing and discussing Jewish culture and religious practice with others. I suppose that’s why I became a professional Jewish educator (and also married a rabbi.) In both of these roles, I hold a sacred responsibility of leadership at Temple Beth El of Pensacola, and by extension, the task of representing Reform Judaism in Pensacola.
Compared to South Florida and major urban cities across our country, the Jewish population of Pensacola is very small. (Although Temple Beth El is the oldest Jewish congregation in the State of Florida). Usually, when my daughters and I share that we are Jewish, people are curious and have lots of questions. This is especially true in December when we explain that we don’t celebrate Christmas. In terms of Jewish holidays, some are familiar with Hanukkah, primarily because it occurs at the same time of year as Christmas. Many, however, are surprised to learn that Hanukkah is actually a minor festival, on an otherwise very full Jewish calendar.
Many Jewish holidays have their origin in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) and have evolved over the centuries. Jewish holidays are celebrated at home with family and at synagogue in community. The weekly Jewish day of rest is called Shabbat (Sabbath) which begins every Friday at sunset and runs until Saturday night. In addition to a weekly day of rest, prayer, and celebration, the Jewish calendar has many special holidays throughout the year, with the High Holiday season approaching in September-October.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
The chart below identifies core aspects of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year Rosh Hashanah begins Monday evening, September 6; Yom Kippur begins Wednesday evening, September 15. To learn more or to find out about additional Jewish holidays, please check the resources listed below.
|ROSH HASHANAH||Jewish New Year
Creation of the World
Book of Life is Open
|Celebratory||Prayer Services & Scriptural Readings
Hearing the Shofar(ram’s horn)
|Apples & Honey (for a sweet new year)
Round Challah(bread, whose shape symbolizes the yearly cycle)
|Festive Meals with Family
Greeting: “Shanah Tovah”
Sending Greeting Cards
|YOM KIPPUR||Holiest Day of the Year
God Seals the Book of Life
Prayer Services, & Scriptural Readings
Ends with a final blast of Shofar
|None||Wearing White Clothing (spiritual purity)|
A few of my favorite mom-friendly websites for additional information, including videos, crafts, recipes, and more on the High Holidays and other Jewish holidays:
Reform Judaism provides content that is welcoming and accessible. Reform Judaism is the largest denomination of Judaism in North America, with more than 1 million Americans and Canadians affiliated.
My Jewish Learning offers thousands of resources to help navigate Judaism and Jewish life.
PJ Library sends free Jewish books to Jewish families around the world and contains a treasure trove of activities for families and children.
Other fun places to explore online, get ideas for crafts and recipes, or shop, include: Pinterest, The Jewish School Supply Company, Etsy, and Modern Tribe. Quick, engaging Jewish videos for adults and children can be found on the channel BimBam on YouTube. Storybooks for children can be found in libraries in our area as well as for purchase on Amazon. If you are interested in further exploration/experiences, contact your local synagogues or Jewish communal organizations.
Wishing you health and peace in the coming year!
Guest Contributor: Andrea Fleekop
Andrea Fleekop recently began her ninth year as Director of the Temple Beth El of Pensacola’s School for Jewish Living. Prior to Pensacola, Andrea served for seven years as Director of Education at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, California. Andrea holds Masters degrees in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service, with both degrees earned at Hebrew Union College –Jewish Institute of Religion. She is the proud wife of Rabbi Joel Fleekop, mother of Yael (12) and Maya (9), IMPACT100 Member, Girl Scout Leader, and a resident of Gulf Breeze.