An illustration of a sukkah, a booth-like structure for the Jewish holiday sukkotLafayette’s Jewish community celebrated Rosh Hashanah last week. That celebration of the Jewish New Year will be quickly followed by three more Jewish holidays—Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

A common greeting for Rosh Hashanah is “Happy New Year” or “May you be written in the Book of Life.” The latter acknowledges that Rosh Hashanah begins the 10-day Season of Repentance that culminates in Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is often referred to as the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a 25-hour fast day beginning before sunset the day prior. No food or drink may be partaken this entire period, and most of the evening and day are spent in communal prayer. Commonly one wishes those observing Yom Kippur “an easy fast” or “a meaningful fast.” This year, Yom Kippur begins today (Sept. 15) at nightfall and ends at nightfall tomorrow.

Five days after Yom Kippur is the eight-day-long holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths.  Sukkot 2021 will begin the evening of Monday, Sept. 20, and end the evening of Monday, Sept. 27. As with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for traditionally observant Jews, the first two and last two days of this period have some particular restrictions. This holiday commemorates the 40-year journey of the Biblical Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land of Israel. Thus, a prominent symbol and practice of the holiday is the building and dwelling in a “sukkah,” a temporary house/hut-type building often with tent-like walls and a roof made of bamboo or branches. Jews eat, study, hang out, and try as much as possible to “live” in this structure for the week. The sukkah is a reminder of the fragility of life, and of the partnership with and dependence upon God and not simply our own efforts for protection, as well as a time to experience more fully the outdoors.

The Lafayette Hillel sukkah will be next to Hillel House on the corner of Clinton Terrance and McCartney Street (although that may be subject to restrictions related to the adjacent construction). Jewish and non-Jewish guests are welcome to visit and rest or eat in the sukkah. Feel free to wish anyone there a “Happy Sukkot.”

The holiday of Sukkot ends with two more holiday days. Shemini Atzeret (the “eighth [day] of assembly”) will begin the evening of Monday, Sept. 27, and end the next evening, and Simchat Torah (“rejoicing with the Torah”) will begin in the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 28, and end the next evening. Shemini Atzeret is the culmination of the just-completed week of festivities. It is followed the next day by Simchat Torah, during which the annual cycle of public readings from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses, which begins the Hebrew Scriptures) is completed with the chanting of the final chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, and then immediately restarted again with chanting from the beginning of the Book of Genesis. The day’s celebration includes festive processions with the Torah scrolls, including much singing and dancing.

Why do the dates of Jewish holidays change from year to year? The Jewish calendar is mostly a lunar calendar. This means that from year to year, from the perspective of the solar Gregorian calendar, the Jewish holidays shift over a three- to four-week period. This means, in turn, that the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashana can fall from early September to early October depending upon the date of the new moon. Jewish holidays start in the evening, before sunset, and go until nightfall one or two days following.

Please note that many students receive dean’s excuses for religious observances such as those described above. Many faculty and staff also observe religious holidays, so take care when scheduling events. Consider consulting online interfaith calendars such as this or that one when planning your events, scheduling exams, or ordering catering. Additionally, feel free to reach out to Chaplain Alex Hendrickson or Hillel Director Ethan Berkove if you have any questions.

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