A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
Jewish holidays play a significant role in Temple life. Not only do we offer Shabbat evening and morning services every week, we also offer a wide variety of Festival and other holiday services and programming. Each December, we celebrate The Greatest Hanukkah On Earth!, and in the spring you can be sure we will be preparing for our Purim Extravaganza.
The beginning of the High Holy Days season is marked by the observance of Selichot. Selichot is held on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, if Rosh Hashanah starts the following Monday or Tuesday, then Selichot is observed the preceding Saturday so that there are at least three days between Selichot and Rosh Hashanah. This service is designed to help worshippers direct their hearts and minds to the process of teshuvah, meaning "return", as in, turning away from sin. A fundamental part of the Selichot service is the recitation of the "Thirteen Attributes" of God's mercy that were revealed to Moses after the sin of the golden calf (Exodus 34:6-7). The service is quite moving, as we search introspectively within ourselves and recite pleas for mercy. The melodies for the Selichot service are evocative, while offering hope for change and a better life.
Rosh Hashanah is Hebrew for "head of the year" (literally), or "beginning of the year" (figuratively). In the Torah, we read, "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, there shall be a sacred assembly, a cessation from work, a day of commemoration proclaimed by the sound of the shofar" (Numbers 29:1). Therefore, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the first and second days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.
The word tashlich means "to cast/throw", and is symbolic of self-purification. On Rosh Hashanah it is a tradition to throw bread crumbs into a river or stream (or body of water, preferably one with fish in it) to symbolically cast sins into the water. This custom dates back to at least the 14th century, based on the Book of Micah: "Who is like You, God, who forgives sins and overlooks transgressions for the survivors of Your people; He does not retain His anger forever, for He loves kindness; He will return and show us mercy, and overcome our sins, and You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins" (Micah 7:18-20).
Kever Avot (literally, the Graves of our Ancestors) is the custom of visiting the graves of loved ones between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Jews meet at community cemeteries to participate in a brief service honoring our departed loved ones and their memories. Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg explains:
Historically, Kever Avot was a mostly superstitious occasion prompted by the fear of death. Jews would take advantage of the auspicious timing before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the Book of Life was open and God's judgement was open to argument, to ask their departed loved ones to intercede on their behalf and make sure that their names were recorded for another year of life. In our time, Kever Avot is not so much about soliciting heavenly intervention as about reconnecting with our personal history and honoring those who shaped it.
Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement". It is a day set aside to atone for the sins of the past year. We say about the Book of Life that on Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. By Yom Kippur the 40 days of repentance have passed. This day is our last appeal, our last chance to change God's judgement, to demonstrate our repentance and make amends so that we may be written in the Book of Life.
The holiday of Yom Kippur is instituted in Leviticus 16:29-31, where God said to Moses,
And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Lord. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.
The word "Sukkot" means booths or tabernacles, and refers to the temporary dwellings in which we are commanded to live during this holiday. Sukkot, often translated as the Feast of Tabernacles, is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (the other two are Passover and Shavu'ot). The festival of Sukkot begins on the eve of the 15th day of Tishrei, just five days after Yom Kippur. It lasts for seven days and is a time to reconnect with the natural world.
Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah". This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from the Torah, starting with Genesis, chapter 1, and working our way to Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last TYorah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle and never ends. This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls with lots of high-spirited singing and dancing. Consecration ceremonies marking the beginning of a child's Jewish education are also held at this time.
Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, is called the New Year for Trees, as it marked the date at which the tithe for fruit-bearing trees was calculated. Unlike our contemporary dread of "tax day," Tu B'Shevat is a joyous occasion celebrating the magnificent natural world with which God has blessed humankind and emphasizing the importance of caring for and preserving our environment. Jewish mystics interpreted the New Year for Trees as an anniversary for the Tree of Life—like the Sephirotic chart describing the emanations of God's creation as a tree whose roots are in heaven and whose fruit is all of the universe. Just as trees begin to bud in the middle of winter, the Tu B'Shevat Seder describes a re-awakening of the mystical Tree of Life honoring the four worlds: Acting, Relating, Knowing and Being.
Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. It is one of the Jewish holidays that can be summed up in nine words: they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!
The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as his own daughter. The King of Persia, Ahasuerus (pronounced "A-hash-vei-rosh"), gave a banquet and ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to dance naked before his guests; when she refused, he ordered her to be banished and set out to find a new queen. Esther was one of the girls chosen to come to the palace to become part of the king's harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.
In comparison with the fate of many laws and customs associated with Jewish tradition, it appears that none are practiced by such a broad segment of contemporary Jewry as the Passover seder. Long after other aspects of Jewish tradition lose their significance for many contemporary Jews, the Passover Seder remains meaningful. Why is this so? I believe it is because the Passover Seder embodies the essential cultural and educational mechanism that has guaranteed the continuity of Jewish existence throughout the generations.
The continuity of Jewish existence is dependent upon the success of Jewish parents in every generation to convey the story of its past to its children. Should it ever happen that the parents no longer have a story to tell, or if the children are no longer interested in hearing the story of their past, the existence of the Jewish people will then come to an end. - Professor Joseph (Yossi) Turner
In every generation, each of us must feel as if we personally had come out of Egypt, as the Torah says: "You should tell your child on that day, 'When I left Egypt, God did miracles for me...'
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon and Rabbi Batsheva Appel lead our Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot Service, "All-Night" Study Session and Cheesecake Bake-Off.
Our evening begins with short, music-filled Shavu'ot Festival Services in the Schlanger Chapel. Following services, our Tikkun Leil Shavuot begins. According to the Torah, the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was accompanied by shofar blasts, earthquakes and thunder; at the Temple all will share in an explosion of insights as Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon and Rabbi Jason Holtz explore the Hebrew bible with a combination of Talmudic, modern rabbinic and mystical commentaries. We'll study all night (well, until about 11 pm), all the while enjoying spectacular dairy desserts.
There is no charge for Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot, but all are requested to bring a cheesecake or other dairy dessert. Please call the office at (520) 327-4501 to tell us what you're bringing.
Shavu'ot Morning and Yizkor Service is led by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Rabbi Batsheva Appel, and Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg in the Schlanger Chapel. This service includes the morning liturgy with special psalms, the Yizkor service, and the reading of the Book of Ruth.