Purim, like Chanukkah, is a post-Biblical holiday. It celebrates our miraculous deliverance from the genocidal plans of the evil Haman, drinking companion and advisor to the then Persian king Ataxerxes. We read the Megillas Esther twice, once at night and then the following morning. Nowhere in the scroll do we find G-d’s name and it would be easy to mistake the events as the fortuitous outcome of a palace intrigue. However, in our own beautiful scroll, the word HaMelech – the King – appears in the text at the head of every column, hinting at the Divine Hand that guided these events. The readings are enlivened by noisemakers attempting to drown out every mention of Haman’s name. We conclude with a festive repast that includes the three-cornered Hamantaschen pastries and all depart for home with a bagful of delicious edibles.
Rosh HaShana 5777
We commence the New Year with the uniquely Jewish blend of joy and solemnity, our prayers echoing the familiar melodies of our two cantors. Reservation are a must for this most uplifting of Services, followed both nights by an unforgettable dinner.
Tulips salute the spring as, at Passover, we celebrate our exodus from Egypt 3,329 years ago with the world’s oldest annual commemoration of a people’s escape from slavery to nationhood and freedom.
All of us have childhood memories of Seders, of the four questions that we, as the youngest participants, recited to elicit the Haggadah’s explanatory answers. None of us can forget the four tiny cups of sweet wine, the sumptuous dinner with gefilte fish, matzoh balls swimming in golden broth, roasts and brisket, kugels and tzimmes, all capped with scrumptious desserts.
Right here on Charles Street, those memories are refreshed each year with a community Seder on each of the first two nights. These are feasts for the soul and gourmet delights for the palate, with shmura matzohs and enough veggie dishes to satisfy those whose diets won’t countenance stuffed cabbage and roast turkey. We conclude with the traditional Grace, a spirted rendition of Chad Gadya and the joyous declaration “Next year in Jerusalem!”
A Year of Holy Days
The ancient, melody of Kol Nidre chanted the evening preceding the day of Yom Kippur would seem excessively somber for the text, a renunciation of vows for the year ahead, if we did not know its historical context. The vows we renounce are only those offensive to Heaven, as the text and melody were composed during the Crusades, when marauding armies on their way to the Holy Land decimated Jewish communities in Europe with forced conversions, rape , murder and plunder. The emotions we feel reflect not merely our own repentance for unworthy thoughts and deeds, but our grief for those martyrs as well.
Next morning’s Service, that includes a traditional Yizkor memorial service at midday, coupled with the 26-hour fast, intensify the fervor of our pleas for forgiveness and a year of health and sustenance. The final, long Shofar blast is a joyous conclusion, as we face the year ahead confident that our pleas and prayers have been accepted.
This festival of light dispels winter’s darkness as we kindle our Chanukkiahs to commemorate the rekindling of the Menorah in the cleansed, purified Temple following the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks. The miracle that enabled a single flask of sanctified oil to keep the Menorah alight for eight days is echoed in our oil-focused holiday foods, potato pancakes and Sufganiot – the delicious, jelly-filled donuts that have come to virtually symbolize this holiday.
Our large, beautifully decorated rooftop Succah provides the means for us to fulfill the commandment to dwell in Succoth in commemoration of the rude shelters we built and inhabited after our exodus from Egypt.
“To Dwell” is given Halachic fulfillment by our eating in the Succah the ample and delicious meals at night and the equally satisfying afternoon Kiddushes. During the Hallel Service, we wave the Four Species, consisting of Lulav, Esrog, Willow and Myrtle toward the four cardinal compass points, then Heaven and Earth, to invoke Divine blessings at this propitious time. In the often fine weather experienced during this holiday, many perform this waving in the Succah itself, in the midst of the beauty of the natural world formed by the Creator.
We commemorate the seven weeks our ancestors awaited the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai by counting the Omer each of 49 days and celebrating on Shavuos, the 50th day (Pentecost). Dairy meals are the rule, so a post-Services Kiddush of blintzes and cheesecake are served since on that day our ancestors, reading the Torah’s newly revealed rules for ritual slaughter, realized that none of the meat on hand was kosher.