Where September Went
The Jewish holidays are on a curious schedule, strictly tied to the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere (the Torah clearly did not envision Jews in Australia or South Africa). The original purpose seems to have been agricultural in nature (autumn and spring harvest festivals, entirely dependent on seasonal rainfall), along with solidification of the religious centre (pilgrimage festivals, to be celebrated “in the place that G-d has chosen”).
There are also a couple of odd days at the beginning of the seventh month, later named Tishrei, in which we are to blow the shofar. On the tenth day of that month, we are to fast and deny ourselves other worldly pleasures, and do annual penance for our sins. These commands are not given any kind of explanation in the Torah – later generations added the idea of the Day of Judgement, during which G-d inscribes us in the Book of Life.
So what was I doing in September? First we had two days of Rosh HaShanah, the New Year (although, as mentioned, it’s in the seventh month – complicated story). I had the honour of leading some of the services in our downstairs minyan. These were followed immediately by Shabbat, giving us three days offline. This is not always the case, but that’s how the calendar worked out this year.
The following week we had Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We fast for over 25 hours, then celebrate with a communal break-fast. These three days are usually called the High Holy Days, although really the Season of Repentance goes on for another two weeks.
Once that was out of the way, we celebrated Sukkot, the Feast of Booths – we built a little hut on the deck, and for the first time ever in our time in Winnipeg, we had dinner there every single night. It was quite amazing. That accounted for another three-day stretch offline, and the following week, we celebrated Shmini Atzeret, the Eighth Day, and danced with the Torah on Simchat Torah. Both were beautiful experiences, but by the end of the last three-day stretch, we were all exhausted and ready to celebrate everyday life.
As I explained to one of my non-Jewish friends, imagine having Christmas every week for a month. Fun, exhilarating but quite exhausting. I am very grateful to have had such wonderful holidays to celebrate, but I’m even more grateful that our next major holiday is not until Passover, six months from now. (Hannukah doesn’t count – its prominence in North America is purely a result of its coincidence with Christmas and other winter solistice celebrations).
Feel free to ask questions – I know it looks very confusing and intense, and trust me, it is. But now it is over until next year!