Rosh Hashanah falls on the first new moon of the autumn. It marks both the turning inward of the year, and the turning inward of a human begin toward themselves. It is a celebration of new beginnings but a solemn one. The ram’s horn, the shofar blast we repeat so many times on this long day, calls us to account. What are we doing with our lives? Who have we hurt, what harm have we done? How can we take the practical steps to make amends?
This is a serious time but also a celebration. Ultimately though, Rosh Hashanah celebrates looking forwards and not turning back.
We welcome many visitors to our Rosh Hashanah services, which we follow, after the morning service, followed by a community lunch, with lots of apples, honey and honey cake, for a sweet new year.
Can we ever truly make a fresh start? Yom Kippur says the answer is yes.
Beginning on Kol Nidre, this solemn festival falling on the tenth days after Rosh Hashanah, opens up with the haunting melodies sung only at this season. Fasting, dressing in simple clothes without luxury, perfume or make up, spending all evening and all day with others in synagogue; the millions of words we utter can seem to wash over us.
Yet somehow, in this long day of spiritual overload, there is moment of connection, with ourselves, our pasts, a new way to think of the lives we live, and a sense too, of the ultimate One.
Yom Kippur services run from 7:30pm on the festival eve, concluding 25 hours later at sunset. We hold children’s activities for all ages throughout the morning, and provide snacks so that parents don’t worry about having to take their children home for lunch. Some people like to stay for the whole day, some drift in and out, and many arrive just toward the memorial service near the end.
Religious services do not appeal to all of our members and we hold a period of silent meditation as well as a discussion group during the day. We conclude with Havdalah, a closing ceremony of wine and fire, and a communal and very joyful breaking of the fast.
Falling at the end of the autumn high holidays, Simchat Torah in the progressive tradition falls on the seventh day of Sukkot. It is both an ending and a beginning, as the service includes a celebratory reading of both the very last portion of the Torah, and the very beginning.
The entire ethos of our community is summed up in this special service. Accompanied by live music, dancing, and adults and children partying together, everybody in the community is called to recite a blessing for reading the Torah. At least eight different members will read a portion of the Torah on this night, many for the very first time. One year we unrolled the entire scroll, with every one of our members holding it aloft.
The service takes place at night, and towards the end, we will leave the building to dance together under the stars. We end with a festival Kiddush of wine, whiskey, food and cakes.
Chanukkah falls on the 25th day of the winter lunar month, the darkest point of the year. Jews light the eight branched Chanukkiah in the windows of their homes to tell the story of the Chanukkah miracle: the survival of the Jews after the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids (Hellenistic rulers) in the second century BCE (Before the Common Era). Once the Jewish rebels took the Jerusalem Temple back from the Greeks, purified it and re-dedicated it, the Talmud tells us they went in search of oil to re-light the seven branched Menorah. Finding just one small sealed bottle of oil, they lit the lamps. Even though it was enough for one day only, the oil was said to burn for seven whole days.
The miracle is, ultimately that we are here at all, both as a dynamic Jewish people and a fantastic progressive community here in Hackney.
With so much to celebrate, we usually have a community chanukkah party with candle lighting, songs, stories and too many doughnuts and potato latkes.
Purim falls on the last full moon before spring. It is a carnival festival, that laughs in the face of fear, and that enjoins us to eat, drink, send gifts of food to our neighbours, give charity and dress up in silly costumes. We celebrate the survival of the Jews in Persia, after the brave Jewish Queen and her uncle Mordecai foil the plot of the wicked Haman to bring about our destruction.
The Purim Story, found in the Book of Esther, dates from between 400-200 BCE (before the Common Era).
PesachThe days grow longer, there is sunshine as well as rain (and even snow at times). Pesach (Passover) is celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. As a community we celebrate usually on the second night with a seder, food, and songs.
Exploring the very Jewish themes of exile and home, in our own lives, in the Jewish civilization, through texts and stories, and in social action.