Holiday Workshops on Zoom

Holiday Workshops with Rabbi Buchwald

Get ready for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot with three exciting Zoom workshops, led by Rabbi Buchwald!

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August 31, 2021 - 7:00PM EDT

Make Rosh Hashana Come Alive!

Join Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald for an exciting Rosh Hashana Prayer Workshop on Tuesday evening, August 31st, at 7pm EDT on Zoom to help us prepare for the holiday. Explore the significance of the shofar, the impactful Torah readings and develop a greater appreciation for some of the most significant prayers.

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Sept. 14, 2021 - 7:00PM EDT

Demystify Yom Kippur!

Rabbi Buchwald will lead an enriching Yom Kippur Prayer Workshop on Tuesday evening, September 14th, at 7pm EDT on Zoom.  Delve into the underlying significance of Yom Kippur, learn how one can achieve repentance and explore the meaning of the some of the most significant prayers.

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Sept. 19, 2021 - 12:00 Noon EDT

The Joyous Festival of Sukkot!

Join Rabbi Buchwald for an uplifting  Sukkot Workshop on Sunday, September 19th, at 12:00 Noon EDT on Zoom to help us prepare for the holiday of Sukkot. Learn the beautiful symbolism of the four species, what constitutes a Sukkah and develop a whole new understanding of the joyous celebration that is Sukkot.

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High Holidays

Participate in one of our renowned, interactive High Holiday Beginners Service programs or workshops this holiday season.  We’ll help you host a program with our comprehensive materials and videos or find one to attend.

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Rosh Hoshana

The Jewish New Year starts with a celebration of the very creation of the world and a recognition of humankind’s relationship to the Creator.

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Yom Kippur

The High Holidays culminate with The Day of Atonement.
There is a mysticism in that almost all Jews recognize the holiness of the day.

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Browse our collection of High Holiday Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Jewish histories and traditions.

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The Creation of the State of Israel


Since the times of Joshua, when the newly formed Nation of Israel conquered the kingdoms of Canaan (c. 1250 B.C.E.), not a decade has gone by when there was not a Jewish presence in the land that was to become the Land of Israel.
As the crossroads between three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), the Middle East has always been a “hot spot” of activity. Throughout history, conquering armies have swept over the land of Israel, attacked its residents, and still the Jewish people have clung to their land. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans each marched through as they struggled to amass their vast empires. Each trying to eliminate the Jewish nation, either through forced assimilation, death or exile. The Jews, however, always remained committed to their faith, their people and their land.

Since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and exiled the Jews in 70 C.E. (renaming the land Palestina), the vast majority of the Jews have lived in a diaspora (dispersion) in virtually every corner of the world. No matter the country in which they sojourned, their longing for their own land has continued to burn in their hearts and dreams as they turned their prayers towards Jerusalem. The saga of the modern State of Israel comes from this more than 2000 year old longing for Jerusalem.

By the mid-1800’s, as anti-Semitic violence increased in Europe, more and more Jews began making their way to Ottoman-ruled Palestine. When these new immigrants arrived, they found it impossible to blend in with the existing Jewish population, a community of scholars living in squalid Ottoman cities that were locked each night to keep out marauders. After all, the new Jewish immigrants had come to work the land.

When studying the pattern of settlement leading to the State of Israel, the history between 1882 and the creation of the State of Israel is divided into five Aliyah* periods.

*Aliyah means going up. The term Aliyah is used for those moving to Israel implying that one is rising spiritually.


In order to understand the history of the establishment of Israel, it is important to know the political condition of the land of Israel prior to the waves of Jewish immigration. The Ottoman Empire, ruled over large expanses of land, its reach broken into smaller ruling districts. The Ottomans governed the land of Israel for 400 years, from 1517-1917. The area of Israel, along with the current area of the Kingdom of Jordan, was known as Palestine and was under the jurisdiction of Damascus (Syria). With time, the Ottoman Empire became known for its stagnation. The intricacies of the vast bureaucracy were manipulated through bakshish, bribes. The majority of the territory of Palestine was broken into landholdings, and absentee landholders came once or twice a year to collect the rent from the shareholders who lived in squalor. Modern technology, such as plumbing, was unheard of in the backwaters of the Empire. The cities of the Ottoman Empire were no better. The people of Jerusalem lived only within the walls of the city (today known as the Old City) and the doors were locked each night for fear of the bands of robbers that terrorized the lands. Poverty and disease flourished in the cities that had none of the amenities of sanitation.

The situation of the land can best be understood by an excerpt from Mark Twain’s letters from his travels there in 67:

We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds–a silent, mournful expanse…We pressed on toward the goal of our crusade, renowned Jerusalem. The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those
fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem… Jerusalem is mournful, dreary, and lifeless. I would not desire to live here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken Land (“The Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress” Volume II, p.216-359 (Harper and Brothers 1922).


Between 1882 and 1903, the period known as the First Aliyah, approximately 30,000 Jews made there way to the land of Israel. Impoverished refugees, they worked land purchased by European Jewish philanthropists and the newly created Zionist organizations. Life was a constant struggle against harsh conditions and many died of disease, exposure and malnutrition. Draining swamps, clearing land, and learning new farming techniques were major challenges for the immigrants, but they fought hard, and by the end of the First Aliyah period, several settlement towns, such as Rishon L’tzion, had been established and the Hebrew language had begun its revival as a modern, spoken tongue.

During the period of the First Aliyah, “Zionism” became an official movement, spearheaded by Theodore Herzl. The First Zionist Congress convened in Switzerland in 1897, giving focus to the movement and adding political weight to the cause.


As the First Aliyah petered out, the spirit of Zionism was revitalized by a new surge of pogroms in Russia, particularly after the failed revolution of 1905. The Second Aliyah was characterized by the Socialist Zionists who saw the rebuilding of the land of Israel as an opportunity to bring to life their socialist ideology. Unlike the First Aliyah, which relied, in part, on Arab labor, the Second Aliyah promoted a society in which Jews viewed craftsmanship and laboring the land as virtual mitzvot.

During the Second Aliyah period, the first kibbutz*, Kibbutz Deganiah, was created, and the first all-Jewish city, Tel Aviv, was founded. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), founded in 1901, facilitated the purchase and development of land, and numerous organizations were organized to help new immigrants find housing and adjust to their new environment. By the end of the Second Aliyah, there were approximately 85,000 immigrants working to establish a Jewish homeland.

*A Kibbutz is a collective, Socialist settlement.


World War I marked the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. With the defeat of the Turks, Palestine became a British colony. In 1917, the World Zionist Organization successfully negotiated with the British government, and the British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, pledged British support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
Thus began the era of the Third Aliyah (1919-1923), with the world at peace and support for a Jewish homeland seemingly guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration. Again large numbers of Jews came from Eastern Europe following new pogroms instigated by the successful Bolshevik Revolution. The new immigrants came far better prepared by European Zionist organizations with Hebrew education and labor training, and proved critical in helping develop new settlements, build roads and strengthen Jewish communities.

Since the beginning of the Zionist movement, the Jews had been purchasing the land from the wealthy absentee-landlords of the Ottoman Empire. At first, these landholders were happy to sell their lands at the high prices the Jews were willing to pay. As their Arab tenants’ began to grumble about the growing Jewish presence and the better living conditions of the Jews, the Turks began to sell the Jews tracts of land that they saw as unusable, such as the Jezreel Valley. By the sweat of their brow, the immigrants of the Third Aliyah drained the marshes of the Jezreel Valley, creating an entire region of agriculturally desirable land which flourished in their hands

While the Third Aliyah was bolstered by the hopes inspired by the Balfour Declaration, the period ended in disappointment. At the beginning of the 1920s, the League of Nations (forerunner of the UN) granted Britain the Mandate for Palestine, charging it to administer the land and “facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions…”
With the removal of the Ottoman Empire, and having witnessed the progress made by the Jews in the land, a new movement of Arab nationalism surged. The Arabs began to apply pressure to the British to prohibit Jewish immigration. Arab pressure and riots in Palestine brought about the Churchill White Paper of 1922, which, while it again reiterated the right of the Jews to a homeland in Palestine, detached all of the area east of the Jordan river from Palestine and gave it to the Hashemi family to establish an independent Arab state called (Trans)Jordan – Thus creating a Palestinian state out of 2/3 of the region.

In response to the growing dissonance created by the conflicting promises of the British to the Jews and the Arabs, the immigrants of the Second and Third Aliyah laid the foundations for self-rule. They created the Histadrut (National Labor Organization), which helped create an industrial base while continuing to support agricultural advances. Another important creation was the establishment of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary defense organization.


Marked as the period from 1924 until the start of World War II, the immigrants of the Fourth Aliyah were composed of primarily middle-class Polish refugees fleeing new persecutions, as well as Jews from Middle Eastern countries. The influx of the middle-class Europeans brought new capital to the region as the newest immigrants invested in small businesses.

Dominating the era of the Fourth Aliyah was the growing unrest between Jews and Arabs. While the Jews had purchased all the land upon which they settled, and were recognized internationally by the League of Nations’ Mandate as having a right to settle the land, there was an increasing opposition from the Arabs. In 1929, the Jews of the city of Hebron, whose Jewish population long predated the Zionist settlement movement and had lived in peace with their Arab neighbors, were ravaged by a violent Arab pogrom. When the rioting stopped, 67 Jews were dead and 70 wounded. The reports spoke of neighbors attacking neighbors and life-long friends suddenly turning into bitter enemies. The violence spread to other cities.

As had all-too-frequently become the case under British Rule, the British authorities did nothing to try and stop the attacks. With the British unable and unwilling to insure their safety, the surviving Jews fled Hebron, unable to return until 1967.


The Fifth Aliyah began with the rise of Hitler in Germany and ended in 1939, due to a combination of German emigration restrictions and British quotas. This Aliyah, just prior to World War II, was composed mostly of German Jews and other war refugees. Unlike many of the immigrants of the previous Aliyahs, they came out of necessity, not out of ideology. The new immigrants were often from upper and middle class backgrounds, often professionals who filled the need of the settlements for doctors and lawyers, as well as enhancing the cultural tone of the country. As the immigration increased, neighboring Arab countries accelerated their oppression of the native Jewish populations, causing another influx of Middle Eastern Jews, particularly from Yemen.


As the situation for the Jews in Europe grew more deadly, the doors of the world closed. Responding to anti-Jewish riots by Arabs throughout 1936, ‘37, ‘38 and, ‘39, Britain issued another White Paper in 1939 severely restricting Jewish immigration. At the same time, England and the United States imposed immigration quotas and the Jews were left with nowhere to go. The Jews pleaded with the British government to be allowed to enter Palestine, but to no avail.

The Jews in Palestine, seeing the desperate situation of the Allied forces, put aside their disputes with the British government and formed a special Jewish Brigade to fight the Nazis in Europe. At the same time, the Arab leaders met with Hitler and decided to support the Axis powers. Some members of the Jewish Brigade and other Jews from Palestine, managed to smuggle themselves into the war zone and establish underground forces to help Jews escape.

By land or sea, bribery and fake visas, Jews tried desperately to escape Nazi Europe and enter Palestine.
Tens of thousands did managed to smuggle through the BriTisha blockades. Those that were caught were put into British prison camps, reliving the barbed-wire nightmares from which they had fled.


As European Jews faced the horrors of the Nazis, the Jews in Palestine were engaged in their own struggle. Frequent attacks against settlements and individuals by the Arab population were countered by Jewish self-defense and retaliation. After the conclusion of World War II, these attacks continued, and even increased The ruling British often took the side of the Arabs, including confiscating the few weapons the Jews had for self-defense.

By the late 1940s, the British, frequently sabotaged by both sides, gave up trying to keep the peace altogether. They brought the matter before the UN and a proposal was passed to divide the remaining land of Palestine (bear in mind that 3/4 of the original land of Palestine, now called Jordan, was already in Arab hands) into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews supported the proposal, recognizing that even after the great tragedy in Europe it was the best they could hope for. The Arabs, however, rejected the plan.
In May of 1948, the British completed their withdrawal from the region.

While the withdrawal was supposed to be neutral, many of the British jails, fortresses and munitions were handed over to local Arabs.

On May 14, the day the British pulled out, the State of Israel formally declared its independence. On May 15, the new State of Israel, with no army, navy, or air force, was attacked by the surrounding Arab States.

Tu b'Av

Tu b'Av

The Fifteenth of Av

Tu b’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times.

“There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av…”
– Ta’anit 26b

On Tu b’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don’t look only at physical beauty–look rather at the family [values], ‘For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised…” (Proverbs 31:30).

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu b’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.

Jerusalem Day

Yom Yerushalayim

Jerusalem Day

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Israel into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an “international city” for a period of ten years.

The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the partition plan).

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall, the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the wall mount that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.
On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. Although the war itself lasted six days, the battle for Jerusalem was over in two. On June 7, 1967 – 28 Iyar 5727 – Jewish troops took the Old City and, for the first time in almost twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Yom Hashoah

Holocaust Memorial Day

On the 27th of Nisan, Jews around the world will mark Yom Ha’shoah (Officially Yom Ha’zikaron La’shoah V’hag’vurah, which translates to The Day of Memorial for the Holocaust and the Heroism, generally shortened to Yom Ha’shoah). In Israel, the day is marked by official ceremonies, flags at half mast and, most famously, by a siren marking a moment of silence during which traffic comes to a standstill.

When World War II ended and the world was finally clearly aware of the incredible devastation wrought in Europe, there were no words. While mourning for their own nation’s soldiers, the world was faced with accepting the fact that the Nazis had purposefully and systematically murdered six million Jewish men, women and children as well as several million others whom they classified as lesser human beings.

The term ‘Holocaust’ is a word of Greek origin used to describe massacres. As it came to be applied to the events in Europe in the 1940s, the term emerged as the name for this highly specific genocide. This was strengthened by the release of the 1978 NBC mini-series of the same title.

In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as Ha’shoah. Shoah means calamity. Similar to the term Holocaust, the term shoah gained further usage after the release of the 1985 French documentary entitled “Shoah.” The film condensed over 300 hours worth of interviews into 9.5 hours and brought the hard-hitting facts of the Holocaust into reality.

In traditional communities, the events of the Holocaust are referred to as “Churban Europe” or “the Churban,” a term which parallels the destruction of the Torah learning centers in Europe with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Many traditional communities also mark a day of mourning for the victims of the Holocaust on an already established day of universal mourning, either the Tenth of Tevet or the Ninth of Av.

History of the State Since 1948


From May 1948 until July 1949, the newly declared Jewish State waged what seemed to be a war for survival against impossible odds. Out-manned, out-gunned and nearly friendless, the survival of the fledgling state was unlikely. The trained armies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and contingents from both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, together with an untold number of reinforcements, battled against a make-shift army composed of sabras (native-born Israelis) and refugees, many just arriving from European DP camps.

While the odds were vastly against them, the Jewish fighters had two major advantages: the desire to survive and unity. With victims of the Holocaust streaming in with tales of horror and despair, the Jews understood that independence was their only option. If they were defeated by the Arab nations, they would be massacred, and those who survived would have no place to go. And while the Arab nations were unified in their hatred of Israel, they fought amongst themselves, each seeking to expand its own territory.

Battling for every dunam of land, the Israelis slowly drove back the Arab armies, overcoming the impossible odds and breaking the siege on the roads.
In July 1949, armistice agreements were signed with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. At the end of the war, the borders of the State of Israel encompassed a slightly larger territory than originally mapped out by the UN partition plan, but the city of Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan.
While the fighting was over, there was no real peace. The Arab nations refused to recognize the State of Israel. In the divided capital of Jerusalem, gun shots often rang out. The captured Jewish quarter of the Old City was laid to ruin as the Jordanians destroyed synagogues, schools, homes and even cemeteries. The holy Western Wall was rendered inaccessible to all Jews.


Certain of their victory in the war, the attacking Arab nations encouraged the Arabs living within Israel to flee, telling them that the Jews would surely massacre them, and assuring them that after the Zionists were defeated they would have priority in acquiring the Jewish lands. Many hundreds of thousands of Arabs believed their comrade’s propaganda and fled. When the Arabs lost the war, these Arabs were now without a home. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan…all refused to take them in and declare them citizens. Instead, they created refugee camps, vowing that they would soon disgorge the Zionist enemies and “drive them into the sea.”

But the Arabs who fled Israel during the War of Independence were not the only ones who suddenly found themselves displaced. An almost equal number of Jews who had been living in Arab countries now found themselves regarded as enemies in their own countries. Driven from their homes, these Jews were resettled in Israel.

For the next decade, Israel continued to grow. The population constantly increased by a flow of Jews from around the world. Life in Israel was not easy. Basic amenities were looked upon as luxuries, and constant infiltrations by Palestinian Arab terrorist groups called “Fedayeen” took the lives of over 1,000 Israeli citizens.


During the early 1950s, on top of the continued Fedayeen attacks, Egypt disrupted Israeli trade by blocking shipping routes in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. At the same time, Egypt nationalized the Suez canal, angering the French and English.

At the end of October 1956, Israel launched the Sinai Campaign, capturing the entire Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Two days later, France and England joined the battle. By early November, the campaign was over, Egypt was humbled and an uneasy truce prevailed. At the insistence of the United States and the UN, Israel withdrew from Gaza and Sinai. UN troops were stationed on the Egypt-Israel border, but the Egyptians continued to hinder Israeli shipping.


In 1967, military movements throughout the Arab nations surrounding Israel made it apparent that a major Arab military attack was imminent. Egypt ejected the UN peace-keeping forces that had served as a buffer at the Israel-Egypt border, and blocked Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran, an action Israel had warned would lead to war. At the same time, infiltration attacks increased on the Syrian border at the Golan Heights and large troop movements in Syria alarmed the Israeli Defense Force. Throughout the Middle East there was an increase in troop movements and anti-Israel rhetoric. Soldiers arrived in Jordan from Iraq, Algeria and Kuwait.

Using diplomatic channels, Israel tried to re-open the international shipping routes to their vessels. The previously pledged support by allies, France and Britain, evaporated, and the United States was unable to create an international force to pressure Egypt to back down. Faced with a major international challenge and surrounded by increased troop movements in enemy countries, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on June 5, 1967, swiftly capturing the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Ignoring Israeli pleas not to join the war, Jordan launched heavy artillery attacks on western Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel responded with a hard defensive push and gained control of all of Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). When the Syrians attacked from the north, Israel fought back and succeeded in capturing the Golan Heights from which the Syrians had been launching terror attacks since the creation of the State.

The war ended on June 10th, again without any official peace. The State of Israel had added to its territory the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, all areas from which there had been constant attacks against Israel’s civilian population.
Perhaps the greatest moment in the 1967 war was the unification of Jerusalem. On June 7, 1967, for the first time since 1948, Jews stood before the holy Western Wall and were free to pray. Since the unification of the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims have all had open access to the holy sites of the ancient city.


Despite the noted increase in movements of Egyptian and Syrian troops, the Israeli Defense Forces deemed the situation secure enough to allow the majority of Israeli soldiers to return home and spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with their families.

When the Syrians and Egyptians attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish year (October 6, 1973), the Israelis were taken by surprise, which nearly cost them the war. The Egyptians and Syrians were supported by troops from other Arab nations as well as extensive training and arms from the Soviet Union. What was originally a regional Mid-East conflict, became a battle ground for Cold War issues as the Soviet Union backed Egypt and Syria, supplying them with airlifts of weapons and advisors. At the very last moment, in response, the United States, sent Israel the military replacement parts it needed to recover from its initial losses. Israel eventually struck back and recovered, but only after suffering extraordinarily heavy losses.

Technically, the war ended on October 22, 1973, but fighting continued on the Egyptian-Israeli front. When the cease-fire went into effect, Israel had captured an additional 165 square miles of territory from Syria, and had encircled the Egyptian Third Army on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Egyptian forces held two areas of Israeli territory along the east bank of the canal. Israel, Egypt and Syria all held prisoners of war. After months of diplomacy, Israel withdrew from the area it seized from Syria during the 1973 war, in addition to some area gained in 1967, as well as from parts of the Sinai. Prisoners of war were exchanged.


The visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in November 1977 was a monumental moment in Mid-East history. Sadat’s two-day visit, at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, began a process that ended two years later at Camp David, Maryland, when, through the good offices of American President Jimmy Carter, a peace treaty was brokered. It was the first time in history that an Arab nation recognized the State of Israel. As a result of the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.


In the late 1970s, southern Lebanon became a formidable launching zone for terrorist attacks against Israel. The continued attacks became untenable and all diplomatic resources failed to secure peaceful living conditions for the residents of Northern Israel. In 1982, Israel could endure no more, and entered Southern Lebanon to do battle with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. While numerous cease-fires were arranged in the 1980s and 1990s, each time fighting broke out again, and the security of Israeli citizens was continually at risk. In June 1985, the majority of Israeli troops were withdrawn from Southern Lebanon. A small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia remained in Southern Lebanon in a “security zone,” which Israel established to serve as a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory.

In the summer of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon. Hundred of members of the Southern Lebanese army, that had allied itself with Israel, fled to Israel for protection from retribution from anti-Israel forces. Since the unilateral withdrawal, there has been an increase in attacks by Hizbullah, the major terrorist organization.


During the Gulf War, despite its non-involvement, Israel once again came under attack as Scud Missiles were launched at Israeli territory from Iraq. In total, 39 scuds landed in Israel, many of them on homes and other occupied buildings. Pressured by the United States and other international influences, Israel did not respond to the attacks. Miraculously, Israel suffered only one death.


In 1987, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), recognized internationally as a terrorist organization headed by Yassir Arafat, led an internal uprising known as the Intifada. A non-conventional war, the Intifada continued until the mid-1990s. The methods of the Intifada included guerilla warfare, terrorist attacks, stabbings and highjackings.

As the situation became unbearable for both sides, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin agreed to meet with PLO chief Yassir Arafat. Thus began the Oslo Peace Process in 1994. Under the Oslo agreement, Israel agreed to trade land for peace. Included in the terms of the Oslo agreement were: the removal of troops and the creation of self-governed Palestinian areas, the creation (and arming) of a Palestinian police force, as well as the removal from the PLO charter of the declaration of violence against Israel. Critical to the furtherance of the peace process was an educational system based on peace. The agreement was designed to slowly move towards a separate Palestinian entity governed by the Palestinian Authority, but only after accepted steps and signs of change on both sides. Important “final status” issues were left unresolved until the initial agreement had been fulfilled.

Over the five years during which the “land for peace” transfers were expected to build mutual trust and confidence, the two sides would proceed with negotiations on the “final status” issues left unresolved at Oslo. These included some of the thorniest issues dividing the two sides: Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, and the right of Arab refugee return.

The Oslo period lasted from 1994 until 2000. Peace talks and negotiations gave Israelis hope that peace would soon be achieved. Yet the agreements being made by the leaders of both sides were not necessarily acceptable to their constituents. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations continued to disrupt any hopes for peace, staging numerous bus bombings and other attacks. Right-wing Israelis fought for their voices to be heard as they countered that “land for peace” would not bring peace. Still, the talks continued, and in the summer of 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, at the behest of President Bill Clinton, offered chairman Arafat control of over 90% of the West Bank, Gaza and a shared capital in Jerusalem. The offer was rejected. Arafat wanted all or nothing.


Just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in September 2000, violence again erupted in what is now called the Al Aksa Intifada. The Israeli people wearied by concessions that did not bring peace, elected Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister in the elections in February 2001.

The Al Aksa Intifada took the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. Every time it appeared that peace-talks would resume, and that the Palestinian Authority might make a serious attempt to deter the terrorism, there was another attack: suicide bombers attacked pizza shops, night clubs, cafes and Passover Seders, killing young and old indiscriminately. Gunmen infiltrated Bar Mitzvah parties, bombers blew up commuter buses — the one common thread was that the Palestinian terrorists made no distinctions. Even Arabs were murdered. Entire families were wiped out and many children were left without parents.

In 2002, Israel began constructing a Security Fence. While this move was controversial internationally, statistics have shown that there was a significant (90%) decrease in terrorist attacks from the areas where the wall was completed. The protection of human life, however, has come at a cost, as those Palestinians wishing to cross into Israel proper for legitimate reasons of work or recreation, are impeded by long backups at check points.

The Al Aksa Intifada definitively came to an end when Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. In January 2006, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, effectively ushering in a new generation of political leadership to this seemingly never ending struggle. Mahmoud Abbas became the President of the Palestinian Authority, while Ehud Olmert assumed the Prime Ministry of Israel.


Perhaps the most significant action of Ariel Sharon’s government was the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the removal of its settlers from Gush Katif and other Gaza settlements. Over 8,000 Jews were evacuated from their homes so that the Palestinians could govern themselves in Gaza.

In preparing for the Palestinian takeover, the Israeli army bulldozed every settlement structure except for several synagogues, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on September 11, 2005, and closed the border fence at Kissufim. The synagogues were later looted and burned to the ground.

The absorption of the former residents of Gush Katif into Israel proper was not smooth. Housing and employment still remain a problem for many who were relocated.

Gaza itself degenerated into chaos. In 2006-2007, it became the focal point of a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah. In June 2007, Hamas, a group recognized worldwide as a terrorist organization, seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ Fatah military entity. The smuggling of arms from Egypt and constant rocket firing into Western Israel – most notably the city of Sderot – have become the norm.


While Israel had withdrawn its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, the northern border was still a hotspot for violence. Hezbollah regularly sent katusha rockets into northern towns – thankfully, they often missed. In July 2006, Hezbollah terrorists attacked two Israeli border patrol Humvees, killing 3 Israeli soldiers and kidnaping 2 more, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev . This incident followed only a few weeks after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, had been kidnaped in Gaza by Hamas. The Hezbollah kidnaping and Israel’s desperate attempts to have the soldiers returned was the starting point of the Second Lebanon War

The Second Lebanon War lasted 33 days and was ended by a United Nations Cease-fire. All told, over one thousand people were killed, including many civilians. Over one million people on both sides were displaced from their homes during the fighting, though most were able to return when the hostilities ended.

* In August of 2008, the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were returned to Israel in a prisoner/body exchange. The two Israelis were believed to have been dead even at the time of the Lebanese action.


While the U.N. cease fire was upheld on the Lebanese border, the violence throughout the rest of the country did not cease. On March 6, 2008, a gunman entered Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem and killed 8 students and wounded 11 others. Rocket attacks out of the Gaza Strip increased, and over 12,000 rockets were launched into Israel between 2000 and 2008. As the vast majority of these rockets did not, miraculously, take any lives, the ongoing bombardment was not widely noted and condemned.

In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a three week military air and infantry operation in Gaza meant to end the ongoing rocket attacks and to weaken Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the region. The operation concluded with a unilateral cease-fire.


Over the course of the last decade, Israel has faced the challenge of negative public relations and has lost important support from the North American Jewish community. Incidents such as the 2010 Gaza Flotilla raid in which Israel forcibly stopped a group of Turkish ships trying to illegally enter Gaza created much negative publicity, even if they were within their rights. One anti-Israel campaign that has gained particular popularity is the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Jewish university students have had to fight for Israel’s legitimacy in light of numerous calls for boycotts on Israeli products.

On a more positive note, after a 5 year multi-national pressure campaign, Gilad Shalit, who had been abducted on the Gaza border in 2006, was returned to Israel in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.

Our Sages have taught us that the actions of every Jew have a direct impact on the entire nation. What Jews do in America, in Canada, in Russia, in any part of the world, can help our brothers and sisters in Israel find peace.

Israel Memorial Day & Israel Independence Day

Yom Ha'atzmaut

Israel Independance Day

As the State of Israel marks its birthday on the 5th of Iyar, the world holds its breath waiting and wondering if peace will ever come to the Middle East.

Israeli Memorial Day (Yom Ha'Zikaron) is
Observance for Israeli Independance Day (Yom Ha'Atzma'ut) begins the evening of
, with a siren and a moment of silence in Israel.

Israel’s independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle, but it has come with a great cost in human lives. Therefore, before it celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave life and limb for their country. On the 4th of Iyar, Yom Ha’Zikaron, Memorial Day is observed. It is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers of the State, an alarm is sounded simultaneously throughout the country for one minute, once in the evening and again in the morning. As the siren pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt as everyone stands for a moment of silence.

In honor of Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, NJOP brings you a brief summary of the dynamic history of the State of Israel:

The Creation of the State of Israel

History of the State Since 1948

Lag Ba'Omer

Lag Ba'Omer

33rd of the Omer

Table of Contents

As Pesach flows into Sefirat Ha’Omer, (the counting of the Omer), which leads into Shavuot, Jews commemorate the loss of thousands of the students of the great 2nd century sage, Rabbi Akiva.

 Lag Ba’Omer

Because of their lack of respect for each other, the students were struck with a terrible plague. On the thirty-third day of the Omer, the plague ended, but nearly all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students had perished. To commemorate the tragic loss of these Torah Scholars, 33 days of the Omer are marked as days of mourning, during which observant Jews refrain from marrying, shaving, cutting hair and listening to live music.

In Hebrew, every letter has a numeric value. The “lamed” equals 30, and the “gimmel” equals 3, thus the name: Lamed Gimmel (L”G) Ba’Omer, literally 33 (days) in the Omer.

Rabbi Akiva persevered after this great tragedy and continued to teach those students who had survived the plague, as well as new students. Of his surviving disciples, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is also deeply connected with the thirty-third day of the Omer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent his life studying the Kabbalah, the hidden esoteric aspects of the Torah. According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai finished revealing his teachings, recorded in the famed book, the Zohar. He died that evening, and was buried in the cave on Mount Meron, near Safed, where he had lived.

There are several customs associated with Lag Ba’Omer:


Families and friends gather together for a bonfire or a picnic on Lag Ba’Omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were compiled in the Zohar (which means shining light) and the bonfires bring light to the world.
First Hair Cuts: Many have the custom not to cut a boy’s hair until he is three years old, the age at which he first begins to learn Torah. Because this idea is tied into Kabbalistic thought concerning hair, many put off the ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba’Omer.


Because weddings are not held during the mourning period of the Omer, and because of the high spiritual energy of the day, many people choose to get married on Lag Ba’Omer.
Mount Meron: In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron to celebrate the Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of the death, of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated, rather than mourned.

Rabbi Akiva – Hero and Martyr

One of Israel’s greatest sages, Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, was a scholar, a teacher, a shepherd and a revolutionary.
A revolutionary? In the year 70 of the Common Era, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem. The emperor promised to rebuild the city, but his plan was to rebuild it and rename it Aeila Capitalina, dedicating it to the Roman god, Jupiter. This outrageous act, along with the harsh laws forbidding the study of Torah and the observance of many of the mitzvot, led to the Bar Kochba revolt over 60 years after the destruction of the Temple, in the year 132 CE.

While Shimon Bar Kochba was the military commander of the revolt, the spiritual leader was Rabbi Akiva. He had such faith in Bar Kochba that he believed him to be the Messiah, which, unfortunately, he was not. It was during the Bar Kochba revolt that the 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague. The rabbis understood this plague to be a result of the students lack of respect for each other, and, despite their high level of intellectual development, their lack of proper moral comportment was fatal. Devastated by the death of his pupils, and the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt, Rabbi Akiva nevertheless persevered and continued teaching his surviving students.
Living in such turbulent times, however, Rabbi Akiva’s life was not to end peacefully. Ignoring the Roman prohibitions against the Jewish people and their practices, he was declared a criminal for teaching Torah wherever he could, and was eventually captured by the Romans. Tortured, he called out joyfully: “All my life I’ve been waiting to fulfill the concept ‘You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources…'[the first paragraph of the Shema] and now I finally have the chance.” Rabbi Akiva died a martyr’s death.

Rabbi Akiva–The Simple Shepherd

Where did Rabbi Akiva get the strength to persevere while watching all but 5 of his students die, his country in revolution, and while being tortured himself?
Akiva ben Yosef ben Avraham was not always a great sage. In fact, he was the son of a convert who was once a thoroughly ignorant and illiterate shepherd. So poor and downtrodden a figure was Akiva ben Yosef that his father-in-law, one of the wealthiest men in Israel, disinherited his daughter, Rachel, for marrying him

At the age of forty, Akiva’s life changed suddenly. One day, while out tending his flocks, he noticed a rock with a strange hole going straight through it. This hole was created by constantly dripping water. Akiva ben Yosef decided then and there to go and learn Torah, for if dripping water could bore a hole into solid rock, then even he, a forty year old man could learn Torah through constant effort. He had to start from scratch, for Akiva ben Yosef did not even know the aleph-bet!

Fully supported by Rachel, his wife, he went to study Torah for 12 years. When he returned he overheard his wife tell a friend that she would gladly let him learn for another 12 years. And he did. When he finally returned, he had become the great sage and acquired his 24,000 students.

Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva started as a shepherd. He became one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people with enough wisdom to unravel the intricacies of the law, guide the populace, and inspire an army.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

When the plague of Rabbi Akiva’s students ended, only five students survived. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was among them.

Like his teacher Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a great scholar and political leader. He believed that all Jews should be immersed exclusively in Torah study, and only late in life did he come to understand that not every Jew could make such a total commitment. His own intense study of Torah brought out the deeper, esoteric meanings of the Torah. With the approval of his teachers, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai set out to share the hidden secrets of the Torah, what is today called Kabbalah, with his fellow Jews

With the arrest of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, were forced to go into hiding from Caeser’s army. For 13 years they dwelled in a cave on Mount Meron in the Galilee, not far from the city of Safed, where, according to tradition, they sustained themselves with the fruit of a carob tree. When the throne changed hands, the pair of scholars were able to come out of hiding and once again share their knowledge with their people.

The teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were set down in a book called the Zohar, which means “splendor.” According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s last insight of Kabbalah was given over and he died. Just before he passed away, he requested that his death not be marked by sadness, for he felt that death should be a time of rejoicing as the soul takes its proper place with G-d. The great sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who revealed the secrets of the Kabbalah, was buried in his cave on Meron. For this reason, tens of thousands of people gather on Mount Meron every year on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, to celebrate the anniversary of his death.

The Fast of 10th of Tevet

Asara B'Tevet

The Fast of 10th of Tevet

‘And it was in the ninth year of [King Tzidkiyahu’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem…’
– Second Book of Kings (25:1-4)


1) The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends at nightfall.

a) Some people get up before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

b) When the fast falls on Friday, most people fast until they drink the wine or grape juice of the Friday night Kiddush at the Shabbat table.

Do’s and Don’ts

1) During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited

2) Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha ba’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), brushing teeth (no swallowing!), bathing, annointing and wearing leather are permitted.

3) Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting (please consult your rabbi). Children under the age of bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls) are not required to fast.

4) Special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

a) S’lichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning service.
b) At Mincha, the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.
c) The Aneinu prayer, asking for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the cantor. An individual who is fasting includes Aneinu in the silent Mincha Amidah.

Historical Significance:

The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4:

‘And it was in the ninth year of [King Tzidkiyahu’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege till the eleventh year of King Tzidkiyahu. On the ninth of the month [of Av] famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached.’

      • On the tenth of Tevet, the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem.
      • A year and a half later, on the ninth of Av (Tishah Ba’Av), the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

The Tenth of Tevet marks two additional tragedies for the Jewish people:

    • On the 8th of Tevet during the 2nd Beis Hamikdash Talmai (Ptolomy), King of Egypt ordered 72 sages to translate the Torah into Greek, known as the Septuagint.
    • On the 9th of Tevet, Ezra HaSofer (The Scribe), leader of the Jews who returned from Babylonia to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash period, died.

A Friday Fast:

1) It is a general rule that no Rabbinic fast days fall on Friday so that people will not enter Shabbat while fasting. The exception to this rule is the Tenth of Tevet, which may occur on Friday.

2) That this fast may occur on a Friday, demonstrates the seriousness of mourning on the Tenth of Tevet.

a) Even Tisha ba’Av, the ninth of Av, on which Jews mourn the destruction of the First and the Second Holy Temple, cannot fall on Friday.

b) The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet is considered more intense since it marked the beginning of the calamities. Had there been no siege, then the walls could not have been breeched (on the 17th of Tammuz), the First Holy Temple would not have been destroyed (on the Ninth of Av), and Gedaliah (the Governor of the Jews) would not have been murdered, causing the remaining Jews to go into exile (the Fast of Gedaliah – 3rd of Tishrei).

An Added Meaning

In Israel, the Tenth of Tevet is also Yom HaKaddish HaKlali, a day on which Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown, such as the victims of the Holocaust.

Tu b'Shevat

Tu b'Shevat

New Year for Trees

Tu b’Shevat is a rabbinical, not biblical holiday. In fact, it is first referred to in the Mishna (Rosh Hashana 2a), where it is called the New Year for Trees. Nevertheless, Tu b’Shevat is an important holiday on the Jewish calendar.

While there are no additional prayers during the day’s services, and there are no special “requirements” for Tu b’Shevat, there is a widespread custom to eat of the 7 special foods by which G-d and the Torah praised the land of Israel. Some Jews even get together to eat a special meal on Tu b’Shevat. This meal is sometimes called a Tu b’Shevat Seder (like the Passover Seder).

7 Special Foods

The seven species of Israeli produce.

On Tu b’Shevat, Jews celebrate with the fruit of the trees, placing particular emphasis on the 7 types of produce by which the Torah praises the land of Israel.

The seven species are mentioned in the Torah in Deuteronomy 8:8 – A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey (from dates).

Tu b’Shevat Seder

Significance of The Color of Wine:

Pure White – Symbolically, the pure white represents the winter and the void of life therein.

Pale Pink (white with a drop of red) – Symbolically, the pale pink mixture represents the approach of spring, and the splash of red signifies the emergence of color.

Dark Pink (a mixture of white and red) – Symbolically, the dark pink mixture represents the progression of spring. The ground has warmed to allow the seeds to take root, and the plants have started to grow.

Almost Red ( red with a drop of white) – Symbolically, the red mixture represents the arrival of summer. The trees are in full bloom and filled with fruit.

The First Cup and Second Cup – The Seder begins with the pouring of the first cup of wine, pure white.


Introduction to Tu b’Shevat: Why Do we have a New Years for trees?

Discussion point: What does a tree represent in Judaism?
In Proverbs, King Solomon refers to the Torah as the Tree of Life. Why did he choose this metaphor for the Torah?

A midrash (legendary source) from the Talmud may add to the discussion: One day, Honi (a Talmudic sage) was walking along, and saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi knew that the old man would not live to see the fruits of his labor. He asked the man: “Why do you bother to plant a tree if you will never see its fruits?” The man answered: “I will not see this tree full grown, but my children will and their children will. I plant this tree for them.”
Discuss how this midrash reflects on how our actions effect the future, and the importance of the commandment to teach the Torah to the children.
Compare the midrash’s future-view of trees with Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree.
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai once said: “If you have a sapling in your hand, ready to plant, and the Messiah comes, plant the tree first and then go to greet him. What does this tell us about the importance of trees?

Discussion point: Jewish views on the environment –

What is the Jewish attitude towards the environment? Keep in mind that Jewish law forbids the destruction of the fruit trees during the time of battle, forbids the eating of the fruit of a tree for the first three years after it is planted, and demands that the land lie fallow every seventh year.

Discussion point: The Halachic (Jewish legal) importance of Tu b’Shevat –

The Zohar, the Jewish book of mysticism, says :”When a person is privileged to eat in the presence of God, (s)he must show his/her appreciation by giving charity to the poor and feeding them, just as God in His bounty feeds him/her.” Therefore Tu b’Shevat is an opportune time to make an extra effort to give charity to the hungry. Discuss the many ways people can give charity, such as giving money, donating time, helping a neighbor, and the popular Tu b’Shevat charity – planting a tree in Israel.Beginning the Seder of Foods: At the Tu b’Shevat Seder one partakes in many fruits, but in particular, one eats the 7 species for which the Land of Israel is praised in Deuteronomy 8:8: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey.”


But G-d would feed him with the finest wheat. (Psalm 8:17)
The Tu’ B’Shevat Seder begins with the grain products of wheat and barley.
At this point those involved, partake of either cakes or bread, after reciting the appropriate blessings to show appreciation to G-d for the food they are eating.

For those eating cakes:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, bo’ray mee’nay m’zo’not.

“Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, who creates varied grains of nourishment.”

For those who are eating bread:

a) Before eating bread, one must ritually wash one’s hands. Using a cup of at least 4 ounces, follow these instructions from this NJOP washing poster and recite the following blessing

b) Without speaking from the time of the washing, we then recite the blessing on the bread:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam ha’motzie lechem min ha’aretz.

“Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the Earth

The significance of wheat (chitah)

Wheat is the basic ingredient of the most common form of sustenance in the world – bread.
The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.”
The significance of barley (seh’o’rah) i) Barley plays an important role in the cycle of the Jewish year because it marks the start of the spring harvest. The beginning of the barley harvest occurs at Passover time, when the offering of the omer (a measure of barley) was brought to the Temple. The 50 days between Passover and Shavuot are referred to as Sefirat Ha’Omer (the Counting of the Omer).


The trees have borne their fruit, THE fig tree and vine have yielded their strength. Children of zion be happy, rejoice in the l-rd your G-d. Joel 2:22-23
The Seder participants now begin to eat the fruit of the land of Israel. Taking the first fruit in hand, recite the following:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, boray p’ri ha’etz.

Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.

If one is eating a fruit which one has not eaten in the last year, the sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing is recited before it is eaten:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, sheh’heh’cheh’yanu v’kee’manu v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh.

Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The olive tree is a tree of strength. Olive trees can live more than a thousand years and still bear fruit. Olive oil played an important role in the Holy Temple, where pure olive oil was used to keep the menorah in the Temple constantly kindled and to annoint priests and kings.Prior to eating each of the different fruits, participants should reflect on, and discuss, the fact that these fruits are mentioned in the Torah. While eating the fruit, one should enjoy the rich flavors and textures and the great variations:

Olives (zayit)

“Your children shall be like olive plants around your table” (Psalms 123:3). iii) “God called your name a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit.” (Jeremiah 11:16).
Rabbi Yehoshuah Ben Levi said: “Why is Israel compared to an olive tree? Because just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter. So too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off – neither in this world nor in the World to Come” (Talmud – Menachot 53b).

Dates (tamar)

While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the fruit of the date palm is frequently boiled to make a type of honey.
“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree” (Psalms 92:13).
“No part of the palm tree is wasted. The dates are for eating; the Lulav branches are for waving in praise on Sukkot; the dried thatch is for roofing; the fibers are for ropes; the leaves are for sieves; and the trunk is for house beams. So too, is every one of the Jewish people needed. Some are knowledgeable in Bible, others in Mishna, others in Aggada (homiletic understanding of the Torah). Still others perform many mitzvot, and others give much charity” (Midrash – Bamidbar Raba 3:1).

Grapes (gefen – literally grape-vines)

The fruit of the vine has always played an important role in Jewish life. Special significance is given to the grape, as it has the unique ability to be transformed into wine. Wine reflects the human condition in that humans can choose to uplift themselves or debase themselves depending upon how they use alcohol. Thus wine is used in almost every Jewish ceremony, representing our ability to create holiness out of something which could be profane.
Just as a vine has large and small clusters, and the large ones hang lower, so too are the Jewish people: Whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah, seems lower than his fellow [due to his humility]” (Midrash – Vayikra Raba 36:2).

Drinking the first cup of wine – Since grapes have just been discussed, the first cup of wine is drunk. Before drinking the wine, the following blessing should be recited:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, boreh pri ha’gafen.

Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine

Figs (te’aynah)The Second Cup of wine, white with a drop of red, is filled and the Tu b’Shevat Seder proceeds to the remaining two Fruits of the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Yochanan said: “What is the meaning of ‘He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit’ (Proverbs 27:18)? Why is the Torah compared to a fruit tree? Figs on a tree do not ripen all at once, but a little each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs (s)he finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds” (Talmud – Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranates (rimon)

According to the midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds, the equivalent of the number of commandments in the Torah. b) “Let us get up early to the vineyards. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if the grape blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates have budded. There I will give you my love.” (The Song of Songs 6:11).
“If the pomegranates have budded”–these are the little children who study Torah and sit in rows in their class like the seeds of a pomegranate (Midrash – Shir HaShirim Rabba 6:11).

Having now tasted and discussed the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, this is an excellent place to talk about Israel and the Jewish relationship to the land.

Suggested Discussions:

            • Personal experiences in Israel
            • The Torah calls Israel a “land flowing with milk and honey,” why are these items used to describe the land. (* Perhaps discuss the sources of milk and honey, the tastes, etc.)
            • The Torah promises that the Land of Israel will flourish in Jewish hands. Discuss the historical fact that under the foreign rulers (such as the Turks who governed for four hundred years) the land of Israel was considered a veritable wasteland. With the beginning of the Jewish settlement in the late 1800’s, and with a lot of hard work, the Land of Israel has been transformed into a land flourishing agriculturally and economically.

The second cup of wine is drunk, which ends the section of the Seder dealing with Fruits of the Land of Israel.

Third Cup and Fourth Cup
The third cup of wine, dark pink, is drunk.

This section of the Tu b’Shevat Seder is focused on fruit in general and the coming of spring. It is customary to connect the physical nature of the fruits to level of spiritual growth.

Fruits with inedible shells or peels

Commonly eaten at this point are: nuts, oranges, avocados, pomegranates etc.
Fruits that have inedible shells or peels represent a world that is enclosed in materialism. To get to the part of the fruit that is desirable, the outer core must be broken. So too, spiritual growth can be impeded by a hard shell of materialism or cynicism.

Fruits with inedible pits

Commonly eaten at this point are: peaches, plums, cherries, dates, olives, etc.
While the edible part of the fruit represents that which is spiritually good, the pit symbolizes the need to remove impurities within. Often times, one puts on an outer act of holiness. Spiritual growth demands work on one’s inner nature as well as one’s actions.
The “inedible pit,” however, is a step up from the “inedible shell or peel” in that the seed is an element of potential growth.

Drink the third cup of wine and pour the fourth cup, red with a dash of white.

This section of the Tu b’Shevat Seder focuses on reaching completion.
Fruits that are completely edible
One now eats fruits such as blueberries, of which both the outside and the inside can be eaten.

Fruits which are completely edible represent reaching one’s spiritual potential by bringing holiness both the one’s outside (actions) and one’s insides (thoughts and motives).

Drink the fourth cup of wine


The Tu b’Shevat Seder concludes with a final-blessing. The coordinator of the Seder should have benchters on hand. If one ate bread, the full Bentching/Grace After Meals should be recited. Bentching can be found in any Jewish prayerbook.
If one did not eat bread, one should recite:

The final-blessings for baked products, fruits, and wine (Al Ha’mich’yah).

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah


Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah

The Gathering of the 8th

Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, appears, on the surface, to be the eighth day (and ninth day outside of Israel) of Sukkot. It is, however, a separate and independent holiday that immediately follows Sukkot.

Simchat Torah is actually the second day of the Sh’mini Atzeret festival and is a Yom Tov.

In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is celebrated concurrently with Simchat Torah. Outside of Israel, Simchat Torah is celebrated on the following day. This Crash Course in Jewish Holidays presents them as two separate days.


Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah is a Yom Tov and is observed like Sukkot, hence carrying and cooking are permitted. On Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, the obligation to dwell or eat in the sukkah no longer pertains. In the Diaspora, some eat in the sukkah (without a blessing) on Shemini Atzeret, while others do not. In Israel, there is no custom to eat in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret.


Shabbat and all Jewish holidays always begin at sunset of the evening before. On the Sabbath and Yom Tov [festival] candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset to welcome the holiday. On the second night of Yom Tov, candles are lit no earlier than one hour after sunset.
Shabbat and all Jewish holidays always begin at sunset of the evening before. On the Sabbath and Yom Tov [festival] candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset to welcome the holiday. On the second night of Yom Tov, candles are lit no earlier than one hour after sunset.

When Shemini Atzeret, begins on Friday night, the Shabbat candle-lighting procedure is as follows:

        • Two candles (minimum) are lit, then both hands are waved towards the face, symbolically drawing in the light of the candles and the sanctity of theSabbath/Yom Tov. The eyes are covered and the blessing is recited. On the second night, Saturday night, the blessing is said first, without the Shabbat addition, and only then are the candles lit (from a pre-existing flame).

On Friday night, insert the bracketed words:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu l’hadlik ner shel [Shabbat v’]Yom Tov.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of [the Sabbath and] Yom Tov (festival).

An additional blessing is said on both nights of Shemini Atzeret, to acknowledge the good fortune of being able to experience the holiday:
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, she’he’che’yanu v’kee’manu, v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Evening services are held in the synagogue.
A festive meal is eaten, preceded by the festival Kiddush, ritual washing of the hands and Ha’Motzei, which is made over two whole challot. The meal is followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “May there rise and come…”, in honor of the holiday.

The Morning Synagogue Service

1) On Sh’mini Atzeret the formal prayer for rain is added to the service (as Sh’mini Atzeret marks the start of the rainy season in Israel).
a) Although there are many allusions to rain on Sukkot, and G-d determines the allotment of rain for the next year on Hoshana Rabah, the prayer for rain is delayed until after the Sukkot holiday. Rain on Sukkot is considered a sign of disfavor since it prevents the fulfillment of the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah.
b) The cantor recites the prayer for rain during the repetition of the Mussaf (additional) service.
2) In the Silent Amidah, ma’shiv ha’ruach u’morid ha’geshem, He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain descend, is inserted. Mashiv… is added to each service until Passover.

A festive meal is eaten, proceeded by the daytime festival Kiddush, ritual washing of the hands and HaMotzei, which is made over two whole challot. The meal is followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “May there rise and come…”, in honor of the holiday.
Mincha, the afternoon service is recited (including the weekly Torah reading, since it is also Shabbat).


Simchat Torah is actually the second day of the Sh’mini Atzeret festival and is a Yom Tov.

1) The festival meals (with festival kiddush, ha’motzei and Grace After Meals) are eaten.
2) Because the first day of Yom Tov is also Shabbat, Havdallah, the ceremony separating holy days from each other and weekdays, is recited after Kiddush at the second night meal.

Simchat Torah celebrates the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah.

1) Moshe ordained that the Torah should be read on every Shabbat and the Rabbis divided the Torah into 54 sections called parshiot (parasha). Generally, due to the cycle of the year, certain parshiot are doubled, ie: read together on a single Shabbat.
2) On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again to show that Torah is always a new and desired gift for the Jews, and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never ending.

Simchat Torah Night

1) After the evening service, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark.
2) The bimah is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls as the congregation dances around them. Each circle, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.
3) In many communities, the beginning of the final parasha of the Torah is read on Simchat Torah night, the only time that it is read at night. *NOTE: The Simchat Torah festivities can last many hours. If you have been invited to friends or family for dinner, please confirm what time to meet.

Simchat Torah Day

1) During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, is repeated.
2) The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’Zot HaBracha (And this is the blessing…) is read.
It is customary that every man present in the synagogue receive an aliyah (be called to the Torah) on Simchat Torah. The final parasha is, therefore, read over and over until everyone has had an aliyah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.
3) At the end of the Torah reading, there are three special aliyot for Simchat Torah:

Kol ha-Ne’arim, All the Children. This is the second to last aliyah of the parasha V’Zot Ha’Bracha. On Simchat Torah all the children are called together for a joint aliyah.
All of the children in the synagogue come to the bimah and stand beneath an outstretched tallit, prayer shawl. Since children under the age of 13 do not officially receive aliyot, one adult recites the blessings over the Torah with them.

After the concluding blessing over the Torah, the blessing over the children is recited:

Y’simicha E-lokim k’Ephraim u’ke’Menashe. Y’varechecha A-donai, v’yishm’recha. Ya’er A-donai panav eylecha viy’chu’neka. Yee’sa A-donai panav eylecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.
May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe. May G-d bless you and guard you. May G-d shine His countenance upon you, and be gracious unto you. May G-d turn his countenance to you and grant you peace.

The congregation then recites, HaMalach Ha’Goel, (The Redeeming Angel).

HaMalach Ha’goel oti meekol rah y’va’rech et han’arim, vey’karay bahem sh’mee, v’shem a’votai Avraham v’Yitzchak, v’yidgu la’rov b’kerev ha’aretz.

May the angel who redeemed me from all evil bless the youths, and call my name on them and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and let them grow into a multitude upon the land.

This is the part of the blessing the Jacob gave to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menashe.

Chatan Torah, The Bridegroom of the Torah
The Chatan Torah is the final aliyah of the Torah.
The Chatan Torah aliyah is considered a great honor. As a reciprocal gesture, it is customary for the Chatan Torah to sponsor of the Kiddush following the service or on a forthcoming Shabbat.

After the aliyah, the congregation recites:

Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazaik Be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened c) Chatan Bereshit, The Bridegroom of the Beginning [of the Torah] i) The Chatan Bereshit is honored with restarting the Torah and begins with Genesis.

4) The services continue with the mussaf (additional) service. *NOTE: The Simchat Torah festivities can last many hours, depending on the synagogue. If you have been invited to friends or family for lunch, please confirm what time to meet.

Havdallah – At the conclusion of the second day of Yom Tov, Havdallah, separating holy days from week days, is recited. This Havdallah consists of only the blessing over grape juice (HaGafen) and the Havdallah blessing (HaMavdil), which can be found in the daily prayer book.


Sukkot is a time for celebration! Immediately following Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the week-long holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacles.

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