By Ilana Shotkin
Everyone celebrates holidays in different ways, and Sonoma County’s Jews are no different. September and October are filled with some of the most important holidays of the Jewish year.
On September 17, Jews around the world congregated to celebrate the start of a new year with apples and round bread, called challah, to symbolize a complete, circular year and honey to reflect sweetening the coming year. As senior Anna Aaronson said, “The food is a definite perk.”
Only eight days later, even more Jews worldwide congregated at synagogues to celebrate the most important Jewish holiday of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance. As Rick Concoff, a leader in the Jewish community in Sonoma County, said, “This is a time to reflect and renew, and to make amends with people. Also, it is a rebirthing time.”
Many Jews spend this time releasing their burdens from the past year by apologizing to those they have wronged and praying to God for forgiveness. They also may metaphorically toss their burdens into moving bodies of water with pieces of bread, which is called tashlich.
One important feature of this period is fasting. From sundown the night before Yom Kippur to three hours after sunset the next day, Jews are supposed to forgo eating and drinking in order to concentrate their entire presence on praying and being holy. A lot of teenagers think that is weird because all they can think about is how hungry and thirsty they are.
October started off with the eight-day long harvest holidays, started back when farmers had to harvest fields that were too large to travel to every day. Each farmer built a small hut, called a sukkah, which could be dismantled and carried. This is where the name of the holiday, Sukkot came from, as the plural of sukkah is sukkot.
Sherry Knazan, a woman who spent years teaching children at the religious school at Congregation Shomrei Torah, said “Sukkot is actually one of my favorite holidays. The combination of building a sukkah and decorating it year after year with decorations my kids made when they were little, to the beginning of fall and the feeling of community gathered inside for meals during the holiday itself, make for lots of joy!”
As senior Miles Levin said about this period of the year, which is so full of holidays, “It serves as a reminder of my heritage.”
However, just because so many people enjoy celebrating this period, many do not set aside time for traditional holiday activities. As junior Sydney Weil stated, “I have never done anything Jewish my entire life.”
Dean of students Stacy Cohen says, “My relationship to the high holidays is different from the way I grew up. Now I am choosing work and school over holidays. That’s my job now. I will miss celebrating the holidays and eating the Jewish food at the break fast this year.”
There are as many different ways of celebrating religions as there are people to celebrate, and some are more involved with these “Days of Awe” than others. As Stacy also said, “I am not religiously Jewish; I am culturally Jewish.”