Congregation Ahavas Achim (CAA) celebrates Jewish holidays throughout the year, connecting us to our heritage and to Jews all over the world. Our holiday tradition gives us the opportunity to experience the whole range of human emotions over the course of the year. As Rabbi Arthur Waskow said in his classic text on Jewish holidays, Seasons of Our Joy:
“The Jewish holiday cycle… is intended to help us feel more deeply, more intensely, the cycle of feelings that make us fully human. When it is time to grieve, we are to grieve deeply. When it is time to be angry, we should be furious. If it is time for happiness, we dance with joy. Jewish tradition encourages us to know that all these emotions are part of human life…If we are able to feel these feelings deeply enough, we can ‘use them up.’ Through walking the path of the year, we can renew in ourselves a sense of deep calm, internal harmony, the peaceful sense of shalom.”
Here are some details of how holidays are celebrated in Keene. Check the calendar for specific service times.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: The High Holiday services at CAA are moving, musical, and – in spite of the largest crowds of the year – intimate. The beautiful singing of our Rabbi, Music Director, and Guest Soloist Laura Broad, infuse the holidays with spirituality. Many congregants have roles in the services, whether by reading Torah, leading prayers and readings, having pulpit honors, or blowing shofar. Everyone participates in prayer and song. Families who have welcomed new children or grandchildren in the previous year have the opportunity to say a special blessing. Those who’ve traveled to Israel during the previous year are given an opportunity to speak about their experiences, and everyone is invited to the communal break fast at the end of Yom Kippur. Everyone is welcome and members often bring family and friends.
Sukkot: The building of the CAA sukkah is a joyous event every fall. Children from the religious school help to decorate this temporary structure and evenings of music and meals in the sukkah are planned. Everyone gets a chance to bentsch lulav – shake the lulav (willow, palm, and myrtle branches) with the Etrog (citron) along with the appropriate blessings during this eight day holiday. The sukkah is available throughout the holiday and impromptu potlucks often happen.
Simchat Torah: Immediately following Sukkot we celebrate Simchat Torah, the holiday of rejoicing in the Torah. We finish the last verses of the Torah on that evening and read the first ones, starting the cycle all over again. Honors are given to two CAA members who get to close and open the Torah with blessings. We dance exuberantly with the Torah – including dancing outside. If there are enough people in attendance, we unroll the Torah scroll all the way, something only done this time of year!
Chanukah: The eight-day minor festival of Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors, and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews light an 8-branched candelabra called a hanukkiah or Hanukah menorah. CAA has a tradition of having a “Latke Blowout” on the Shabbat of Hanukah. Friday night we all light together, sing songs, tell jokes, play dreidel, and then go downstairs to the social hall for a latke feast!
Tu B’Shvat: The New Year of the Trees (in January or February) is marked by a Tu B’Shvat seder on the Sunday morning closest to the holiday. Held during religious school, the seder is open to all. We eat fruit from trees and drink grape juice while thanking G-d for the gift of the trees and musing on their mystical significance. Tree identification lessons and tree-related crafts add to the fun.
Purim: The Purim holiday, occurring in February or March and based on the story told in the Book of Esther, is a time for raucous fun. Everyone dresses up in costumes, eats hamentaschen, puts on purimshpiels (Purim Skits), tells jokes, drinks alcohol (those who wish and are of age), and has a rollicking good time as we read this ancient story. On the Sunday closest to Purim, there is a Purim Carnival for the children, including games and prizes.
Pesach (Passover): The Jewish Festival of Freedom is celebrated at CAA with joy and gratitude. CAA members host – or are guests at – home seders on the first night. On the second night we have a community seder and everyone participates, from lighting candles at the beginning to making animal noises during Chad Gadya at the end.
Shavuot: This late spring holiday of thankfulness for receiving Torah is traditionally celebrated with cheesecake and all night study. At CAA we combine the two! We start off with dinner and a cheesecake competition and then have study sessions throughout the night, on topics ranging from Conversion to Jewish Camping to King David to Exodus Imagery in Reggae to False Messiahs – and everything in between. Stay all night or just for a while. It’s okay if you doze off for a little while, too. When the sun rises, we say our morning prayers and offer thanks for the precious gift of the Torah.
Tisha B’Av: This mournful fast day in the summer commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other disasters. We sit on the floor and read the book of Lamentations by candlelight. It is chanted in a beautiful and heartbreaking melody and is followed by sad songs.