Jewish Holidays and Practices
A Guide for Newcomers
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Basic Holiday Info
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Think Pieces and Sermons
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Spring is here (although the 30 degree weather here in New York begs to differ) and that means the holiday Passover is right around the corner. Among North American Jewish families, Passover is the most widely celebrated holidays on the calendar. According to an article by Sue Fishkoff in the JTA, that means big business for grocery stores across the country.
â€śThis year, there are at least 400 new kosher-for-Passover products on the shelves,â€ť she writes. â€śFrom noodles, sauces, dips and salads to gourmet desserts and ready-to-eat meals.â€ť
But for all those who donâ€™t normally shop for kosher foods, or who are newcomers to Passover and Judaism through intermarriage or conversion, how do you let them know these things are available? Thatâ€™s where JOI comes in. Every year, Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders and volunteers set up tables filled with food and information to create a temporary new space for unaffiliated and unengaged Jews to connect with the community. We call it Passover in the Matzah AisleSM.
Over the next two weeks, local Jewish communities across the country will be running this program. Passover is an excellent opportunity for engagement because itâ€™s such a low barrier holiday. â€śPassover is home based and thereâ€™s a lot of flexibility, it allows people to experiment without fear,â€ť said JOIâ€™s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky in the article. â€śAnd itâ€™s got those two basic ingredients, food and family.â€ť
This program, part of our Public Space JudaismSM model, aims to bring Judaism to the public square to create a new channel for Jewish engagement. If you are out doing your grocery shopping and see a table in your supermarket, please stop by and say hello.
Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Purim. We celebrate the heroic deeds of Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, who together helped save the Jewish community from destruction. Last year we published an editorial in the New York Metro Newspaper that Purim is in many ways a story about a successful interfaith marriage. On the eve of destruction, Ahasuerus, the King of Persia, found out that his wife was Jewish and called the whole thing off. We said this aspect of the story â€śreminds us of the importance of embracing our Jewish heritage, and it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of inclusion for the thousands of interfaith families around the world.â€ť
This year, letâ€™s look at Purim in a different light. When Queen Esther admitted to her husband the King that she was Jewish, she was â€ścoming out.â€ť She was responding to oppression, and it took a lot of courage for her to admit who she was. But when she did, she was accepted and welcomed by the King. This message has inspired many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Jewish community, and it can serve as a good lesson in inclusion for many Jewish institutions today.
According to an article in the New York Jewish Week, a recent study out of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver called â€śDiversity and LGBT Inclusionâ€ť found that while a â€ślarge number of North American Jewish congregations say they want to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in their community, this verbal support largely fails to translate into active welcome.â€ť
The study suggests a concrete inclusive message can be something even as small as a rainbow flag sticker on a window, something to show that all who enter will be welcome. They also found that 41 percent of the congregations who â€śproactively reached outâ€ť to the LGBT community gained membership â€“ only two percent reported a drop. Clearly the LGBT community wants to be involved. Itâ€™s up to us to let them know that our doors are open.
As we sing and dance tonight in celebration, we should remember that weâ€™re here because Queen Esther had the courage to embrace her identity at a time when doing so had dire consequences. Whether itâ€™s LGBT Jews, interfaith families, or anyone else on the periphery, letâ€™s spend Purim thinking about how we can welcome all those who cast their lot with the Jewish people.