Jewish Festivals and Culture
All children are educated on the Jewish Festivals and Old Testament stories applicable to the Jewish faith.
The first Festival of the school year occurs usually in the first few weeks of the term. It is called Tu B’shvat, and it is a festival linked to trees. On the 15th of the month of Shevat (5th month of the Jewish calendar) we celebrate the ‘birthday of the trees’. This festival reflects the Jewish love of nature and trees in particular. It is a custom to plant trees on this day and also to eat various fruits. This is to show appreciation and to thank the Almighty for the richness of the land.
Thus at Sharon School, all Grades 1 to 7 will begin the year with work related to a theme of trees – art, handcrafts, poems and stories. Children will be asked to plant a tree at home and they will receive a certificate of recognition for this. A tree planting ceremony with songs and poems about trees will be held at school.
The second Festival to be celebrated is Purim. On Purim we celebrate the redemption from extinction of the Jewish people at the time of the Persian Empire . At that time an order was given to abolish Jews wherever they were. In memory of the saving of the people by Queen Esther, we celebrate this day with happiness, parties and dressing up etc.
At Sharon School a carnival air pervades as all the children come to school in fancy dress. They exchange gifts and picnic lunches with friends, and end the day with a concert in which all the grades participate.
The final Festival celebrated in the first term is Passover or Pesach. This is a very important Festival on the Jewish calendar and the school is closed if the Passover falls during a school week. This Festival is celebrated in memory of the exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery of the Jewish people. The children of Israel went from slavery to freedom. The hasty departure from Egypt is marked by eating unleavened bread – the matza. There was no time to wait for the dough to rise and to bake the bread. Bread was baked hastily and that is the unleavened bread – matza.
The Passover Seder is a feast which symbolizes with it’s food, the slavery and hard times experienced in Egypt .
At Sharon School , the children hear the story of the exodus from Egypt , they do art and craft works and writings linked to this Festival. The older children discuss the meaning of freedom. A Seder is held in the school with all the rituals, Passover traditions, songs and traditional foods explained by the Hebrew Department.
Soon after arriving back for Term Two the Festival of Shavuot is celebrated. On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah. The children of Israel left Egypt and started their long journey in the desert. Mount Sinai was the location God chose to address the people and present them with the Ten Commandments and the Bible – the five books of Moses. In Israel , Shavout is also the time for harvesting the crops, another reason for celebrating this festival.
The Festival is characterized by a short harvest ceremony at school. The children of all Grades are asked to bring fruit and vegetable to school. They enter the area outside singing a traditional song, and place their produce on a table. Some years we invite the children from St Catherine’s Home and the old people from BS Leon Home to attend, and then the produce is given to them and our own workers to share. Songs and poems about harvesting are sung by the children. The school is usually closed for two days over Shavout. At this ceremony too, the Grade Three’s are usually given their Siddurim – Prayer books in Hebrew. Volunteer mothers from this Grade may be asked to sew the covers for the new books.
The first Festival is Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). This Festival together with Yom Kippur and Sukkot are called “The Holy Days’. These are the days of prayer, of looking into oneself and trying to make a difference and change for the better.
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish year and the beginning of the ten days of atonement, which ends on Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah we eat an apple with honey as a symbol for a sweet year ahead of us. We also send cards to friends and family wishing each other ‘Shana Tova’ – ‘Have a good year’.
At school the children will make New Year cards in craft and eat the apples dipped in honey. The traditional songs will be sung in the morning Assembly.
Yom Kippur is a day of fasting. This is a very holy day, and a Jewish person will fast from sunset to sunset the next day. Much of the time will be spent in the synagogue in prayer and repentance.
During these festivals the school will hear the blowing of the ram’s horn. This is called the ‘shofar’.
Obviously the background to these Festivals will be studied in great depth by the Jewish children, while non-Jewish children in the school will be taught the general outline and traditions only.
The next festival of this term is Sukkot. On Sukkot, tabernacles are built and dwelt in for seven days. Eating, praying, and if possible sleeping is done in these tabernacles called ‘the sukka’. This is to remind people of the time of the exodus from Egypt from slavery to freedom.
During that trip through the desert, this was the type of
At school we decorate the sukka at the synagogue and some morning Assemblies are taken in it. The Hebrew Department usually holds a competition for each grade to build a small model sukka.
At the end of Sukkot comes another Festival called Shemini Atzeret followed by Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is the rejoicing of the tora and it comes at the end of Sukkot. The five books of Moses are read in the synagogue – a portion every week. On Simchat Torah the last portion is read from the book of Deuteronomy and straight away we begin with the book of Genesis all over again. Closing a cycle and starting a new one is ‘the rejoicing of the Torah’.
On Shemini Atzeret we are not obliged to dwell in the sukka, but it is still a festival with various rules and mitzvoth (good deeds).
Only the basics of this knowledge are given to the non-Jewish children.
At the end of the term, usually in the school holidays, comes the Festival of Chanukah. Latkes (potato fritters) are usually served to all at the end of Speech Night.
This is when the Syrian Greeks tried to get the Jewish people in Israel to abandon their religion and belief in one god and bow down to paganism, they rebelled. Under the Maccabees, they revolted and managed to win back the Temple which had been defiled, and their religious freedom. We celebrate this festival with candle lighting on a special candelabra, and by eating doughnuts in memory of the one jar of oil left untouched in the Temple . That jar of pure oil was miraculously enough for eight days of lighting the special candelabra, the chanukia.
Other days remembered
- Yom Hashoah Holocaust day. We’ll mention this day and its significance in a special Assembly. The children will be taught briefly about the tragic events in Jewish history which took place during World War II.
- Yom Ha’atzmaut Independence Day of Israel . This will be celebrated in a morning Assembly with songs and poems pertaining to the Israeli culture.
- Yom Yerushalayim After the 6 Day War in 1967, and the uniting of Jerusalem , this day was announced to celebrate the joining together of the two parts of the city of Jerusalem . We celebrate this day in school with songs and readings in the morning assembly.