Chat with us, powered by LiveChat
Jewish Holidays

Jewish values guide and enrich the JCC. Underlying the JCC’s vitality are core Jewish tenets transcending generations, epitomized by the story of Abraham and Sarah’s tent. In the story, Abraham so values welcoming guests that he interrupts G-d to greet three strangers, invites them in, bathes their feet and offers refreshment. The JCC strives to build a culture that incorporates this Bibilical philosophy for each person entering our facilities. Focused on what transpires every day inside our “tent,” the JCC aspires to be a center of learning, joy, growth and respect for diversity regardless of how or whether one worships.

The Jewish calendar, focused on the moon, is based on a lunar month within a solar year. There are twelve (and in a leap year, thirteen) Jewish months, each with 29 or 30 days.
Every month corresponds to one lunar cycle. The lunar cycle begins with a new moon and continues to a waxing moon, a full moon in the middle of the month, a waning moon, and then starts over with a new moon.
The secular calendar, based on twelve months of 28 to 31 days within a solar year, does not correspond to the Jewish calendar.

Contact Us

Rabbi Ron Symons, Senior Director of Jewish Life

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Jewish Holidays

Jewish life is highlighted by the rituals and remembrances of holidays. At the JCC, the community congregates for celebrations of several holidays throughout the year.

Shabbat, a day of rest in Judaism, is observed from sundown Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. It is eagerly awaited throughout the week as a time when we can set aside our concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits. To sanctify the Sabbath, we say a blessing over wine and eat a special braided egg bread, challah. Shabbat is welcomed every Friday with celebrations by the Early Childhood Development Centers, Clubhouse and AgeWell’s Independent Adult Services department.

Check out our infographic with fun facts about the High Holidays! 

Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the Jewish year, is a time of to reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come. The Jewish New Year is a time for serious introspection. According to tradition, G-d writes our name in the Book of Life and decides who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the following year. We eat apples and honey in the hope that we will have a sweet year.


Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most important day of the Jewish calendar. Occurring 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, it is a day dedicated to fasting, reflection, prayer and penitence. Traditionally it is believed to be the last opportunity to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged during the past year.

Sukkot is a time to celebrate the harvest. In honor of the workers who used to live in the fields, we build a sukkah, a three-sided temporary booth that have no real roofs or doors. We decorate them with branches, fruits and vegetables. We eat, study, play and sometimes sleep in our sukkah during the holiday. We remember that when the Jewish people wandered in the desert after they were freed from slavery in Egypt, they built sukkot for shade and rest. The JCC Sukkah is built in the Levinson patio and decorated by staff and ECDC and Clubhouse children.

Shemini Atzeret occurs on the day after the seven-day festival of Sukkot and is generally translated as “the eighth day of assembly.” The Talmud declares the eighth day as a separate holiday dedicated to the love of God. In ancient Israel, Shemini Atzeret coincided with the beginning of the rainy season.

Each year in the synagogue, we read the Torah from start to finish. Simchat Torah marks the day we finish reading the last section of the Torah and begin reading the first section over again.


Chanukah, an eight-day holiday, commemorates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple by Judah the Maccabee in the second century B.C.E., when Syrian King Antiochus used force to impose Greek religion on the people of Israel. This caused an uprising led by Judah the Maccabee and a small band of poorly armed Jews who succeeded in overcoming Antiochus’s forces. Once the Maccabees prevailed, they entered the desecrated Temple and found an untainted jar of oil sufficient to light the Temple lamp for only one day. But a miracle occurred and that small amount of oil lasted for eight days. To commemorate that miracle, we light a Chanukah menorah for eight nights and eat foods cooked in oil. Daily candle-lighting, with singing and other activities are held at the JCC.

Tu B’Shevat, which means 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is an Arbor Day that is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. This New Year of the trees marks the start of spring when the almond tree is decked with beautiful white flowers. On this day, school children in Israel plant thousands of saplings. Traditionally we eat dried fruit symbolizing the fruits of Israel. We celebrate this one-day holiday with special projects for children and families.

Purim is celebrated with a public reading—usually in the synagogue—of the Book of Esther (M’gillat Esther), which tells the story of the holiday. Under the rule of King Ahashverosh, Haman, the king’s prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. Purim, which derives its name from the word “Pur,” meaning lot, recalls the lots that Haman cast to determine the most favorable month and day for the execution of the Jews of Persia. This diabolical scheme was foiled by the intervention of the Persian queen, Esther, and her uncle, Mordecai, who were both Jewish and who ultimately save the Jews of Persia from destruction. The reading of the m’gillah typically is a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noise-making when Haman’s name is read aloud.

Purim is an unusual holiday in many respects. First, Esther is the only biblical book in which God is not mentioned. Second, Purim, like Hanukkah, traditionally is viewed as a minor festival, but elevated to a major holiday as a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman became the embodiment of every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. The significance of Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become: a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and the birth of an independent and free people. It is also known as Chag HaMatzot (the feast of unleavened bread) in remembrance of the time when the children of Israel left Egypt so hurriedly there was no time for the dough to rise.

For information about Passover, Rabbi Symons provides the following:

Hosting a Passover Seder

Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat

Passover History

What to Expect at a Passover Seder

Read our blogs about Passover:

The Secret to a Sweet Passover: Matzo Brittle

Yummy! Matzah

Grandma Cele’s Beet Preserves

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is observed as Israel’s national memorial day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.

Yom Hazikaron, the day preceding Israel’s Independence Day, is a Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israel’s armed forces. Outside of Israel, Yom Hazikaron often is commemorated as part of Israel Independence Day observance.

Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, commemorates the nation’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. The JCC with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hosts annual community celebrations of Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

Shavuot, commemorates the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago. Traditionally individuals celebrate the holiday by engaging in learning. To honor this tradition, the JCC in partnership with the Agency for Jewish Learning and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hosts annual community-wide study sessions.

Related Posts

JCC State of Mind - April 5, 2024

read more

Make a Meal of Hamantaschen!

read more

Welcome to our new President and CEO, Jason Kunzman!

read more

Cheesecake - The Taste of Shavuot

Holidays, especially Jewish Holidays, are not the best time to enforce a weight loss diet. Take Shavuot, which this year begins on the eve of Thurs...
read more