There Are Other Jewish Holidays Besides Hanukkah

I grew up in a Jewish household. But my mom, who had converted, had a family that was Catholic and Christian.

This meant that I  grew up surrounded by all the amazing things Christmas offered, such as gingerbread cookies, Santa Claus and Christmas trees, but could not take part in it.

Instead, the holidays significant to my Jewish family revolved around fasting and atoning for our sins. Fun, right?

But as I grew up and got older, I realized the reason the high holidays, which are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are so important is because of the meaning and significance tied to them. These two holidays kind of go together.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year and is a celebratory holiday. The Jewish new year is in September, versus being in January, because it derives itself from the Jewish calendar.

A week later comes Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a more solemn holiday that involves fasting to atone for the sins one might have committed in the past year and apologizing to anyone you think you might have wronged in the year that just passed.

When I was old enough to fast, I started to hate this holiday because I can get “hangry,” and not eating all day is very challenging for me.

But then as I grew up and started to learn about forgiveness in a more real and serious way; I started to appreciate the holiday and all that it encompassed. 

Misconceptions about being religious in college 

I think there is a certain stereotype connected to being religious in college.

In my mind, if I wanted to embrace my faith in college, I would have to abstain from anything and everything fun and go to Temple every Friday. It was all or nothing.

But then I started to meet more and more Jewish people around campus and we became good friends.

During my freshman year, I went to services at UF with a friend I had just made.

After services, we had an amazing brunch, and the first real meal I’d had at that point freshmen year.

Moving away to college was already so hard for me and for the first time, through my faith, I felt more connected to my family and all I had to do was go to an hour service and eat free food to feel a calmness that had become hard to find.

It was after this Rosh Hashanah service that I realized that a lot of holidays and traditions in the Jewish religion are about connecting, growing and learning to move on from the past and mistakes we had committed.

I learned there is an easy way to make religion more about spirituality and connecting in whatever way you need.

Religion and being religious do not have to look the same to everyone.

If going to one service, once a year, makes me feel religious and serves me positively then that’s great.

One doesn’t have to be constantly practicing to have religion be present in their lives. 

Appreciating the importance of tradition doesn’t mean you have to be religious

Being religious can mean something different to everyone.

To some being religious means going to service and praying pretty consistently; while to others, it may mean just putting in some effort to connect to their religion when important holidays are happening. 

Ariel Gordon, a sophomore at UF, talks about the Jewish High Holidays and what they mean to her.

“I think that the high holidays in particular, are so special because of the fact that we are still a religion alive and able to celebrate them after everything we have gone through as Jews historically,” Gordon said. “It’s more of a reminder than other holidays of the strength of a group of people that have been so marginalized and oppressed. I am not the most religious, I find my identity built more on cultural Judaism, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see the importance of high holidays. They are important to celebrate and acknowledge.” 

With a religion like Judaism where a lot of the holidays aren’t fun and may require more effort, such as fasting all day, it’s hard to just casually engage in them.

But one doesn’t have to go to Temple or fast to understand the history and the importance of being educated on the deeper meanings of what all these holidays mean to us. 

While fasting and atoning for one’s sins might not sound like a fun holiday by any means, it is the underlying meaning of these high holidays that make at least being knowledgeable about them so important.

Throughout my life, I have had this picture in my head that to feel connected to my religion and these holidays I had to understand every intricate detail of why we were celebrating something and every word in Hebrew that was being said at services (of which I understood none).

However, just having a basic understanding and respect for these holidays is enough.

There is no rule book to consider what we all have to do to be religious or in touch with that side of ourselves.

Religion can be tricky because every person has their own idea of what that looks like, but there are no criteria for a person to meet, to deem themselves religious enough.

Being open to new ideas and going into any experience with an open mind may allow one to grow and see things in a new light.

Trying to look at the high holidays and religion in a new light are all things that have shown me that these holidays don’t have to be a day that sucks because I have to fast, instead they can be a day where I reflect and think about how I can try to be better.

This new way to look at the high holidays isn’t even religious in retrospect, but it is the best way for me to look at the high holidays to help me connect to my Judaism.