Rosh Hashanah is on 1st Tishri. On the Shabbat nearest to this date, we hold an Selichot Service which traditionally should start late. We, as with other communities, tend to start earlier, about 9pm. At this service we change the Torah mantles from their usual coloured ones to white. The Selichot Service is also a choral service and sets the tone for Rosh Hashanah and the 10 Days of Awe which follow, leading to Yom Kippur.
At Rosh Hashanah we have a round challah to show that the world is round and that the years are continuous. We do not put salt on the challah but dip it in honey as we hope for a sweet new year. We also wish each other l’shanah tovah – a good year.
We also use a different prayer book, a Makzor which is used only for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. In our regular prayer book, Siddur Lev Chadash, we have additional prayers during the Amida which are recited during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Our tradition is to offer mitzvot to members who have contributed to SPS life during the year, whether on committees, contacting members, regular attendance at Shabbat services or helping with social or other events. We also hold a family service aimed at all ages but primarily for those members who want to bring their children to a service they can understand and be part of.
The sounding of the shofar heralds the start of the Erev Rosh Hashanah service and also forms an important part of the morning service.
Rosh Hashanah concludes with Havdallah.
Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is the Holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Kol Nidrei, the evening service, is one of the most spiritual of the year and sets the scene for a long day of fasting and prayer.
As with Rosh Hashanah, we offer mitzvot to involved members of our community. Our morning and additional services are continuous but then there is a break for study, if one wishes, or just for a walk before resuming for the afternoon, memorial and concluding services.
Again, as with Rosh Hashanah we offer a family service in the morning where the story of Jonah is often acted by families.
As Yom Kippur draws to a close, the shofar is again sounded, signalling the end of these Days of Awe. Finally, Havdallah completes the day as families return to their homes to break their fast.
Weather permitting, the building of the sukkah is traditionally started after the service as we prepare for the harvest festival of Sukkot.
Sukkot is the final of the 3 harvest festivals and is celebrated by the building of a sukkah. Our sukkah is a permanent wooden structure, open to the skies so that one can see the stars. It is covered with laurel leaves, many of which are taken from our own garden and were planted for that purpose.
The children, and adults, bring fruit and we hold a “Sukkah Decorating Event” where children draw pictures to decorate the sukkah, usually of the Ushpizin, spiritual guests, who we invite to share our sukkah with us. Adults string the fruit and together we decorate the sukkah.
At SPS, instead of having one lulav (the four species mentioned in the Torah, consisting of the myrtle, the willow, the palm branch and etrog,) and an etrog (citron fruit), we buy a few which are passed around the congregation during the Hallel so that everyone can be part of this mitzvah.
Kiddush, weather permitting, is always held in the sukkah.
Sukkot lasts for 7 days and culminates with:
At Simchat Torah we offer the special mitzvah of finishing reading the Torah which ends with the death of Moses, to either a Chatan (bridegroom) or Kallah (bride) of the Torah and immediately we start reading from the beginning of the Torah with the birth of creation, again offering the mitzvah to either a Chatan or Kallah Bereishit.
Following the Torah readings and Bible (evening service) or Haftorah (morning service), the Sifrei Torah are all taken from the Ark and taken round the Synagogue, at least seven times. Everyone is encouraged to dance round the Synagogue with any of the Sifrei Torah, some being quite small and light and others heavy. No-one is excluded. There is singing and dancing as this is a joyous festival and apples, flags and sweets are distributed.
After Kiddush in the Sukkah, the fruit is distributed to those on site and the rest, as long as it is in good condition, is taken to one of the local care homes for the residents. It has also been known for chutney to be made for the fruit that has gone soft!
Chanukah is one of the highlights of our Festival year when we congregate in the Schindler Hall, seated round the tables and admiring all the different Chanukiot that members have brought with them. The service starts with everyone who has brought their Shabbat candles with, lighting them and then different people are asked to read parts of the service which lead to their each lighting one of the 8 candles on the Synagogue Chanukiah whilst those who have brought their own Chanukiah also light their candles. Seeing all the candles alight on the tables is a delight to behold.
Following the service we are able to enjoy another chavurah supper (bring & share), this time co-ordinated to ensure there are not too many latkes and nothing else!
The evening concludes with some form of entertainment.
The kabbalists, a group of Jewish mystics living in Israel in the 16th century, created a Seder for Tu Bishvat (New Year for trees). They gathered in the evening around a beautiful table decorated with sweet smelling flowers and lovely candles and long into the night they sang, talked and ate.
At SPS we reciprocate this tradition, albeit earlier in the evening and not going on too late!
During the evening we follow our own produced Seder where we drink four glasses of wine, each a different colour to represent the four seasons. We will also have three plates of various types of fruit, representing: a body covering the soul; the heart is protected; pure spiritual creation.
Another custom at SPS is the planting of trees, usually by the youngest and eldest children at Ruach (Religion School). Some of these trees now give us the greenery to decorate our sukkah at Sukkot.
Although a minor festival, Purim is celebrated with much gusto at SPS. Dressing up is part of the enjoyment as well as the reading of the Megillah (story) with booing and cheering at the appropriate places. Shaking the greggors or even football rattles is just as good and noisy!
Following the Megillah reading it is time for refreshments including, of course, hamantaschen (Haman’s ears) and other delightful goodies. One thing that is constant at SPS for all Festivals (apart from Yom Kippur) is food! Entertainment is then the order of the day. This could be a Purim Spiel or even Karaoke but, whatever form it takes, you can guarantee that everyone will have fun.
The idea of Purim is that one gets so drunk that one cannot differentiate between Blessed be Mordecai or Cursed by Haman. We do not go to that extreme but, needless to say, those who take part do enjoy this minor Festival.
Following the tradition of other LJ Synagogues, at SPS we do not hold a service for Erev Pesach but many families conduct their own Seder at home. Our practice has also been to “marry up” people who have no-one to share a Seder with, with a family who is happy to invite them. There is always a 1st day Pesach service, followed, the in the evening, with the communal Seder, which as we are an inclusive Synagogue, is open to everyone. A collection is usually made with the money being donated to the specified charity for that year.
As LJ has updated it’s Haggadah (prayer book for Pesach), so have we and are now using the latest version which includes a child friendly Seder. Children are encouraged to participate in the Seder being it reciting the Mah Nishtana to finding the Afikomen, for which there is a prize. Families are also included in helping to lead the service.
Pesach concludes with an Erev last night service following by a 7th day morning service which includes the dedication of leaves on the Memorial Tree.
At SPS each year, to commemorate Yom Ha’shoah we light six yahrzeit candles to remember the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust in World War 2. We also hold a short service which includes the mourner’s Kaddish as well as a memorial prayer. Our custom is to invite a Holocaust survivor, or a member of their family, to talk to us about their experiences. What they went through creates a lasting impression on all who hear them.
Yom Ha'zikaron & Yom Ha'atzmaut
We commemorate Yom Ha’zikaron (Israel’s official Remembrance Day) and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) with a service. Normally, as with all Jewish activities, food is served, this time Israeli style with falafel, humus, tahini, Israeli salad and pitta bread. We usually have a talk, quiz, film show or other form of entertainment.
One of the traditions at SPS at Shavuot is to hold a chavurah (bring and share) supper. This is co-ordinated so that we don’t end up with loads of cheese cakes and nothing else! The service is held in the Schindler Hall with people sitting at round tables, an informal and friendly setting. Following the buffet style meal, there are different study sessions to take part in. At each “break”, coffee and cheese cake are available and, if people want to, they can study through the night until the dawn service.
The Shavuot morning service includes bringing in the 7 species, traditionally offered at the Temple in Biblical times: barley, wheat, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olive and honey.