Shabbat + Holidays

Shabbat + Holidays

Jewish life is punctuated by the significant days on our calendar. Shabbat reminds us to pause, unplug, connect, and experience gratitude for what we have. Holidays are moments to celebrate not only the passing of time but our connection to the natural world, our global Jewish community, and our place in Jewish history. At the JCC, we celebrate Shabbat and holidays with joy, creativity, and connection, honoring the diverse Jewish practices of our members and the customs and traditions that make up the community we have created over the last 30+ years.


Shavuot

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Shabbat

Shabbat / שַׁבָּת, is a significant day of rest and reconnecting in Judaism. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at nightfall on Saturday. Shabbat is observed as a weekly day of rest and spiritual reflection, based on the biblical commandment to "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Shabbat is a time for Jewish people and families to come together in many ways, and enjoy a day of rest and peace. Shabbat provides an opportunity for spiritual renewal, reflection, and spending quality time with loved ones. It holds a central place in Jewish tradition and is considered one of the most important observances in Judaism.

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JCC Shabbat Customs + Traditions

It is amazing that a holiday that occurs weekly still holds the awe and anticipation of something rare and fresh. Shabbat at the JCC begins Thursday afternoon with Shabbat in the Town Square (SITTS), a free, multi-sensory Shabbat preparation experience. We invite participants to create Shabbat kits to take home, including candles, challah, and more. SITTS is an opportunity to make a Shabbat kit, play games with a new friend, and enjoy the rhythm and energy of pre-Shabbat rituals.

Shabbat at the JCC continues on Fridays in our nursery school, where children receive a free challah every week and sing Shabbat songs with our JCC musicians. Each student has the opportunity to bring their family in for a designated Shabbat experience led by the child and their family. Friday’s festivities continue with toddler-approved ShaJam music class with Tkiya music and Shabbat Together. Friday night is another celebration of abundance with our signature Shabbat Shabbang program. Shabbat Shabbang begins in the lobby for blessings and appetizers; our crowd (usually hundreds of people) then transitions into 4–6 concurrent dinners, some for the traditionally observant and some that play with Shabbat traditions in a contemporary way. At any given Shabbang, our dinner lineup might be: a text study, a concert, a social justice conversation, a game night, a short film, and/or a book talk. The Shabbang meal is always abundant and always dairy/vegetarian. We also host summer Shabbat dinners on our roof for our 20s + 30s groups and cozy winter dinners for our young families.

January–March brings R&R, our Saturday afternoon Shabbat happening, to the JCC. R&R is a free, three-hour open house where all are welcome. We have music, cooking, open play, films, adult learning, volunteer projects, and much more. R&R must be experienced to be believed, a temporary community created weekly, with all levels of observance respected.

We have set our sights on the ceremony of Havdalah, a short series of blessings and rituals designed to help us transition from the sacred vibrations of Shabbat into the more regular week ahead. Stay tuned for this newest Shabbat experience, coming soon.

Shabbat greetings: Shabbat Shalom (Hebrew for peaceful Shabbat), Gut shabbos (Yiddish for good sabbath), Shavua tov (used on Saturday nights and Sundays after Havdalah, Hebrew for good week).

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Shabbat Programs + Events

R&R Shabbat at the JCC

Shabbat Shabbang

Please check back soon for more information.

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High Holidays

Elul / אֱלוּל is the final month of the Jewish calendar before the New Year, usually falling in late summer or early autumn. Elul holds special significance as the month that precedes the High Holy Days and serves as a time of spiritual preparation leading up to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It is considered a month for repentance, reflection, and self-examination. Jews are encouraged to engage in personal introspection, consider their actions and behaviors from the past year, and seek reconciliation with others in pursuit of repentance and spiritual growth.

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JCC High Holidays Customs + Traditions

Rosh HaShanah / רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה is the Jewish New Year, which marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, a ten-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year" or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is a time of hope and renewal as we welcome the new year and seek blessings for a year of happiness, health, and spiritual growth. Beyond prayer, the holiday is marked by special traditions like sounding the shofar and scattering breadcrumbs for tashlich, and of course, special foods that signify new beginnings, sweetness, and blessings and opportunities we hope the new year will bring.

Yom Kippur / יוֹם כִּפּוּר, the Day of Atonement, is a day of fasting, repentance, and prayer. It is a time for personal introspection, seeking forgiveness from both God and fellow human beings, and ​​focusing on spiritual renewal, atonement, and reconciliation. Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah by ten days. Observant Jews observe a 25-hour fast, starting before sunset on the evening preceding Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre) and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The fast includes abstaining from food and drink, as well as other physical pleasures like bathing, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sexual relations. This enforced separation from our regular physical needs heightens our focus on our souls and spirits, and also reminds us how many comforts we take for granted, allowing us to enter a new year from a place of gratitude.

Each year, we explore Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by creating multiple and varied entry points to Jewish holidays for those who either are not synagogue affiliated, who see the JCC as their primary community, or who are looking for new and meaningful ways to engage with Jewish holidays outside of a traditional service or synagogue-based program. The Jewish New Year also inspires us to pull out themes that intersect with the holidays and allow us to creatively celebrate and observe in new ways. Focusing on a few specific values and motifs enables us to bring fresh and modern perspectives to holidays that some of us have been observing our whole lives. 

During the High Holiday season, we reach thousands of community members through a dozen programs (plus incredible prayer options at JCC Harlem) in the broad categories of arts, culture, culinary arts, spiritual preparation + prayer, and bereavement + remembrance, providing many opportunities to joyfully connect and celebrate. Although we are consistently refining our program offerings, the JCC is proud to feature several annual programs, including chartered visits to local cemeteries so that our community members can visit their loved ones in advance of the new year; healing and memory circles; cohort-based tashlich experiences; our popular Forgive Me Film-a-thon, an alternative way to experience Yom Kippur; varied holiday prep experiences ranging from challah baking to spiritual accounting; as well as many different abbi-led services at JCC Harlem. 

High Holiday Greetings: Shanah tovah umtukah, which means "May you have a good and sweet new year." The greeting can be shortened to Shanah tovah (a good year) or stated formally as L'shanah tovah tikateivu v'teichateimu, which means "A good year, and may you be inscribed and sealed (for blessing in the Book of Life)." Another greeting is Tizku l'shanim rabot, which means "May you merit many years."

A greeting for Ashkenazi Jews during the High Holiday season is the Yiddish Gut yontif, which means "Wishing you a good holiday." Sephardi Jews may offer a greeting in Ladino, Anyada bueno, dulse, i alegre, meaning "May you have a good, sweet, and happy new year." Special greetings on Yom Kippur include G'mar chatima tovah, which means, “May you be inscribed (or sealed) for good (in the Book of Life),” and Tzom kal, which is used to wish others an easy fast.
 

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Past High Holidays Programs + Events

Sh'ma Koleynu
Sun, Sep 10, 5–6 pm, Free

The Healing Shofar: A Night of Remembrance
Tue, Sep 12, 5:30–7 pm, Free

Asking Forgiveness from One's Fellow: A Complex Human Drama
2 Tuesdays, Sep 12 + 19, 7–8:15 pm, $36/$50

Nursery School PA High Holiday Honey Sale
Stop by the lobby to purchase honey for the High Holidays and support the Nursery School PA.
Wed, Sep 13 + Thu, Sep 14, 8:30 am–12:30 pm

High Holidays Storytime in the Lobby
3 Wednesdays, Sep 13–27, 3–4 pm, Free

Change Through Acceptance: The Chasidic Notion of Teshuvah
3 Thursdays, Sep 14–28, 7–8:15 pm, $36/$50

Tashlich in Riverside Park
Tue, Sep 19, 11 am–1 pm, Pay what you wish 

The Story of Kol Nidre: An Orchestral Experience
Wed, Sep 20, 7 pm

Forgive Me Film-a-thon
Sun, Sep 24, 8 pm–Mon, Sep 25, midnight, Free

Yom Kippur Yizkor Memorial Service
Mon, Sep 25, 2:30–3:30 pm, Pay what you wish


JCC Harlem Services

All High Holiday services will take place at JCC Harlem (318 W. 118th Street).

Rosh Hashanah

Erev Rosh Hashanah for Children + Families with Tkiya
Fri, Sep 15, 4–5:30 pm, $18 per person

Erev Rosh Hashanah Services
Fri, Sep 15, 6–7:30 pm, $18 per person

Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Family Services
Sat, Sep 16, 9:30–10:30 am, $18 per person

Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Services
Sat, Sep 16, 10:30 am–12:30 pm, $36 per person

Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Services
Sun, Sep 17, 10:30 am–12:30 pm, $36 per person

Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Wine Down with Embrace Harlem
Sun, Sep 17, 4–6 pm, $54 per family

Yom Kippur

Tashlich with Kehillat Harlem
Sun, Sep 24, Time TBD

Erev Yom Kippur Services
Sun, Sep 24, 6–8:30 pm, $18 per person

Yom Kippur Family Services
Mon, Sep 25, 9:30–10:15 am, $18 per person

Yom Kippur Services
Mon, Sep 25, 10:30 am–12:30 pm, $36 per person

Yom Kippur Neilah Family Services
Mon, Sep 25, 6:30–7:30 pm, $18 per person

JCC Harlem is a venture of MMJCCM and UJA-Federation of NY that creates diverse access points to Jewish and communal life for underserved communities: inspiring innovative Jewish engagement, and building bridges across different identities.

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Sukkot

Sukkot / סֻכּוֹת is a joyous holiday that lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel) and is observed as a commemoration of the Children of Israel’s journey through the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. The central theme of Sukkot is symbolized by the temporary dwellings or booths called "sukkot" (singular: sukkah) that recreate the quickly constructed shelters our ancestors built to survive outdoors. During Sukkot, we eat meals and sometimes sleep in the sukkah. The roof of the sukkah must be made in a way that allows us to see the stars at night while still providing shade during the day. This connects us with the fall agricultural and harvest symbolism of the holiday and reminds us of our deep connection to nature.

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JCC Sukkot Customs + Traditions

After the intensity of our own gaze turned within during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, what a sincere pleasure it is to move into the festival of Sukkot. Sukkot is when the JCC opens its doors and creates a temporary, shared space for the whole Upper West Side to share.

Sukkot celebrates the harvest and our friends who come to use our various sukkot (plural for sukkah) from the local synagogues, regional chapters of national organizations like BBYO and the Jewish Agency, and constituent groups within our community, all represent the harvest of the relationships that we tend to all year.

Typically we have four sukkot at the JCC. On the roof we have our largest sukkah, which we use for planned parties, luncheons, breakfasts, and more. We also have open hours daily where all are welcome to eat communally and fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah. Unlike all other events at the JCC which require kosher food, during sukkot we invite our community to bring dairy/vegetarian meals; no kosher certification required. We do this to welcome the widest variety of guests into our sukkah, making a conscious effort to be inclusive to those who do not have access to kosher food.

A second smaller rooftop sukkah makes space for smaller gatherings during the holiday. On our 7th floor terrace, we have our Imkha sukkah, designed by American sculptor and painter Tobi Kahn and commissioned by Zelda Stern. Each year, our Laurie M. Tisch Gallery hosts a site-specific "artist sidewalk sukkah" in front of our building on Amsterdam Avenue. The artist sukkah is an extension of the JCC in two meaningful ways: 1) it brings the artistry of our gallery space off the lobby walls and into the streets and 2) by filling this piece of art with tables, chairs, and lulavim and etrogim, we extend the sacred Jewish space created communally inside our building to welcome the curious, the unsure, and the non-traditional. Our artist sidewalk sukkah enables our community to have access to a sukkah 24 hours a day for the length of the holiday.

Sukkot Greetings: Moadim l'simcha ("May your times be happy") is used on both Sukkot and Passover, particularly the intermediate days of the festival. The traditional response is Chagim u'zmanim l'sasson ("Joyous holidays and seasons").

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Past Sukkot Programs + Sukkah Hours

Rooftop Sukkah Open Hours

Fri, Sep 29: No Open Hours
Sat, Sep 30: 9 am–10 pm
Sun, Oct 1: 3–10 pm
Mon, Oct 2: 9 am–1 pm + 8–10 pm
Tue, Oct 3: 9–11:30 am + 3:15–10 pm
Wed, Oct 4: 9 am–4 pm
Thu, Oct 5: No Open Hours
Fri, Oct 6: 9 am–10 pm
Sat, Oct 7: 9 am–7:30 pm

Only vegetarian and/or dairy food is allowed in the sukkah. Tables for meals are first come, first served. Please contact gpace@mmjccm.org with any questions.

Programs + Events

Shabbat Shabbang: Sukkot
Fri, Sep 29, 7–9:30 pm

Adaptations, Connections + CORE Sukkot Lunch
Tue, Oct 3, 12:30–2 pm

JQY + Out at the J’s Annual Sukkot Party + Cocktail Hour
Wed, Oct 4, 7–10 pm

Families Celebrate Sukkot (Ages 4 + Under)
Thu, Oct 5, 10:45–11:45 am

Wechsler Center Sweets in the Sukkah
Thu, Oct 5, 2–4 pm

20s + 30s Annual Rooftop Sukkot Party
Thu, Oct 5, 6–9 pm

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Chanukah

Chanukah / חֲנֻכָּה‎ Any way you spell it, C/Hanuk/kah is the Festival of Lights, a winter solstice holiday that celebrates the spreading and sharing of light and religious freedom, even under persecution and against dramatically difficult odds. The historical background of Chanukah goes back to the second century CE, when the Jewish people were under the rule of the Seleucid Empire, which sought to suppress Jewish religious practices. The Jewish rebellion, led by a group called the Maccabees, was successful in liberating Jerusalem and reclaiming the Second Temple. When the Maccabees rededicated (the meaning of the Hebrew word Chanukah is "dedication") the Temple, they found enough oil to keep the menorah (a seven-branched candelabrum) lit for only one day. However, miraculously, the oil lasted eight days until more oil could be prepared. To commemorate this miraculous historical event and the miracle of the oil, we eat various delicious treats fried in oil, light our own menorah in our homes and communal gathering places, play games like dreidel that retell the story, and exchange gifts.

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JCC Chanukah Customs + Traditions

Although we are excellent at packing much meaning and merriment into a short holiday (Tikkun Leil Shavuot anyone?) We really thrive when the holiday is a week or longer because we have the opportunity to use each day of the festival or holiday as a platform for our many program areas to shine their light on the whole JCC. Like many important Jewish days at the JCC, we celebrate by cohort group throughout the building (including our 20s + 30s and Modern Aging Chanukah parties) and collectively in the lobby for our evening lighting. Each night's lobby lighting is hosted by a different program department, and might include live music, craft projects, olive oil tasting, or movement activities. We hold bereavement programs and community circles as well as Chanukah-themed fitness classes, comedy shows, and parenting programs.

Chanukah Greetings: Happy Chanukah, Chag Chanukah sameach (Hebrew for "Happy Chanukah"), Chag urim sameach ("Happy Festival of Lights"), Ah freilichin khanike (Yiddish for "Happy Chanukah") and Chanukah alegre (Ladino for "Happy Chanukah").

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Past Chanukah Programs + Events

Join us for nightly community candle-lighting in our lobby, Dec 7–14.

Thu, Dec 7 + Sun, Dec 10–Thu, Dec 14, 5 pm
Fri, Dec 8, noon (symbolic lighting)
Sat, Dec 9, 5:15 pm Havdalah (followed by candle-lighting)

Teens + Tweens After Dark: Chanukah Service Project
Sat, Dec 2, 6–8 pm

Exploring Our World: Chanukah + Christmas
Wed, Dec 6, 1–2 pm

Family Celebration (Ages 5 and Under)
Fri, Dec 8, 11 am–noon

Settoga 365 Lobby Party (Ages 3–12)
Sun, Dec 10, 3–5:30 pm

Modern Jewish Couples Chanukah Gathering
Sun, Dec 10, 4–6 pm

Slow Flow Yoga for Chanukah + Winter Solstice
Tue, Dec 12, 5:45–7 pm

Time For a Miracle: The Sonabend Center for Israel + UWS Shlichut Chanukah Party
Wed, Dec 13, 4–7 pm

Light the Menorah, Light the Darkness, Light the World
Thu, Dec 14, 4–5 pm

20s + 30s Chanukah Party
Thu, Dec 14, 7–10 pm

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Tu B'Shevat

Tu B'Shevat / ט״ו בִּשְׁבָט, also known as the New Year for Trees, celebrates the renewal and blossoming of nature in the Western hemisphere just when spring is arriving and sap is starting to flow after a long winter. Observed on the 15th day (in Hebrew the letters ט and ו) of the Hebrew month of Shevat, it is a time when Jews around the world honor the environment and express gratitude for the earth's abundant gifts. Traditions include planting trees, eating fruits and nuts native to the Land of Israel, and engaging in ecological awareness activities. Tu B'Shevat serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world, encouraging reflection on our responsibility to care for the environment and ensure a sustainable future.

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JCC Tu B'Shevat Customs + Traditions

Tu B'Shevat is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Fortunately, our year-round commitment to climate and sustainability enables us to celebrate annually in a few ways. Our program departments often host Tu B'Shevat seders, a kabbalistic practice created in the holy city of Safed in the 1600s. Like at a Passover seder, we drink four cups of wine; however, there's no matzah on this table. Instead, we eat dried fruits and nuts in a specific sequence.

We have hosted traditional and alternative sederim for Tu B'Shevat, as well as an Ask the Rabbi: First Fruits edition where our own Rabbi Yael Rapport answered pressing spiritual questions and offered bites of fruits. Tu B'Shevat is also celebrated in our nursery school and R&R: Shabbat at the JCC, with planting and rooftop gardening activities, recycled art challenges, and conversations about our responsibility to the earth.

Tu B'Shevat Greetings: Although there is no designated greeting for Tu B'Shevat, some people do use Chag sameach.

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Past Tu B'Shevat Programs + Events

Tu B'Shevat Seder
Wed, Jan 24, 2–3 pm

Celebrate Tu B'shevat: A Spiritual and Ecological Zoom Seder (Virtual)
Thu, Jan 25, noon–1 pm

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Purim

Purim / פּוּרִים is an over-the-top joyous holiday that emphasizes celebration, gratitude, and community. It serves as a reminder of the Jewish people's survival against persecution by retelling the story of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, a part of the Jewish canon relaying history significantly after the Torah. When the Jewish people were living in Diaspora in the Persian Empire, around the 5th century BCE, an evil advisor to the King, Haman, devised a plan to annihilate the Jewish population. However, the queen, Esther, who is Jewish herself but has concealed her identity, intervenes and reveals Haman's plot to the king. As a result, the Jewish people are saved.

We read and dramatically reenact this story, reveling in its hidden twists and narrative turned upside-down. We send gifts of sweets to those we cherish, called mishloach manot, and give gifts of charity so that everyone may experience a day of joy.

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JCC Purim Customs + Traditions

Although the Purim story is filled with highs and lows, our JCC celebration is only joyful. JCC staff loves the merriment of Purim, and our annual staff costume contest never disappoints. Our LGBTQIA+ department hosts a queer megillah reading and the unforgettable Vashti Ball. Families, older adults, and 20 + 30s each stake out a floor of the building for their respective Purim bashes, while the smell of hamentaschen drifts up from our culinary center. Time it right and you will walk through our lobby event, with face-painting, crafts, and mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets) for all.

Purim Greetings: Chag Purim sameach or Purim sameach ("Happy Purim") and Freilechen Purim (Yiddish for "Festive Purim").

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Past Purim Programs + Events

20s + 30s Hamantaschen Bake
Thu, Mar 21, 6:30–9 pm

Shabbat Shabbang Jr. + Settoga 365 Purim Party
Fri, Mar 22, 5:30–7 pm

Purim Celebration @ JCC Harlem
Sat, Mar 23, 4:30–7 pm

The Vashti Ball: A Queer Purim Experience
Sat, Mar 23, 9 pm megillah reading; 10 pm party

Teen Purim Party
Sun, Mar 24, 4–6 pm

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Passover

Passover / פֶּסַח / Pesach anchors the Jewish calendar in the spring, commemorating our central story of Exodus and liberation from slavery, as well as growth and renewal of the season. The first two evenings of this week-long festival (eight days outside of Israel) are devoted to the seder, a special "ordered" dinner-theater ritual that helps retell and relive the story of Exodus. We eat special foods such as matzah (unleavened bread), but also consciously restrict ourselves from an everyday diet. Observant Jews follow the laws of kashrut/keeping kosher specific to Passover, abstaining from eating or possessing any leavened products that are not certified as kosher for Passover.

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JCC Passover Customs + Traditions

Passover at the JCC leverages the partnership between The Gottesman Center for Jewish Living (CJL) and The Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility (CSR). This collaboration allows us to create conversations and high-level panels about the Jewish response to hunger in our own city, curate volunteer opportunities with West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), and erect a community-wide chametz (food that is not kosher for Passover) donation to WSCAH's food access program. In addition to our shared justice work, we also serve as a community resource for those looking to attend a seder.

Our Center for Jewish Living also leads an onsite tour in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive Egyptian Art galleries, highlighting the story of Passover contained within the collection. It wouldn't be Passover at the JCC without our Rabbis Teach Passover class, an opportunity to learn everything about the holiday from the finest Jewish minds of the Upper West Side. Meanwhile, our annual 20s + 30s matzah pizza event allows everyone to channel their inner welder, cooking with blowtorches on our rooftop. Like many holidays, we acknowledge the empty seat at the holiday table with our bereavement programs.

Passover Greetings: Chag Pesach sameach ("Happy Passover" in Hebrew), A ziessen Pesach ("Sweet Passover" in Yiddish), Chag kasher v'sameach ("Happy and kosher holiday," referring to Passover's food restrictions). As on any happy holiday or festival, we can say Chag sameach or Gut yontif.

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Upcoming Passover Programs + Events
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Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah / יוֹם הַשּׁוֹאָה is Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked uniquely on the Jewish calendar on the 27th of Nisan (usually in April or May), the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a significant act of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in 1943. It is a time to honor the over six million Jewish lives lost and communities destroyed, pay tribute to the survivors, and reaffirm the commitment to "Never Forget" the horrors of the Holocaust.

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JCC Yom Hashoah Customs + Traditions

One of the most meaningful days of the year at the JCC is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we hold a series of events and observances that exemplify our essential role as a convenor and honor our commitment to remembering the Shoah and all of those that perished. The JCC is committed to exemplifying and teaching our constituents of all ages, particularly the next generation, that we will never forget.

Every year, the JCC convenes the Upper West Side Jewish community by organizing the Yom HaShoah Reading of the Names. For over 20 years, the JCC has brought together the diverse synagogues and private, public, and Jewish day schools across the UWS for a 24-hour reading of the names of Jews murdered in the Shoah. The reading begins on the eve of Remembrance Day and continues throughout the night and all through the next day. Each year the overnight reading rotates among the Upper West Side synagogues, with rabbis and members from more than 25 congregations and communities of all denominations participating.

Our Saviors on the Screen series curates films about the Holocaust, often with their actors and directors present, using the medium of art to explore collective grief, bravery, and heroism. Our program offerings typically include other artistic explorations such as live theater, book readings, and concerts, all designed to create an immersive experience for our community.

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Upcoming Yom Hashoah Programs + Events

Reading of the Names
Overnight, Sun, May 5, 10 pm–7 am | B’nai Jeshurun (257 W. 88th St.)
Mon, May 6, 9 am–5 pm | JCC

Women, Theater, and the Holocaust
Mon, May 6, 7–8:30 pm

Witness Theater
Wed, May 8 + Thu, May 9, 7–8:30 pm

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Yom Ha'atzmaut

Yom Ha'atzmaut / יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת or Israel Independence Day, commemorates the establishment of the modern State of Israel on May 14, 1948, which corresponds to the Hebrew calendar date of 5th Iyar in a given year (usually in April or May). The declaration following the termination of the British Mandate made by David Ben-Gurion, then head of the Jewish Agency and first Prime Minister of Israel, marked a momentous event in Jewish history: the realization of a long-held aspiration of a recognized homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and the first time governance of such a state by Jews and for Jews had been in effect since the Hasmonean period of the Maccabees. For Israelis and many Jews around the world, Yom Ha'atzmaut is a day to express gratitude for the existence of this dream and to celebrate the vitality and resilience of the Jewish people.

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JCC Yom Ha'atzmaut Customs + Traditions

As the Hebrew month of Nisan recedes, we begin Iyar, the month of radiance. The connected holidays of Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom Hazikaron swivel our focus toward programs that prioritize the needs of our Israeli constituents (most of whom completed mandatory military training in Israel when they were 18) and recognize the solemn nature of Yom Hazikaron, Israel's day of remembrance for fallen soldiers. Our Yom Hazikaron programs are conducted in Hebrew and meet the needs of a vibrant expat community living locally. The acknowledgment of what the soldiers have sacrificed is what allows us to shift into our next holiday. Yom Hazikaron is followed immediately by Yom Ha'atzmaut, where we celebrate the best of Israeli society and culture with Shabbat dinners, stand-up comedy, dance performances, conversations with Israeli politicians, and multiple concerts featuring a wide range of Israeli music (rap, rock, folk, worship, etc).

We would never presume to tell another what kind of relationship they should have with the state of Israel. Instead, we create spaces where this relationship can be developed, explored, and tested. In this way, we fulfill our mission to connect with Israel through its sights, sounds, history, and complexity. We embrace the challenge of weaving our relationships with Israel into our diverse Jewish identities through our programs during the time and throughout the year.

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Upcoming Yom Hazikaron + Yom Ha'atzmaut Programs + Events

Yom Hazikaron Events

Sharim Zikaron
Sun, May 12, 7 pm

Longing: Honoring Fallen Israeli Soldiers + Civilian Victims
Mon, May 13, 9–11 am + 3–5 pm

Flowers Will Bloom Again—Special Art Project Day
Mon, May 13, 10 am–5 pm

Matkon Zikaron: Taste of Memories
Mon, May 13, 10:30–11:30 am + noon–1 pm

Harmony of Remembrance: Music for the Fallen
Mon, May 13, 11 am, 2 pm + 5 pm

Israel Story Live: Wartime Diaries
Mon, May 13, 8–9:15 pm

Yom Ha'atzmaut Events

Shabbat Shabbang—Yom Ha'atzmaut
Fri, May 3, 7 pm

ISRAELPALOOZA: 20s + 30s Celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut
Wed, May 15, 7–10 pm

Hopeful Table: Israeli Music + Culinary Experience with Jimbo Jay + Mushka
Thu, May 16, 7:30–8:30 pm

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Shavuot

Shavuot / שָׁבוּעוֹת has both historical and agricultural significance in Jewish tradition. Historically, it commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Agriculturally, Shavuot marks the wheat harvest in ancient Israel. Literally meaning "weeks," Shavuot occurs seven weeks (50 days) after the second night of Passover. This holiday emphasizes the importance of Jewish learning, the connection between God and the Jewish people through the Torah, and gratitude for the seasonal shift into summer and the blessings this brings.

A special celebration of learning is customarily held on the opening evening, known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot. This is a special all-night study session where participants study Jewish texts, engage in discussions, and delve into the meaning and teachings of the Torah through many modalities. Dairy foods are one of the primary fuels of this celebration, and as many explanations are offered for this connection to the holiday as there are delicious dairy recipes around the Jewish world!

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JCC Shavuot Customs + Traditions

A piece of feedback we receive quite often is "I had never even heard of the holiday of Shavuot before I connected with the JCC." Indeed, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan has taken a holiday typically celebrated only by more traditional Jews and turned it into the Upper West Side's hottest event. For the last 20 years, we have hosted the incomparable Paul Feig z"l Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an overnight experience featuring 75 programs that celebrate the best of Jewish thought, text, and culture.

Our evening starts at 9 pm with a rooftop opening event with programs beginning at 10 pm and lasting until 5 am. Each Shavuot, thousands of people stream into our building for a free night unlike any other in New York City. Our Centers of Excellence work together to create an innovative program slate each year that has something for everyone. Teens are hosted in BBYO programs; 20s + 30s host silent disco on the roof; traditionally observant Jews learn on our 7th floor sans technology with the greatest minds in contemporary Jewish thought; music lovers rock out to a different concert every hour of the night; while health heads and strength seekers move their bodies in our fitness studios. To see a sample schedule, click here. Tikkun Leil Shavuot has to be seen to be believed, especially when you see the gallons of coffee and pyramids of cheesecake served all night long.

Shavuot Greetings: Chag sameach literally means "happy holiday" in Hebrew, and applies to most Jewish holidays. Gut yontiff is a Yiddishized version of the Hebrew phrase yom tov, meaning "good day" and referring to any major holiday on which work is traditionally forbidden.

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The Paul Feig z"l Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Come together with people from across the spectrum of Jewish Life for a free, revelatory night of study, film, music, dance, yoga, and more in celebration of Shavuot. Come for the revelation, stay for the cheesecake! No registration necessary.

Browse our 2023 lineup, with 70+ sessions!

In 2024, The Tikkun Leil Shavuot will take place in person on Tue, Jun 11–Wed, Jun 12, 9 pm–5 am. Stay tuned for more information.

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