Holidays and Commemorations at The City Congregation
In addition to Shabbat, the High Holidays, and Passover, Humanistic Jews observe many other traditional holidays and days of commemoration. We honor the historical roots of these occasions at the same time that we find new meanings in them that are compelling to us as secular and cultural Jews.
Secular Sukkot celebrations
Children in our cultural Jewish KidSchool celebrate the fall holiday of Sukkot by constructing a creative sukkah for everyone to enjoy.
The congregation may also dedicate a secular Shabbat program to talking about themes related to the holiday, such as the travels of our own families, the fragility of life, the benefits of shelter, and the need to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
To honor Sukkot’s origins as a harvest festival we have held community picnics and apple-picking excursions.
Secular Chanukah celebrations
On Chanukah all the children in our cultural Jewish school come together for Chanukah songs, a menorah-lighting, and class presentations. Then we celebrate with our very traditional pizza and latke party. Of course dreidels and Chanukah gelt are included!
At our Chanukah Shabbat celebration we commemorate the Maccabean victory without ignoring the great paradox of the holiday: that the same people who won freedom for the Jews oppressed other Jews who were drawn to Greek culture and that our ancestors who adopted Hellenic ideas, more than the fundamentalist Maccabees, laid the groundwork for the pluralism and humanism that we embrace today.
The Jewish tradition of lighting candles on the Winter Solstice long predates the story of the miracle of the oil. We continue this tradition with our secular menorah lighting. Everyone is invited to bring their own menorah and the whole room glows with bright burning candles.
Print a booklet of our secular menorah blessings for use at home.
Print a longer home ceremony for a secular, cultural, Humanistic celebration of Chanukah.
Secular Tu B’shvat celebrations
As Humanistic Jews we connect Tu B’shvat, the new year for trees, to our ethical obligation to care for the planet. Students in our cultural Jewish children’s school learn the history of the holiday and do projects that teach the importance of protecting nature.
Secular Purim celebrations
While Humanistic Jews often adapt traditional religious texts to fulfill modern secular needs, the Book of Esther, which tells the Purim story, is a secular text that was later adapted by theistic Jews to meet their requirements. This is one reason the Purim holiday, in February or March, is a particular favorite of cultural Jews.
At The City Congregation, all the children in our Jewish KidSchool come together for a costume party featuring a Megillah reading, songs, skits, and presentations. The kids may write their own Purimspiel, bake hamantaschen, or run a Purim carnival.
At our Purim Shabbat celebration we honor Queen Esther with our annual Woman of Valor tribute recognizing the achievements of a notable Jewish woman. Then everyone participates in a fun Purim activity.
Secular Yom HaShoah memorial
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day honors the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The City Congregation holds a memorial service on the Shabbat closest to the day of Yom HaShoah (in April or early May). It features a candle lighting ceremony and a presentation about the Holocaust by a guest speaker.
Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Members of The City Congregation hold a wide range of connections to and feelings about Israel. Some have family there or have lived there themselves, others have visited briefly, many more have never been.
As a congregation we are unified in desiring a just and lasting peace for the region, but we are divided as to the route to that goal, as we are on how much criticism of Israeli policy and actions is acceptable. The outcome of this mix is that programs on Israel-related topics are sometimes a source of conflict. Nonetheless we continue to hold these discussions from time to time in the hope that all voices can be heard respectfully and that we can all gain from the exchange of ideas. The congregation has sometimes had a presence at New York’s Israeli Independence Parade.
Secular Shavuot celebrations
The spring holiday of Shavuot began in ancient times as a minor harvest festival and evolved into a commemoration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Traditional Jews often stay up all night on Shavuot to study Torah. As Humanistic Jews we do not view the Torah as a book of divine origin but we are inspired by the idea of Shavuot to honor all the sources of our wisdom. We use the Shabbat near to Shavuot to celebrate Jewish literature in a creative way.