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 jewish holidays at the city congregation

Sunday September 27
Monday September 28
Friday December 11
Friday February 26
06:30 PM - 09:30 PM Annual Purim Celebration
Sunday March 7
03:00 PM - 05:15 PM KidSchool Purim Celebration
Saturday March 20
06:00 PM - 09:30 PM 2021 Pre-Passover Seder
Sunday March 21
03:00 PM - 05:15 PM KidSchool Passover program
No event found!

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.

apples are a powerful symbol of the ancient harvest festival Sukkot

Secular Chanukah celebrations

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.

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!

Click here to download Secular Menorah Blessings

Click here to download a Secular Chanukah service

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).   The service features a candle lighting ceremony and a presentation about the Holocaust by a guest speaker.

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.

Yom Ha-atzmaut

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 warranted. 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, the second of three harvest festivals (the other two being Sukkot and Passover). The feast signified the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest.

In rabbinic times, a radical transformation of the festival took place. The festival became the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Traditional Jews often stay up all night on Shavuot to study Torah, and some congregations decorate the synagogue with plants and flowers.

For Humanistic Jews, the holiday is an interesting one to celebrate, as 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 nearest Shavuot to celebrate the whole of Jewish literature.

Adam Chalom has a relevant list of notable Jewish authors and thinkers.

Humanistic Jews also look at Shavuot as a nature-themed holiday, as the festival is directly linked to the agricultural cycle as a celebration of the first fruits of planting.

Click here for more background on Shavuot.