Our experiences have meaning and depth because they are rooted in Jewish values. More than carrying on the tradition of Alephs and BBGs before us, by participating in BBYO, we are carrying on the legacy of the Jewish people. AZA and BBG are a platform to learn about Jewish history, ask why, participate in Jewish traditions, and celebrate our People.
There are important dates to keep in mind when prioritizing Jewish Enrichment. These dates include hands-on training opportunities, Movement mobilization moments, registration dates, and Jewish holidays. Please note that all holidays begin and end at sundown.
Jewish holidays are a core component to the tradition of our people, as well as our programming calendar in BBYO. Learn more about some of the most common Jewish holidays while exploring ways to celebrate with your community.
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is a time of rejoicing and introspection. Our tradition tells us that Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the day on which the world was created. Jews around the world celebrate Rosh Hashanah, often by gathering together for family meals and attending Rosh Hashana services. Specific Rosh Hashana traditions include eating apples and honey and sounding the shofar.
Apples and Honey: On Rosh Hashana, we dip applies into honey to represent our wishes for a sweet New Year.
Shofar: We blow the shofar (ram’s horn) as a wakeup call to repent, as well as to herald in the New Year.
Challah: We eat special round-shaped challah to represent the cyclical nature of the year.
Prayer: Rosh Hashana services are different than the rest of the year, and are often a mix of solemn and celebratory. For more information and service examples, see here.
Tashlich: We do the ritual of tashlich (“cast off”) by throwing pieces of bread into a body of flowing water to represent our sins and misdeeds being carried away. Check out a traditional Tashlich service text here.
Yom Kippur means Day of Atonment in Hebrew. It is the most serious day of the year and according to Jewish tradition, it is on this day that G-d seals the Book of Life and Death for the coming year. Even if that image is not one that resonates with you, the idea of taking an entire day to reflect on your actions and formulate a plan for improvement in the future is a worthwhile one.
Fasting: To mark the seriousness of Yom Kippur, we abstain rom food or drink for 25 hours. According to Jewish tradition, fasting is viewed as a useful tool for reflection and repentance, and as a mark of self-discipline.
Prayer: Yom Kippur prayer tends to be more solemn than other services as we reflect on the coming year and commit to improving. Yom Kippur services also include special prayers like Kol Nidre and Neilah. For more information and service examples, see here.
White Clothing: Many people wear white on Yom Kippur to symbolize purity and cleansing.
Tzedakah: Tradition holds that giving charity is an important part of the repentance process. Many people deposit money into a tzedakah box before Yom Kippur begins and many synagogues have fundraising appeals.
Greetings: Traditionally, people say the Hebrew phrase “G’mar Chatimah Tova” on Yom Kippur which loosely translates to “May you be inscribed for a good year.”
Sukkot means “booths” or “huts” in Hebrew. It is a festival that commemorates the dwelling of the Israelites in huts during their 40 year journey in the desert. In ancient times, Sukkot celebrated the end of the autumn harvest and was a major pilgrimage festival. Gratitude, appreciation, and rejoicing are major themes of the holiday; in fact, it is referred to in the Torah as Zman Simchateniu, Our Time of Rejoicing. In keeping with the theme of temporary dwellings, Sukkot is also linked to ideas of shelter, transience, and nature.
Sukkah: We spend time in the Sukkah, a temporary outdoor structure. A sukkah must have at least three sides and a roof made of natural materials. It is a mitzvah to decorate your Sukkah beautifully and tradition encourages us to spend as much time in it as possible- some people even sleep there!
Ushpizin: Ushpizin is the Aramaic word for guests. On Sukkot we recite a short prayer each night to invite central biblical figures into our Sukkah.
Arba Minim/Four Species: The Four Species are four plants—palm, myrtle, willow, and citron. On Sukkot, we are commanded to hold and shake these four species in commemoration of the bounty of the land of Israel.
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration also known as the Festival of Lights, that marks the victory of a small band of Jews called the Maccabees, over the Syrian Greek Empire in 2nd century BCE. During this time-period the Greeks sought to assimilate the people of Israel by forbidding Torah learning and Jewish practice. The Maccabees revolted and ultimately overpowered the Greeks and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Our tradition tells us that when the Jews attempted to rededicate the holy space by lighting the Temple menorah (Hanukkah means rededication in Hebrew), they found only one vial of pure oil. However, that small vial miraculously burned for eight days and nights. To commemorate and publicize this miracle, and the miracle of winning the war, our Sages instituted the festival of Hanukkah.
Menorah: To commemorate the miracle of the Temple menorah, we light our own menorahs (also called hanukiyot). Each menorah has eight candleholders as well as the shamash (Hebrew for helper). On the first night, we use the shamash to light just one flame, and add another light for each additional night until all eight lights are kindled.
Blessings and Songs: We light the menorah with these special blessings and songs.
Dreidel: A four-sided spinning top, the dreidel is an ancient children’s game. Legend has it that after the Greeks outlawed the study of Torah, groups would secretly gather in defiance of this decree. When Greek patrols passed by, these groups would quickly pull out dreidels and pretend to be playing instead of studying Torah. Each dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side- Nun נ, Gimmel ג , Hay ה , Shin ש . The letters stand for Ness Gadol Hayah Sham which means “A Great Miracle Happened There. In Israel the last letter is replaced with Pay and the phrase states Ness Gadol Hayah Poh, “A Great Miracle Happened Here.” Click here to learn the rules of dreidel in 15 seconds!
Oil: To mark the miracle of the oil burning for eight nights, we eat fried or oily foods on Hannukah. Traditional Hannukah fare includes latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and sfenj (Morrocan doughnuts).
Gelt: Gelt is Yiddish for ‘coins’ or ‘money’, and marks the idea of giving monetary gifts to children on Hanukkah, as well as giving tzedakah to those less fortunate than us. A more recent (and yummy) tradition involves eating chocolate gelt in lieu of real money.
Tu B’Shvat is the official New Year for the trees, also known as “birthday” of all fruit trees. A minor festival that falls on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat (Tu stands for the letters ט tet and וvav which numerically make up 15), Tu B’Shvat helped ancient farmers calculate and fulfill several mitzot in the Torah such as ma’aser (tithing of the fruit), and shemitah (the sabbatical year). The early Zionist movement viewed Tu B’Shvat as an important celebration of the effort to regrow and restore the land of Israel, and it has regained popularity in modern times. Today, people also recognize Tu B’Shvat as an important environmental and ecologically focused holiday.
Tu B’Shvat Seder: Based on a Kabbalistic tradition, many people hold Tu B’Shvat Seders, modeled off the Passover Seder. These seders often include special blessings and new fruits, and are thematic in nature.
Planting Trees: This tradition, made popular by the modern Zionist movement, encourages people to plant trees in the land of Israel on Tu B’Shvat.
Songs: There are many Jewish folk songs sung specifically on Tu B’Shvat such as Hashkeydia Porachat, The Almond Tree is Blooming. For more Tu B’Shvat songs check out this Spotify Playlist.
Fruits: We are encouraged to eat new fruits in honor of Tu B’Shvat. More specifically, people try to eat all of the Shivat HaMinim, or Seven Species, which are endemic to the land of Israel. These include wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
Blessings: We say the Ha'Etz blessing on fruit, and the Shehecheyanu blessing on new fruits.
Purim is a festive holiday celebrated on the 14th of Adar that commemorates the salvation of the Jews from the evil Haman’s intended genocide. The story of Purim is recounted in Megillat Esther, the book of Esther. According to this story, Haman, royal vizier to King Achashverosh, plotted to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. However, his plan was foiled by Mordechai, a Jewish leader, and his cousin Esther, who was also reigning Queen. To commemorate the miraculous events, Purim (literally “lots”, based on the lots Haman used to determine the date of genocide) was established by the Rabbis and is celebrated by dressing in costume, reading the Megillah, giving gifts to the poor, and having a festive meal.
Passover or Pesach is a festival of freedom, commemorating the Jewish People’s redemption from slavery in Egypt. Observance of Passover begins with a Seder, a special ceremonial meal that recounts our story from slavery to freedom through stories, song, and ritual foods. Passover is also traditionally marked with intense dietary changes, such as the absence of chametz, leavened food.
Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a national holiday observed in commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust. Officially established in 1959 by the Israeli government, it is held annually on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. In Israel, the nation observes a two-minute moment of silence and reflection, marked by a long siren. It is a day of mourning; flags are flown at half-mast; no public entertainment events are held and people utilize this time to tell stories of loss and hope in the Holocaust. Many Jews outside of Israel mark Yom HaShoah as well, often with community vigils and educational programs.
Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance, is a solemn day commemorating Israel’s fallen soldiers and later was extended to commemorate victims of terror as well. Enacted into law in 1963, Yom HaZikaron falls on the 4th of the Jewish month of Iyar. Yom HaZikaron is marked with an initial opening siren at evening, and another siren sounds before the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries during the day. The entire country comes to a standstill during the sirens and the day is spent mourning and remembering loved ones.
Yom Ha’Atzamaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is a joyous festival commemorating the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is celebrated on the 5th of Iyar, the date on which the State of Israel declared its independence in a ceremony led by David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is immediately preceded by Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance, and the entire country transitions from mourning to joy together. The day is spent in celebration with public ceremonies, folk dancing, outings, and more. Outside of Israel, many Jews also celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut with festive ceremonies and public gatherings.
Lag B’Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that occurs on the 33 day of the Omer, the seven week counting period between Passover and Shavuot (Lag stands for the letters ל lamed and ג gimmel which numerically make up 33). Lag B’Omer serves as a festive break for the mourning period of the Omer and is usually marked by celebrations. Many have the custom of lighting huge bonfires, making weddings, and getting haircuts in honor of the holiday.
Shavuot is a major festival that celebrates the ancient spring harvest, and marks the day that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Shavuot means “weeks” in Hebrew and is preceded by a seven-week period called the Omer which begins on Passover. During this time period Jews across the world count each of the 49 days leading up to the holiday in preparation of receiving the Torah. Shavuot is a seminal holiday for the Jewish people, as the receiving of the Torah formally marks our covenant with G-d and establishment as a Jewish nation.
Tisha B’Av is a fast day and marks the saddest day in the calendar year for the Jewish people. Tisha B’Av remembers the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other major tragedies throughout Jewish history. The three week period leading up to Tisha B’Av is also a time of mourning, and people often refrain from celebratory occasions. On Tisha B’Av, in addition to a 25 hour fast, tradition tells us to refrain from wearing leather shoes and lotions (both signs of luxury), and from doing things that bring joy. Many people spend the day in synagogue reading from Eicha, the Book of Lamentations.
By serving our communities, you may be eligible for the highly esteemed AZA and BBG International Awards listed below.
All members who have consistently sought out and built opportunities to learn about, educate others on, explore, and advocate for the State of Israel are eligible to apply for or be nominated for this award. Alephs and BBGs who have inspired others to seek to educate themselves and continue to create meaningful Explore Israel experiences for their peers may be selected by the International Sh’lichim to receive this honor.Apply
The Anita M. Perlman Stand UP Award honors individuals who have worked to Stand UP and better their community through consistent and quality service. Every member of AZA and BBG who actively participates in their chapter’s Stand UP campaign, excels in independent service work, and is regularly immersed in any efforts of service around the Five Models of SPACE (Service, Philanthropy, Advocacy, Community Organizing, or Social Entrepreneurship) is eligible to apply for this award.Apply
The BBYO Stand UP Gemilut Chasidim Chapter Award recognizes AZA, BBG, and BBYO chapters around the world that work to better their community through civic action. To ensure that our endeavors are well rounded, we utilize direct service, philanthropy, advocacy, community organizing, and social entrepreneurship (these 5 areas make up the SPACE model of service).Apply
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