אֵ֚לֶּה מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה מִקְרָאֵ֖י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם בְּמוֹעֲדָֽם׃
These are times of God, sacred occasions, which you shall proclaim and celebrate, each at its appointed time. – Leviticus 23:4
Holy Days on the Jewish & American Calendars
This page offers teachings, meditations, suggestions for home practices, and other resources from Rabbi Debra for various holidays. Enjoy, and happy holidays!
We welcome your feedback. What was your favorite idea? How did you use these resources? What holiday subjects would you like us to cover in the future?
Preparing for the High Holidays:
Rosh Hashanah -the Jewish New Year & Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement
Top Ten Ways to Prepare for the High Holidays
Blessings Over Curses - Bible commentary
Connecting The Dots - Bible commentary
Teshuvah and Weight Loss - Bible commentary
The Meaning of "Elul" - an essay on rabbinic wordplay (prepping for High Holidays).
Unetaneh Tokef - Literal and Allegorical Translations
Quotations & Inspiration on Teshuvah, Tefilah, Tzedakah/Repentance, Prayer, and Righteous Giving.
Source Texts from our audio CD Transformation Now: Texts on TeshuvahSource
Texts from our audio CD Reb Zalman Prays: A Creative Translation of Adirey Ayumah
Elul Visual Rainbow Contemplation
Meditations and Writing Exercises on Repentance
High Holiday Questions - Contemplative exercises to prepare for the holy days
Verses to Wait With: Collected by Rabbi Debra Orenstein
What work is being done in us, as we wait?
Parshat Netzavim: Gaining Perspective
Reviewing Your Year: Meditating on One Month Each Day for the 12 Days Before Rosh Hashanah (Chai Elul)
Quotations & Commentary on Awakening
Quotations and Commentary on Repentance and Forgiveness
Our CDs and downloadable audio (Apple Music, Spotify Amazon) edited from recordings of High Holiday services, give you the opportunity to listen directly to Rabbi Debra and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi as they spoke, explained, inspired, and led prayer and meditation on the Days of Awe. You can take these great teachers with you; listen, learn, and meditate with them at home or wherever you may be traveling.
Sukkot - Feast of Tabernacles
Reb Nachman's "Rules" for Joy - Meditations and Writing Exercises
Quotations and Commentary on Joy
Coming Up for Air - Sukkot & Joy
Hasidic Tales of Joy - stories (Simchat Torah)
While Thanksgiving is not specifically a Jewish holiday, it exemplifies Jewish values and has its roots in the Bible.
Questions for Meditation on Gratitude
Gratitude and Thanksgiving Practices
Quotations and Commentary on Gratitude
Blessing Management - Bible commentary
But Who's Complaining? - Bible commentary
What Could Make A Person Feel Grateful Right Now? - responsive reading
Poems of Gratitude - an anthology collected by Rabbi Debra
The Gratitude Visit - The Most Potent Gratitude Practice Measured So Far
Grateful for Being Spared - New and traditional prayers & commentary
Modim Anachnu Lach - "We Are Grateful To You," a translation and commentaries on this blessing of gratitude found in the Amidah prayer
Ma'ariv Aravim - acknowledging God as day changes to night
Guided Exercise: Expressing Gratitude Around Your Thanksgiving Table – without feeling awkward, “lame,” trite, or anxious
American Thanksgiving Quotations - to spark conversations
Thanksgiving Quiz - Answers & Discussion Questions
Hanukah - The Festival of Lights
Hanukah Essay and Meditations. Find inspiration in exploring what the miracle is for each of the eight nights.
The Best of Hanukah: Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults
Hanukah Quotations, For inspiration at the time of candle lighting – or anytime, Rabbi Debra has collected quotations on Hanukah themes to spark reflection and discussion.
The December Dilemma, This essay was originally written for a group of prospective converts. People of all backgrounds may experience a “December Dilemma” and can benefit from this perspective and advice.
Eight Ideas for Eight Nights, Hanukah candle lighting is celebratory, but also, often, “squeezed in” between homework and bedtime, work duties and the second shift at home. The following are some suggestions that can add structure and meaning to your Hanukah celebration.
Light the Wick, an essay written for The Los Angeles Jewish Journal on the meaning of "light" and sacred fire.
What Can We Do Besides Light Candles and Open Gifts?- Ideas you can do at the time of Hanukah candle lighting. No preparation is needed.
Is the Gift-Giving Season Spoiling Your Kids - or Your Joy? - commentary and ideas.
Hanukah Candle Lighting Meditations - A rededication to protecting the earth on the holiday of rededication.
Eight Things to Give This Year - That Cost Nothing
The Ethics of Hanukkah Gelt - an article on fair trade chocolate in Lilith Magazine.
8 Exciting Ways to Increase Freedom This Hanukah - a reading & activity for each night of the holiday.
Free Your Hanukah! - A useful exercise page where one side concisely describes the scope and solutions to the scourge of slavery in the world today. The other side of the page outlines what you can do thisHanukah in 10 hours, 10 minutes, or even 10 seconds to raise awareness and help the 40 million people now enslaved.
Martin Luther King Day & Freedom Shabbat
Rabbi Debra innovated "Freedom Shabbat" during the Sabbath preceding the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day each January. For the last decade, she has gathered with people of all faiths - and no particular faith - to honor the memories and legacies of two great friends and modern-day prophets: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel.
God Is One – Readings from King and Heschel to Introduce the Shema
On January 18, 2013, Rabbi Debra's community, Congregation B'nai Israel, hosted a service sponsored by the interfaith Westwood Area Clergy Council entitled "Freedom Shabbat" and dedicated to exploring and transmitting the powerful legacies of two great friends and colleagues, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel.
The yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Heschel falls each year around the time of Rev. King’s birthday and also roughly coincides with the time of their first meeting at a conference on religion at race held in Chicago for the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Below is a video edited from the "Freedom Shabbat" service along with prayers readings, and teachings taken from and inspired by King & Heschel and put together by Rabbi Debra.
Jewish Joy and Jokes for Purim
Traditional Purim Songs Rendered in English
"Making Passover More Meaningful" - Debra's WABC Radio appearance on the show "Religion on the Line."
Video Torah Talk - Debra was an online guest on "Rosner's Domain," a program put out by The Los Angeles Jewish Journal. Watch below the 9-minute segment as Debra discusses the parashah and values related to Passover.
Resources for Connecting Passover to Slavery Today:
Did you know that there are approximately 42 million slaves in the world today? In honor of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, Jews are banding together to do something to help.
Activities, Readings, Handouts, & Curriculum:
ENDING SLAVERY!: Understanding Human Trafficking – and What You Can Do About It
ENDING SLAVERY!: Jewish Sources and Resources On Human Trafficking
NO MORE SLAVES!: A Resource Guide for Engaging and Empowering Young Jews To Help End Human Trafficking by 2030 - This is a book-length resource, with two or three lessons for every age group from middle school through adult education. It also includes material for Bar and Bat Mitzvah training and projects, as well as three sessions for youth groups and informal education. Much of the material is updated from Next Year, Free!: A Jewish Curriculum on Modern Slavery published by Free the Slaves in 2016. This guide also includes material added in 2020, including advice on how to motivate young people from two experts who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to free slaves by motivating young people on this issue. There are also Indexes by topic and Torah portion will aid learning, teaching, and preaching.
Passover Prep - A one-page handout to read before or during your Seder. One side describes the causes – and cures- for modern slavery. The reverse side suggests actions that you can take in ten hours, ten minutes, or even ten seconds to remember and help slaves this Passover.
Passover Half-Page "Coupons" For Beauty and Meaning. Choose the two-sided option on your printer, and you will have two double-sided, beautifully calligraphed coupons per page. Distribute coupons at model Seders, Shabbat services before Passover, or your Seder table to encourage discussion and action about the persistence of slavery today.
Confronting Slavery at the Seder: Discussion Starters, Activities, and Readings- by Rabbi Debra
A Guide for Seder Hosts on What To Do, Read, and Change at Your Seder Because There Are Still Slaves in the World Today
Seder Starters – activities and readings curated from across the Internet to enhance your seder. Connect the plight of slaves today with the story of the Exodus and the text of the Haggadah. Choose from many options and ideas, arranged in the order of the seder ritual.
Learn and teach about modern-day slavery. Download NEXT YEAR FREE!, curricula for Passover for every age – from kindergarteners through adults.
Inspiration and Practical Wisdom from Rabbi Debra:
Chutzpah This Passover - How a rabbi met with the head of the World Bank – and how Jews can free slaves this Passover.
Do One Thing Different - Making simple changes – in Your Seders and in life – can make all the difference.
If You Were A Slave: Empathy & Action This Pesach - Deploying dollars and imagination to refine our souls and bring healing to others.
For All We Are Worth - How do we calculate the value of a human being? What price will we pay to save a life?
See One Person, Be One Person - Amazing individuals – including children – who are making a difference in the fight against slavery. You can, too.
Angels on the Path - Debra's column in the Congregation B'nai Israel Menorah newsletter about finding partners to free slaves.
Slavery Here and Now - published in The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
Upping the Ante - What happens when you commit to saving 18 slaves, and your child asks, “Why only 18?” A column in the Congregation B'nai Israel Menorah newsletter.
Slavery and the Four Sons/Children of the Passover Seder - Imagine the four sons/children as four responses to human trafficking today.
A Father’s Memory Is An Inspiration to Serve and to Smile - from The New Jersey Jewish News
In the News: Freeing Slaves on Passover
Let's Commit to Eradicating Modern Slavery by the Next Seder - An article in the Jerusalem Post acknowledging a newly announced mission of the Rabbinic Assembly of Conservative Judaism.
Put a Padlock on Your Seder Plate, in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Freeing the Slaves, Not an Easy Task, in The Philadelphia Exponent
Freeing the Slaves - from The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
Passover Project Seeks South Florida Participants - from The Sun Sentinel and Florida Jewish Journal
Jews Combatting Modern Slavery and An Anti-Trafficking Bill That Stalls In the Senate - from The Los Angeles Jewish Journal
Talking About Liberation - from The New Jersey Jewish Standard
The Passover Project - in the Pascack Valley Press
Passover Gifts for Hosts or the Afikoman:
Our inspirational CD's from Debra and Reb Zalman make wonderful hostess gifts for the seder and all year long.
Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolates & Other Gifts
Books on Modern Slavery and How to End It
Serve fair trade, kosher-for-Passover chocolates. You can order online from The Jewish Fair Trade Project.
Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Memorial Day
Video of Debra's 2012 Yom Hashoah service
Shavuot - Pentecost - The Time of the Giving of Our Torah
The resources below are intended to help deepen your knowledge and your experience of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that celebrates receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
From the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Debra's Torah commentary on Parshat Yitro: Who's Speaking, Please? – a Torah commentary on what happened at Sinai.
Where and How to Receive – what is the proper setting and mindset for revelation?
In the Audio teaching, Awe Always, track 9, Debra responds to a congregant’s question about Torah as the Word of God.
Tisha B'av is the day in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem as well as other great tragedies in Jewish history. The following audio excerpt (11:33) is from a talk to a Rosh Hodesh Group about the meaning of Tisha B’av for our times. Chanting from the opening and closing verses of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, is also included. May we all know - and bring - repair, following destruction! - Rabbi Debra
Tu Bishvat - The New Year for Trees
Tu Bishvat and Kabbalah - discussion by Rabbi Debra
Lessons of the Season - Bible commentary
Tu Bishvat Story and Quotations
Are “Two Kinds” Too Kind, Too Cruel, or Just Too Many?
Debra speaking on WABC's radio program "Religion On The Line."
Passover - The Festival of Freedom
The Passover Seder is the most-observed Jewish ritual, exceeding even participation on the High Holidays. Jews and non-Jews gather to tell the story of the Exodus and to share and create family memories. This is a ritual that has shaped generations and a story that has become our national narrative and outreach.
As the Haggadah, the text for the seders, declares: "Even if all of us were wise, and all of us were people of understanding, all of us were elders, and all of us were fully-versed in Torah, it would still be a mitzvah (duty and good deed) to tell of the exodus from Egypt. And everyone who expands upon the telling is surely to be praised!"
- General Resources For Enhancing Your Passover
- Resources for Connecting Passover to Slavery Today
Activities, Readings, Handouts, & Curriculum
Inspiration and Practical Wisdom from Rabbi Debra
In the News: Freeing Slaves on Passover
Passover Gifts for Hosts or the Afikoman
General Resources For Enhancing Your Passover:
· How to Make Seders During the Pandemic
· Seder Readings and Activities During the Pandemic
· Seder Solutions - 72 ideas for making your Seders more meaningful and fun!
· Making A Seder with Children
· Four New Questions to add to your Seder table discussion.
· Tradition, Change, and Passover Wishes - a discussion of the interplay between tradition and change in the holiday.
· The Insecurity of Freedom - a column by Rabbi Debra reprinted from The Menorah, a publication of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, NJ
· A Passover Quiz - Are you smarter than a Dalet/Hay-er?
· Who Knows One? - an alternate version of this favorite song from the Haggadah, full of humor -- and Kabbalistic wisdom.
Audio & Video Resources
"How Cleaning for Passover Can Help You Live an Extraordinary Life: The Five R's of Chametz (Leaven)" - (This audio selection was edited from the live recording of a talk delivered as part of a Shabbat sermon. The original talk included about four additional minutes of a more personal address to a Bar Mitzvah boy, applying the “five r’s” to that rite of passage in general and to him and his family in particular. Thanks go to the deeply humble and impressively proactive Joshua Kaufman for inspiring this sermon! ) Listen to this talk on preparing for Passover
Shabbat - The Sabbath
Check this page through the year for additional content on upcoming holidays.