Our teaching and our community are grounded in the fundamental values found in the Jewish culture and shared by all who seek to better the world.
We celebrate Jewish traditions and holidays and bring the values they represent to life in the ways we educate our children, build our community, govern our school, and utilize our resources. This section is here to educate our community about the Jewish traditions and holidays as well as share ways in which our Jewish culture enhances our education.
To better understand how Jewish holidays are celebrated by a Jewish family as well as how the holiday is interpreted and celebrated at McGillis, please select from any of the holidays below.
- Rosh Hashanah
- Yom Kippur
- Shemini Atzeret/ Simchat Torah
- Tu B'shevat
- Yom Hashoah
(Shah – BAHT, translation: Sabbath)
Shabbat is a time in which we celebrate the end of the week by beginning a time of rest, a time of focusing on gratitude, and a time of welcoming Shalom (Peace and wholeness) in our lives.
At McGillis we light candles to wonder at the joy of letting light, goodness, optimism and hope into our lives. Lighting candles separates school work from weekend rest on Fridays, near the end of the school day. Lighting candles is a hopeful and definitive act, as "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness". At McGillis we reflect on moments during the week when we "gave light" by sharing of ourselves, or "received light", by learning something new.
We drink grape juice with a blessing of gratitude for the sweet things in our lives, to remember the gifts from the earth, and celebrate with anticipation the joyful things to come.
We eat challah bread to marvel at the miracle of baking bread: taking the earth's resources and working with them to create something warm, soft to eat, and delicious. The braided bread also calls to mind the connectedness of each of us with one another, we are a "braided" community of many different religions, races, and belief systems, all coming together.
By saying (and singing) that we are grateful for these things that sustain us before we eat them, we are teaching our students to get into the habit of expressing gratitude for the earth's gifts and for the people who prepare food for them.
It is our tradition at McGillis to avoid scheduling events on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings in honor of Shabbat. Guests are welcome to attend our Shabbat celebration, please check with out front office.
Shabbat marks the separation between the first six days of creation in the Bible and from a period of rest. The importance of Shabbat is emphasized in the Ten Commandments, "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." It is considered the most cherished of all Jewish holidays, and established the idea of the weekend.
Traditional families do not work on Shabbat. They light candles, bless wine and bread to welcome Shabbat, they may also wash their hands in a ceremonial way and offer blessings to their children and to guests. Many celebrate a special meal with family and friends on Friday night, and go to synagogue on Saturday. Many people plan special time with their families on Shabbat.
Traditional foods common to all Shabbat celebrations are wine or grape juice, and bread, usually challah. The Shabbat meal begins with special blessings over these foods, but during the course of the meal, a Traditional family would make additional blessings over other foods. Every blessing honors the food and where it came from, the bread and wine do not have the symbolic meanings held in Christian communion or sacraments. Some foods remind the Jewish People of traditions and history, and so have a special place in our celebrations.
The conclusion of Shabbat on Saturday night is celebrated with the Havdallah (separation) ritual at sundown. Havdallah encompasses thanks for Shabbat and wishes for a sweet week to come with a special multi-wick candle, juice or wine, sweet spices, blessings, and song.
(Roesh Hah-shah-NAH, translation: "the head of the year")
The beginning of the Jewish year, in the early fall, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the birthday of the world. It also begins the ten-day period which is called "The Days of Awe" or the "High Holy Days", when Jews reflect on their actions of the past year and seek forgiveness and resolve to do better. This ten-day period culminates in the holiday and day of fasting of Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most reflective and introspective of the Jewish Holidays, when many Jews attend religious services.
At Rosh Hashanah, many food items are used to celebrate the hope for a sweet and abundant year to come. For example, apples dipped in honey, carrot dishes, sweet "kugels" ( noodle casseroles), and circular-shaped Challah with raisins are served at this time.
The McGillis School does not hold school on Rosh Hashanah. Students learn about this holiday during Ethics & Cultures class, focusing on the value of reflection and self-improvement. We share apples dipped in honey and wish our community a sweet new year. At a Shabbat celebration during this season, we will blow the shofar – an actual instrument made from a ram's horn - and sing fun songs.
Traditional Jews celebrate by attending Synagogue services. It is a holiday when "occasional" Jews make it a point to go to services. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews great each other with "L'Shana Tovah", which means "A Good Year". The Shofar (Ram's horn) is blown during religious services to "awaken the soul" to contemplation, return and renewal.
It is traditional to give additional "tzedakah" – donations to charity – at this time of year.
(Yōm Kip-POUR, translated as "day of atonement")
The Day of Atonement / Repentance, Yom Kippur is a fast day – a day where, from sundown to sundown observant Jews do not take any food or water. This is day is dedicated to asking for forgiveness of sins.
The McGillis School does not hold school on Yom Kippur. The lessons learned during this season are consistent for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
It is a tradition to attend worship services in the evening beginning the fast period, and return the next day for services in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The 26-hour period of fasting and praying concludes with the sounding of the shofar. The congregants will gather together to hear the shofar and break their fast with a community meal.
Children below the age of 13 (before their Bar or Bat Mitzvah) are not required to fast, but might eat less or avoid sweets.
(Soo-COAT, translation: Booths, or temporary shelter)
"The Festival of Booths" is celebrated for seven days, beginning five days after Yom Kippur. It is also known as the "Festival of the Harvest," where we recall how the Israelites traveled through the Sinai desert after being freed from being slaves in Egypt. The final day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, described below.
At McGillis, we honor the holiday of Sukkot by building and decorating a Sukkah (SOO-Kah), a temporary outdoor booth or shelter, and holding a special potluck party and fund-raising event that benefits organizations whose missions are consistent with the themes of the holiday, such as providing shelter for those without, and caring for the earth.
McGillis has an "Ethics in Action" day on Sukkot.
The Torah (the first five books of Moses), states that shelter, sustenance, and water were divinely provided for the Jews during the years after liberation from slavery in Egypt, as they wandered in the Sinai desert.
It is a tradition to build an outdoor booth – or sukkah – a temporary dwelling place with wood or fabric walls that can withstand strong winds. The roof of the sukkah is left unsealed to emphasize the fragility of life, and so it is possible to see the stars.
Families will decorate their sukkahs with Autumn and Jewish symbols, invite guests, and eat meals in the sukkah.
There are special symbols – a lulav, which is a woven rod of myrtle, willow, and palm, and an Etrog, a citrus fruit resembling a lemon, which are traditionally waved within the sukkah while special blessings are said.
Shemini Atzeret (Sheh-MEE-nee At-ZERH-et, translated: "The Eighth Day of Assembly")
This the eighth day of Sukkot, and is a holiday in itself. A prayer for rain is perhaps Shemini Atzeret's sole distinct ritual, and reminds us that Sukkot is a harvest festival.
Simchat Torah, (SIM-chat Toh-RAH, translated: Rejoicing of the Law (or Book)
The hard ch is a guttural sound not found in the English language.
This holiday falls on the day following Shimini Atzeret. Every year from one Simchat Torah to the next, the Torah is read from start to finish.
McGillis has a single "Ethics in Action" day for both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. This day will often focus on books and learning.
The Torah comprises the first five books of Moses, which are the first five books of the Jewish Bible, also the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament. The Torah is arranged into 54 portions, one for each Shabbat in the Jewish Year. On Simchat Torah, the annual reading is concluded and begun again. The holiday is celebrated in Synagogue or Temple by marching and dancing around the synagogue with the Torah in our arms.
Some Synagogues will unroll the entire Torah on Simchat Torah; it may take the entire congregation to carefully hold the entire 100-foot length of the scroll.
This holiday is one of joy and partying.
(Hah-noo-kah, translated: Festival of Lights, many alternate spellings)
"The Festival of Lights" is celebrated for eight days in winter, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Hanukkah commemorates a historic rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and celebrates religious freedom. Hanukkah is considered a festival, not a sacred holiday.
The Hanukkah Story: In 175 BCE (before common era) Antiochus IV became King of Syria, which was at the time part of the Greek Empire. The land of Israel, then known as Judea, was ruled by Syria. Antiochus tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Greek society and abandon Judaism. He ordered his generals to put to death those found observing Jewish laws and rituals. The Greek soldiers destroyed synagogues, burned Torah scrolls, forced Jews to bow down before Greek idols, and desecrated the Holy Temple. After a three-year war led by Judah the Maccabee, Jerusalem was liberated. Wanting to reclaim and "rededicate" the temple from its defilement, the liberators could find only one small cruse of purified oil, enough to burn for one day. When they lit the temple menorah with this oil, it is said that a miracle occurred and the menorah burned for eight days. Since then, the holiday is celebrated to remember the Maccabees and their successful fight for independence and most of all, the miracle of the oil.
At the McGillis School, we tell the story of Hanukkah, sing holiday songs, play Dreidel, and serve some traditional foods at lunch or during a Shabbat celebration. We light the Hanukkiah, a menorah that holds nine candles, during Ethics and Cultures and/or a Shabbat celebration at this time. We may enjoy holiday foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganyiot (jelly donuts).
This festival is celebrated by families primarily with special food and lighting the Hannukkiah.
The hanukkiah, the Hanukkah lamp, is lit each night during the eight days of Hanukah. On the first night, one candle is lit, two on the second, three on the third night, and so on. Children play games with a dreidel – a four-sided top. Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter and is an acronym for "a Great Miracle Happened There." Latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) and sufganyiot (Jelly donuts popular is Israel) are customarily eaten in honor of the holiday. Although a relatively minor holiday in the context of the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah has become more visible with its usual occurrence in the month on December. Gift giving has grown in popularity -- with some families giving their children one gift for the holidays and other families giving a gift each night at candle lighting.
Synagogues may hold a party or festival during Hanukkah, and special portions are read from the Torah.
(Too B-sheh-VAHT, translation: the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat)
Falling in mid winter, this festival day celebrates the bounty of trees and the plants that provide us with food, shelter, and the countless contributions these plants make to us all. This "birthday of the trees" is a traditional day to plant trees in Israel (a much warmer climate) and is a time to focus on caring for our environment.
At McGillis, we have a deep connection with Tu B'Shevat because of the direct connection with our value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
We make time for seders reflecting the seasons of the year. Special foods and drinks are enjoyed to learn about our connections with the earth. Our responsibility for the environment is central to our celebrations.
Students plant parsley seeds that will be used in the upcoming spring's Passover celebration.
There is no traditional synagogue celebration for Tu B'Shevat, but the day is recognized during regular synagogue services. In recent years many synagogues have begun holding seder celebrations to celebrate Tu B'Shevat and focus on repairing the world.
Seder literally means "order." It references a meal that follows a specific order of reading and rituals and is not unique to one holiday, although it is best known at Passover time.
(POO-reem, translation: lots (i.e., lottery)
This holiday celebrates the story of Esther which recounts Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai's victory over the tyrant Haman. In the year 356 BCE (before common era) Haman, the prime minister to the Persian King Achashverosh, issued a decree to kill all the Jews throughout the provinces. The name Purim means "lots," (i.e. lottery) for Haman used a 'lot' (pur) to decide the effective date for this decree. Queen Esther, who was married to the King, revealed her own Jewish lineage and risked her life in order to save the Jewish people. She also engineered Haman's downfall; his plot was foiled.
At McGillis we tell the story of Esther and sing Purim songs during Shabbat. The faculty will often do a silly skit that tells the story of Purim.
A public reading of the Book of Esther is conducted in the synagogue amid much revelry. Almost all children, and some adults, come to the service with noisemakers that they sound whenever the name of "Haman" is read. At synagogue, children and adults alike dress in costumes and masks. A party filled with food and frivolity usually follows the synagogue service. Purim is a time for fun – for eating, drinking, carnivals, and plays. In addition to celebration, it is traditional to give gifts of money to the poor and send baskets of food to friends and family. The hamantashen, which literally translates as "Haman's Hat," a three-cornered pastry filled with poppy seed or other sweet filling is made especially at this time of year.
Pesach, or Passover (PEH-soch, translation: Passover)
A week-long festival beginning on the fifteenth of Nisan, in the spring. Passover has several names in Hebrew: "The Season of our Freedom," "The Season of our Liberation," "The Holiday of Spring," and "The Holiday of the Unleavened Bread." In the days when Israelites lived in slavery in Egypt, Moses was sent to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, king of Egypt, "Let my people go." When Pharaoh would not let Israel go, nine plagues were sent against the Egyptians, but still Pharaoh was stubborn. Moses prophesied that one more plague would be sent; that on midnight every first-born in Egypt would be struck down. Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and instructed them to slaughter lambs as an offering. Moses directed them to apply lamb's blood to their doorposts so that death would "pass over" their homes
We celebrate by holding a Freedom Seder, which focuses on slavery, oppression, and redemption. These stories come from around the world and from many cultures.
The McGillis Freedom Seder celebration features some traditional Passover foods. We sing both Passover songs and songs of freedom, such as Spiriturals, and songs of freedom from other cultures.
McGillis schedules Spring Break to correspond with the Passover Holiday.
On the first and second evenings of Passover, Jewish families will commemorate the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt. Families will participate in the Passover seder (meal that follows a specific order of readings and rituals) and read from the haggadah ("the telling" of the story of Exodus). The central meanings of Passover -- freedom, liberation, rebirth and hope – are emphasized. The seder plate, filled with ritual foods that are reminders of various themes and symbols of the Exodus story has a prominent place at the Passover table. Matzah, or unleavened flat bread, is eaten during these seven days to serve as a reminder of the bread that the Israelites ate when they fled Egypt. Tradition tells us that due to the quick nature of the Israelites departure, their bread did not have a chance to rise. Many families will remove all traces of leavening in their homes to prepare for Passover. All food with traces of bread or rising agents are removed – refrigerators are cleaned, cars are vacuumed – a thorough 'spring cleaning' is traditionally done this time of year.
(Yom Hah-SHOW-ah, translation: Day of Holocaust Remembrance)
On Yom Hashoah we remember the six million Jews who were put to death by the Nazis in Europe between the years 1939 and 1945, during World War II.
McGillis student learn about history of Holocaust in age-appropriate ways, primarily in their Ethics and Cultures class and U.S. History class.
Some McGillis students will participate in the Yom Hashoah ceremony held by the State of Utah on this day, often at the Salt Lake City Library or the State Capitol.
A time of mourning, reflection, and learning. Special services and ceremonies will take place in houses of worship, college campuses, as well as government venues by people of all denominations
(Shah-VOO-oat, translated: "Weeks")
The Time of Giving of the Torah – believed to have occurred on Mount Sinai.
Shavuot occurs in late spring, sometimes after school has let out for the year. If this holiday occurs during the school year, there is an ethics in action day focusing on all aspects of literature. Authors might visit, students might write prose and poetry, and we might have a book drive for local libraries or schools in need.
Ten commandments are read in the synagogue on this holiday. There are few commandments that relate to this holiday, other than the typical ones of refraining from work, but there are many traditions.
Some of these traditions include all-night Torah study, recalling when Moses had requested his followers to pray all night while he ascended Mount Sinai; they fell asleep, and many Jews try to atone for this lapse by studying all night.
It is traditional to eat dairy treats on Shavuot, such as blintzes or ice cream because the giving of the Torah is described my many Jews as a gift of "milk from heaven."