How Canadians are celebrating the upcoming Jewish holidays

Julia Hornstein
Published: September 14, 2023

Canada is home to newcomers of diverse religious beliefs and backgrounds. Canadians, regardless of their immigration status, are guaranteed freedom of thought, belief, and expression.

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Between 1980 and 2021, more than 91,000 Canadian residents who identified as Jewish were immigrants, coming from countries such as Israel, the United States, Ukraine, Russia and Morocco.

More than 98% of Canadian Jews live in five Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta. Almost half of Canada’s Jews live in Toronto and nearly one quarter live in Montreal.

The month of September is a busy month for Jewish people due to the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah begins this year at sundown on September 15th and lasts for two days. It is known as the New Year in the Jewish calendar. It is a time where families gather and enjoy meals together.

Usually, family and friends get together and reflect on the past. Many Jewish people in Canada seek forgiveness from friends and family prior to the New Year in order to start fresh for the next year.

Jewish people usually eat challah bread, pomegranates and apples dipped in honey to represent sweetness and good health for new year.

Yom Kippur

When Rosh Hashanah ends, Jewish people observe the end of the new year period with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This year, the holiday begins at sunset on September 24th and ends the following evening. Yom Kippur is often considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

This holiday involves fasting and praying, as it is believed that those who repent for their sins will be granted a happy New Year. The fasting lasts for 25 hours. Many Jewish Canadians attend special Yom Kippur services that features songs and readings. The holiday ends on a happy note as many Jewish people take part in the “breaking of the fast”, which is a festive potluck after the fast is over.

Sukkot

Jewish people celebrate this holiday four days after Yom Kippur. It is a joyous celebration of the harvest and it lasts seven days.

The word “Sukkot” is the plural of the Hebrew word for a temporary hut or booth, a sukkah. The sukkah is a temporary structure that gets built for the holiday, and family and friends get involved in building and decorating the sukkah. Anything that is done in the home can be done in the sukkah for the week. This includes eating and praying.

Another part of Sukkot is waving the four species, the etrog (citron) in one hand next to a tall, thin bundle of plants made up of the lulav (palm branches), hadasim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches). This is meant to represent Jewish unity.

Jewish Holidays in Canada

Although Jewish holidays are not public holidays in Canada, most Jewish businesses and organizations will remain closed during the holidays.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement about Rosh Hashanah, in which he said “Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to recognize and learn more about the many contributions Jewish communities have made, and continue to make, to Canada. Jewish Canadians help build a better Canada every day. Our government will always stand up for Jewish communities and against hatred and antisemitism wherever and whenever it exists. Canada is a place where diversity and inclusion thrive and where everyone should always be able to practice their traditions and take pride in their identity, free from fear or intimidation.”

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