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Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman

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Five shiny silver dollars on a blue background

Pidyon haben (Redemption of the Firstborn) is an unusual Jewish ritual that commemorates the birth of a family's firstborn child, when that baby is a son. Originally, firstborn sons were inducted into God's service because they had been spared from the Egyptian plague of the firstborn.

However, when the Jews – firstborns included – built the Golden Calf, the firstborns forfeited their status as servants of God. The priesthood was transferred to the only tribe that did not participate in the construction of the Golden Calf: the Levites, and particularly to the descendants of Aaron...

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Perhaps the most familiar of all the melodies we hear each High Holiday season is Kol Nidre – the introductory prayer that is recited before sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur. The text itself is not really a prayer, but rather a legal formula written in Aramaic. With these words, we declare that all vows and oaths that we intend to make in the coming year are to be considered null and void.

The custom of reciting Kol Nidre three times is quite old and is explained in the 9th-century siddur, Machzor Vitry:

“The first time [the hazzan] must utter it very softy, like one who...

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Fans of “Seinfeld” may recall an exchange between Jerry and Elaine in which they discuss the appropriate timeline for delivering new year greetings. “I once got Happy New Year'd in March … it’s pathetic,” griped Jerry.

The Jewish calendar has a natural marker for when it’s appropriate to start wishing friends and loved ones a happy New Year. The Jewish month that precedes the Jewish New Year is called Elul, and the first day of Elul, Rosh Chodesh Elul, is the official beginning of the High Holiday season.

During the month of Elul, there are many traditions that help us...

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As the chill of winter sets in, it’s fun to fantasize about visiting warm climates and exotic destinations. In many parts of North America, we dream of a white Hanukkah (or we wish for the opposite). Other Jewish communities, Australia, for example, celebrate the Festival of Lights in the heat of summer or, as in Alaska, in constant darkness.

Here are eight countries around the world – some warm and some cold – that offer unique traditions that you and your family can use to spice up your Hanukkah celebrations.

1. Cuba: In their cooking, Cubans use plantains in much the...

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Twenty-first century synagogues and organizations seeking to engage the next generation of Jewish leaders can learn a lot from the early Zionists. The promotional materials that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) once created to encourage thousands of Jews in Europe to settle in Eretz Yisrael were based on unique cultural developments that were being created amidst the convergence of multiple Jewish communities. These ideas serve as a model for modern communities who seek to attract new members and develop innovative programming.

The Zionists encouraged Jews to settle in Palestine...

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