Holiday Observances

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Looking for a place to commemorate or celebrate the Jewish holidays? Synagogues and other Jewish organizations in the greater Indianapolis area welcome you!

The Basics: Jewish Holiday FAQs


Why are Jewish holidays on different dates every year?

Jewish holidays follow the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian calendar most people are used to. So while the holidays fall on the same day each year on the Jewish calendar, because the Jewish calendar follows the cycles of the moon instead of the sun, the Gregorian calendar dates change from year to year.


How long is [insert Jewish holiday here]?

Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer! In ancient times, when calendars weren't as accurate, communities far away from Israel would add an extra day to some holidays to cover all their bases and ensure holidays were observed on the correct date and at the correct time, while communities in Israel would observe the one day that was specified. Today, some branches of Judaism continue to add the extra day, while others adhere to the dates originally set out in the Torah, other holy book, etc.


When do Jewish holidays start and end?

The Jewish "day" goes from sunset to sunset (because of the repeating Torah verse "And it was evening, and it was morning, the [insert number here] day,"), so holiday observances often begin in the evening. For example, if a secular calendar says that Rosh Hashanah is September 23-24, families and friends will be gathering for a celebratory dinner the evening of September 22. Some calendars may mark the preceding day as "Erev Rosh Hashanah", which means Rosh Hashanah Eve. If the calendar says "Erev" or "Eve" in conjunction with a holiday, it means the holiday is observed beginning that evening and continuing into the following day.


What are the upcoming Jewish holidays? 

JCRC provides a handy, seven-year calendar of major holidays and observances. Please click on the Learn More button below to see this post.

Major Holidays and Observances

Shabbat Services and Celebrations

Shabbat occurs every Friday night through Saturday night (exact times vary). Because the timing of Shabbat depends on natural occurrences (sunset, the appearance of three stars), the exact beginning and end times differ from week to week and place to place.


Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest, mimicking G-d's period of rest after creating the world, which can be celebrated at home or with the larger community. It begins at sunset on Friday and is traditionally ushered in with a candle-lighting, a kiddush blessing over and drinking of wine or grape juice, and a blessing over and eating of braided challah bread before a festive meal. Some also sing other special songs and prayers.


During the day Saturday, any form of "work" is prohibited. Depending on one's level of observance, this can include driving a car, using any form of electricity, handling money, cooking a meal, or even carrying something from place to place (Indianapolis does have an eruv, or boundaries within which items may be carried). These rules are designed to allow more time for "leisure" activities like attending synagogue services, reading, enjoying a (pre-prepared) meal, conversation, spending time with family and friends, singing, taking a nap, taking a walk, or studying Torah.


Shabbat ends on Saturday night, after three stars have appeared in the sky. Some observe the ending of Shabbat and beginning of a new week with a havdalah (division, separation) ceremony: lighting a braided candle, a blessing over wine or grape juice, and smelling fragrant spices.

Resources to prepare for and celebrate the fall Jewish holidays including local synagogue service schedules.

The Festival of Lights celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Jan. 27

Commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Tu B'Shvat

Occurs on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, usually in late January or early February. Tu B'Shvat, the "New Year of the Trees", is the Jewish version of Arbor Day and marks the emergence of spring in Israel. Some hold a "Tu B'Shvat seder" meal similar to a Passover seder to celebrate, while others plant trees, often in honor or memory of loved ones. Fruit and nuts are traditionally eaten, especially the seven species associated with Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Almonds and carob are also popular.

Celebrates the triumph of the Jews in Persia over assured destruction.

Commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to freedom.

Yom Hashoah

A day to remember the victims of the Holocaust, commemorated nationally in Israel.

Yom Hazikaron & Yom Haatzmaut

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut fall on the 4th and 5th days of the Jewish month of Iyar, usually near the end of April or beginning of May. Yom HaZikaron honors Israeli fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It is more somber than the American Memorial Day — when a commemorative siren blares at 8 pm and 11 am, the entire country of Israel (including highway traffic) comes to a standstill.


Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut are deliberately observed back-to-back, to recognize that Israel's continued existence is because of the soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives. It is customary to wear a white top and dark pants or skirt to a Yom HaZikaron ceremony.


Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the formal establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (that year, the 5th of Iyar corresponded to May 14). Celebrations include Israeli dancing, singing, and other joyous festivities (often outdoors).

Celebrates the giving of the Torah.




PJOW Chanukah Gingerbread decorating contest and game night

CJEL- Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, JCC Campus



Chanukah Concert

Chabad Center for Jewish Life 2640 West 96th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46268

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