Explore Jewish Holidays with Guide Ari

In September, the Jewish community in Antwerp celebrated a series of Jewish holidays. To learn more about these holidays, we spoke with guide Ari, a true expert on the Antwerp Jewish community. He told us about Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, Jewish holidays in September and October.

Hello, Ari. Let’s start with Rosh Hashana, also known as Jewish New Year, in mid-September. What does this holiday entail?

Guide Ari: Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the Jewish year. It’s a joyful occasion where the new year is celebrated by “keeping a Sabbath.” Jews come together with their families to enjoy good food and drink. Specific rituals are associated with it, like dipping apples in honey, eating pomegranate seeds, and sprinkling honey on bread instead of salt. This symbolizes their wishes for a sweet new year.

I heard that some Jews go to Stadspark during Rosh Hashana. What do they do there?

Guide Ari: That’s correct; it’s called “tashlikh.” It’s a beautiful ritual on the second evening of Rosh Hashana. Jews go to a place with flowing water and symbolically cast crumbs or stones into the water to symbolize casting away their sins. In Antwerp, they often do this at the pond in Stadspark.

Rosh Hashana also has a very spiritual aspect, doesn’t it?

Guide Ari: Absolutely. For religious Jews, Rosh Hashana is a time for introspection. They reflect on their good and bad deeds and seek forgiveness from God and each other. God determines your fate on this day, but you still have ten days to convince him to be merciful. The final judgment from God comes on Yom Kippur.

That leads us smoothly to Yom Kippur. What can you tell us about this holiday?

Guide Ari: Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and it’s a day of fasting and intense prayer. Jews seek reconciliation with God, saying “sorry” for their mistakes and asking for forgiveness. It’s a profound spiritual experience for Jews. Interestingly, Yom Kippur is holier than the Sabbath and has strict rules. For example, Orthodox Jews don’t wear leather shoes, showing respect for the sanctity of the earth. In Antwerp, you’ll see many Jews wearing sneakers or Crocs during this time.

Fascinating! Could you tell us more about the rituals during Yom Kippur?

Guide Ari: Of course! Yom Kippur begins with the prayer “Kol Nidrei,” in which Jews ask to nullify all their promises to God, allowing them to start fresh. Throughout the day, there are intense prayers and expressions of repentance. The day concludes with the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, marking the official end of Yom Kippur.

And then comes Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles?

Guide Ari: Yes, Sukkot is a joyful holiday where the Jewish community remembers how the Israelites dwelled in tabernacles in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. In Antwerp, as in other Jewish communities, people build their own sukkah, a temporary booth. You might see them by the roadside or hidden on balconies, rooftops, gardens, and parking lots. Some are pretty creatively constructed, with a roof that can be opened to view the stars. The sukkah must adhere to specific rules, such as having a roof made of natural materials and being open enough to see the stars, though you can use a transparent tarp if it rains. The sukkah is beautifully decorated with garlands, lights, and drawings.

What other rituals are associated with Sukkot?

Guide Ari: Another enjoyable aspect of Sukkot is the “Four Species”: lulav (palm branches), hadass (myrtle), arava (willow branches), and etrog (citrus fruit). These are used in special rituals in the sukkah and in the synagogue. Just before Sukkot, you can purchase these items in various shops in Antwerp’s Jewish neighborhood. The etrog, a yellow fruit resembling a lemon, can be quite expensive because there are strict rules governing what constitutes a proper, kosher etrog.

How long does Sukkot last?

Sukkot, along with the two subsequent holidays (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah), spans nine days. The first and last two days of Sukkot are like Sabbaths, during which Jews refrain from regular work and spend time praying and reflecting. On the days between, they are allowed to work but eat and drink exclusively in the sukkah. At the end of Sukkot, there’s Simchat Torah, the Celebration of the Torah, which is a joyful event where Jews dance with Torah scrolls, marking the exuberant conclusion of a period of profound spiritual significance.

Thank you, Ari, this has been very interesting!

Guide Ari: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to share these Jewish traditions. I hope this interview can inspire people to learn more and perhaps even participate in the Walking in Antwerp tour through the Jewish neighborhood, which I and other guides enjoy guiding!