As a child, the Holocaust was essential to my Jewish identity. I devoured Ann Frank’s diary, and my favorite game involved pretending that I wasn’t allowed to make any noise during the day and that we had to wait for evening to flush the toilet.

Growing up, like many American Jews my family attended Reform services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In addition, I knew a bit about what I considered the “holidays of persecution”—Chanukah, Purim, and Passover—like the well-known joke, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”

I had never encountered a deeper concept of what it meant to be Jewish. All I knew was that Jews were persecuted.

In my 20s, I learned more about the Torah and started keeping the mitzvot.

On October 7th, 2023, I was singing and celebrating Simchat Torah in my synagogue in Israel. Then the sirens sounded. At that moment we came to the verse we say on holidays, “I will not die, but I shall live, and relate the deeds of G‑d.”1

Shabbat ended, night arrived, and with it came the horrific news.

All of a sudden, Chanukah, Purim, and Passover came to life. Those “persecution holidays” were hovering before our eyes. We were living through our own version.

How was October 7th similar to those holidays? Let me count the ways.

In the period of Chanukah, the Greek generals would kidnap Jewish brides the night before their weddings.

On Purim, the king, upon Haman’s advice, put out the order “… to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women, in a single day…

And in the Passover Haggadah, it is written: “In every single generation they rise up against us to destroy us …”

There was Egypt, Babel, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Chelminsky, Kishinev, Auschwitz, and now Simchat Torah 2023.

And yet, there is more to being a Jew than being persecuted.

We shall live, the verse says. And living means living with G‑d consciousness.

The holidays I didn’t know about as a child—Shavuot, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah—are all about living.

On Shavuot we relive the most consequential moment in human history: the Giving of the Torah with more than 600,000 men, women, and children as witnesses. The Torah teaches us how to live, and how to gain the ultimate relationship with our Maker.

Sukkot celebrates the spiritual energy we experience after our flaws have been forgiven on Yom Kippur. We live in the sukkah, a flimsy hut, for seven days. We take a week’s vacation from materialism, from our permanent residence and all it entails.

On Shemini Atzeret, all props are taken away: no sukkah, no matzah, no menorah, just an intimate encounter with the Divine.

Simchat Torah is the celebration of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. We dance with the holy scrolls, celebrating the fact that we have a map, a blueprint for life.

In fact, even the holidays that commemorate our salvation from persecution are far more than that. They, too, are opportunities for connection with the Almighty. After all, G‑d took us out of the Land of Egypt “to be My people.” These holidays are also meant to bring us to G‑d-consciousness, so that we can live in closeness with our Maker.

Indeed, there is far more to being a Jew than being persecuted.