On November 22 2007 Arlene Ackerman spoke to the membership about how she lives her life  as a member of the Jewish faith tradition. She emphasized at the outset that Judaism isn’t just a religion. It includes characteristics of different cultures. Ashkenazi Jews come from Eastern Europe. Sephardic Jews come from Spain and North Africa.

Jewish beliefs about scripture range from orthodox (Scriptures are literally the word of God) to liberal (scripture is inspired by God and written by humans). For those known as ‘Liberal’ the Scriptures are open to interpretation. ‘Conservative’ beliefs are between Orthodox and Liberal, and there is another category sometimes called ‘Reconstructionists’ who are conservative with egalitarian beliefs. The synagogue in Victoria is categorized as conservative-egalitarian; men and women are not separated during synagogue services by a curtain. For some, God is not regarded as male but as a force or power, without gender. Religion is about humility towards God and the earth. Jews can be secular humanists or atheists.

Food rules: Kosher meat is slaughtered in a prescribed way; Kosher dietary rules include separating meat dishes from dairy dishes; some foods such as eggs may be eaten with either meat or dairy products.

Some commercial food products are labelled with symbols to show their contents, e.g. MK indicates the contents are neither dairy nor meat; MKD indicates dairy products.

Torah: the books of the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
The Talmud is collection of the Jewish oral tradition interpreting the Torah.

Rituals and related words:

  • Hannukah: An eight day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled. Rituals include candle lighting. The menorah used at Hanukkah has 9 candles; the one used on every Sabbath has 7.
  • Bar Mitzvah (son of the commandment): A boy who has achieved the age of 13 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a boy has achieved this age.
  • Bat Mitzvah (Ashkenazi) = Bas Mitzvah (Sephardic): daughter of the commandment. A girl who has achieved the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments. Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a girl has achieved this age.
  • Mitzvot: plural of mitzvah
  • Shabbat (Hebrew) = shabbes (Yiddish): Sabbath
  • Kippah = yarmulke: skullcap worn during services, and by some Jews at all times. As a sign of humility, Jewish and Muslim men cover their heads; Christian men uncover their heads.
  • Bris (Yiddish word) Circumcision and naming of a boy happens on the 8th day after birth.
  • Minyan: The quorum necessary to recite certain prayers such as at bar mitzvah etc., consisting of ten adult Jewish people.
  • Rosh Hahanah: Jewish new year. Rituals: people eat apples and honey; the shofar (ram’s horn) is played in the synagogue.
  • Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement: People seek forgiveness; they fast all day until 3 stars are visible, and don’t wear leather. Fasting helps people to feel empathy for the poor.
  • Sukkot (a week after Yom Kippur): A festival commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest.
  • Purim: A holiday celebrating the rescue of the Jews from extermination at the hands of the chief minister to the King of Persia.  Haman is the villain of the story of Purim.
  • Hamentaschen (HAH-men-TAH-shen) Lit. Haman’s pockets. Triangular, fruit-filled cookies traditionally served or given as gifts during Purim.
  • Seder (SAY-d’r) Lit. order: the family home ritual conducted as part of the Passover observance.
  • Haggadah (huh-GAH-duh) The book read during the Passover Seder, telling the story of the holiday.
  • Rituals at the time of a death: male mourners say a prayer called Kaddish; people care for the family for a week.
  • Daven = to pray.

Arlene made some of her descriptions more real to us by passing around some things she brought in a big box, and by sharing delicious home-made foods used at special times. These are names of some of the family heirlooms we looked with hands on:

Tallit: Garment worn during morning services, with tzitzit (long fringes) attached to the corners as a reminder of the commandments. Sometimes called a prayer shawl.

Tefillin or Phylacteries: Leather pouches containing scrolls with passages of scripture, used to fulfill the commandment to bind the commandments to our hands and between our eyes.

Menorah (candelabrum).

Show-and-eat items included:

Challah: a very sweet, golden, eggy bread used for Shabbat and holidays; this one was braided.

Kugel (we ate some of this yummy dish made with noodles, and I copied a description of it from the internet) can be either a side dish or a dessert. As a side dish, it is a casserole of potatoes, eggs and onions. As a dessert, it is usually made with noodles and various fruits and nuts in an egg-based pudding. Kugel made with noodles is called lokshen kugel.

There’s a recipe for a noodle kugel on the web site I’ve copied here, although having it made by someone with such enthusiasm for sharing her traditions with us made it a very special occasion. http://www.jewfaq.org/food.htm

Everyone  enjoyed Arlene’s lively presentation.

Notes by: Barbara Williamson

P.S. more internet information:

I highly recommend this site, especially if you want to look up information:

http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm   Judaism 101


The good news is, whether you spell it Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanuka, or Channuka, you’re probably right. Because of the linguistic differences between English and Hebrew, there is no “correct” spelling, though depending on your priorities and taste, some are more correct than others.