Zion is a sacred hill in Jerusalem and refers, by extension, to Jerusalem and the homeland of the Hebrew people. In this latter sense, Zion came to symbolize Jewish national-religious hopes of renewal and Zionism became the name of the 19th and 20th century movement to create a new homeland for the Jewish people in Israel. These hopes were fulfilled, at least in part, through the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Zionism has penetrated Jewish life overwhelmingly, and plays an extremely important role in the identity of Jews, as individuals and communities.

Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism is an American Jewish movement, reacting to early Jewish Reform movements by attempting to retain clearer links to Jewish law and tradition, while at the same time adapting to modern situations. Its scholarly center in the US is the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.


(also: Shoah) Holocaust (from Greek, entire burnt offering) refers in modern times to the Nazi German campaign to exterminate the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s with death camps and gas chambers. Six million Jews died in this Holocaust. In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as “Shoah.”


Pogrom, from the Russian word for “devastation,” refers to the attacks, riots and rampages against Jewish communities, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Wise, Isaac Mayer

Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900) was the principal leader in the formation of America’s Reform Judaism in the 1870s. He participated in founding the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (1875) and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1873).


The bimah is the raised area at the front of an Ashkenazi synagogue where the desk for reading the Torah is located.


A tevah is the platform from which the Torah is read in Sephardic synagogues. It is equivalent to a “bimah” in the Ashkenazi tradition.


The ark, or Aron ha-Kodesh (the Holy Ark) in Hebrew, is the holy chest or cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept in a synagogue on the wall facing Jerusalem.


Hallel means “praise” and refers to the joyful recitation of psalms of praise and thanksgiving during Jewish festival services, especially Psalms 113-118.


The Mishnah, meaning “teaching” is the written compilation of the oral Torah, also believed to have been revealed at Sinai. It includes laws and observances having to do with agriculture, holy seasons, women, family, civil law, temple rituals, and laws of purity. The Mishnah was compiled in the 2nd century CE by Rabbi Judah HaNasi (literally “Judah the Prince”) and became the basis of the monumental code of law, the Talmud.


Sukkot is a Jewish harvest festival, also known as the festival of “booths.” The booth or sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which the faithful take their meals during the festival. The booths recall the temporary shelters in which the people of Israel lived, sustained by the mercy of God, during their years in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt.


Adam is Hebrew for “human, man.” It is the name given to the first person created by God and as such has an important symbolic role in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.


Matzah is the unleavened bread that must be eaten during the eight days of Passover, recalling the bread made in haste as the people of Israel fled from slavery in Egypt.

Simhat Torah

Simhat Torah, “rejoicing in the law,” is the holiday celebrating the Torah, as the Jewish year’s cycle of readings ends and the community begins the Torah reading once again. A part of Sukkot, and hence, the High Holiday cycle, it is widely observed by dancing with the Torah scrolls and making circuits of the synagogue carrying the scrolls and rejoicing.


A ghetto is a part of a city or town where Jews lived, segregated from others. The name comes from the foundry area in Venice where Jews were forced to live in 1526 and came to be used for all such areas of segregation, often forcible segregation.