Ashkenazi is an adjective used to refer to the Jewish culture which developed in Germany and Eastern Europe (called Ashkenaz) in contradistinction to Sephardic Judaism, which has its distinctive roots in Spain and the Mediterranean. By extension, it now refers to Jews of Northern and Eastern European background (including Russia) with their distinctive practices and social customs.


A havurah is a Jewish community in which roles, leadership, and responsibility for worship and study are shared among members as opposed to hiring a rabbi, hazzan, or other trained leaders.

tikkun olam

Tikkun olam means to heal or repair the world, interpreted in Judaism as the responsibility to take action to make the world a better place.


Angels are a class of supernatural or spiritual beings, imaginatively understood to perform various functions on God’s behalf. Angels are especially described as divine messengers. Angels are common to Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


Mitzvah means “commandment” and refers to the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or colloquially, to any good deed.


Synagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but in all cases the synagogue contains the ark in which the Torah scrolls are stored, and from which they are ritually removed for communal reading.


Haftarah is the selection of reading from the Prophets, following the reading from the Torah in the liturgy of the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays.


A menorah is a candelabrum originally used in the ancient Temple. The seven-branched candelabrum is used in Jewish synagogues as a symbol of the state of Israel. The nine-branched candelabrum used during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, often referred to as a menorah, is more accurately termed a “Hanukiah.”


Sinai is the holy mountain on which Moses is said to have received the Torah, and where the people of Israel once again entered into a covenant with God.


Emancipation refers to the new legal equality, granted to Jewish communities by the modern nation-state following the French Revolution.


Kosher means, literally, “proper” or “correct” and refers to food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws (kashrut). These dietary laws prescribe what foods may be eaten, how animals must be slaughtered etc.


Shavuot means “weeks” and is the Jewish festival celebrated seven weeks after Passover. It celebrates the first fruits of the grain harvest and commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.


Daven is a Yiddish word meaning “to pray”. Davening commonly refers to the traditional Jewish prayer mode involving highly personal rote recital of prayers in a soft voice, often swaying back and forth.


Judaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year old heritage in a wide variety of ways and identify themselves along a spectrum of practice and belief, from liberal Reform Jews to Orthodox Jews. As a way of life, Judaism also includes the social and cultural history of a widespread and diverse community of people, some of whom do not think of themselves as “religious.”

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the day of the Jewish New Year, falling on the first day of the autumn month of Tishri.