Jewish religion also known as Judaism -- is the religion of the Torah, which begins with the "Five Books of Moses and encompasses the Old Testament" (Neusner, 1992, 8). Judaism honors its beginnings as part of the creation of the whole world, Neusner explains. Jews believe that God created the world "…and for ten generations, from Adam to Noah, despaired of creation." Following those ten generations, from Noah to Abraham, God was waiting for humans to finally "…acknowledge the sovereignty of one God," who was authentically the unseen power that created heaven and earth (Neusner, 9).
Most historians explain that Judaism is a "monotheistic faith" (there is but one God) and Jews in turn often find this God "…beyond [humans'] ability to comprehend" and nevertheless Jews believe God is present in everyone's life every day (Pelala, 2013). Moreover Jews believe that each person was created "b'tzelem Elohim" (meaning "in the image of God") and because of this belief, there is the companion belief that every person is "equally important and has an infinite potential to do good in the world" (Pelala, p. 1).
Of vital importance to Jews is the Torah, the most important book in Judaism. The Torah has the Ten Commandments and the "613 commandments" (known as mitzvoth), and while all Jews accept the Ten Commandments not all Jewish sects accept the mitzvoth, Pelala explains. In the Torah, it is clearly pointed out that the "Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) was part of the covenant made between God and the Jewish People at Mount Sinai" (Pelala, p. 1). That having been pointed out, there is no single universal view of Israel among modern Jews because some Jews are "conflicted" by the bitter politics in that region of the Middle East.
Meantime, most Jews, whether they are part of the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or various Orthodox Judaisms, believe that a Messiah (from God) will arrive and "unite the world and bring peace to humanity," which is part of the optimism that keeps Jews in a positive frame of mind notwithstanding the horrific slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust. To summarize the essence of Judaism, Pelala quotes from a great rabbi in the first century B.C.E. (Hillel); the rabbi was asked to sum up what Judaism means, and "…while standing on one foot" he said the following: "Certainly! What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary," he said. "Now go and study" (Pelala, p. 2).
Location of the Synagogue
The Congregation Kol Emeth is located at 5130 West Touhy Avenue, in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. This congregation views itself (on its website) as "…a friendly, participatory and egalitarian Conservative synagogue." There are approximately 200 families that are participants in this Jewish congregation, and Kol Emeth is linked to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism of America. The congregation embraces the "great diversity of backgrounds" that make up the people in the congregation; some members are new to the faith and have recently discovered the "magnificence and richness of Judaism" and others have been involved with Judaism from childhood to adulthood, the Kol Emeth website explains.
Kol Emeth has Friday Evening Shabbat services at 8:00 P.M. And on Sabbath morning the service is at 9:30 A.M. An important component of the Kol Emeth congregation is "Our Sisterhood," a fundraising group that provides spiritual, educational, social and cultural activities for the women of the congregation.
Interview Summary -- Interview with Rebecca Weiner
Rebecca Weiner is a 38-year-old member of Kol Emeth, who has been attending this synagogue most of her life. She is a wife and mother of two children and she agreed to be interviewed about her faith and about her interactions with the Kol Emeth community.
Question: What are the important holidays in the Jewish faith, and which of those is most meaningful to you?
Answer (paraphrased). First of all it is interesting in the Jewish faith that holidays are on different dates each year. That is because our holidays occur on the same day on the Jewish calendar but that is different from the secular calendar that gentiles go by. The holidays that are really important are Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which happens between Labor Day and Columbus Day. I like Rosh Hashanah because it is full of festivities and families can really enjoy. In our family we don't make many new year's resolution -- because they are always hard to keep -- but we do spend time as a family reviewing all the important things that happened in the previous year.
I also really enjoy Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. By the way we observe these days beginning at sundown the previous day. Like our Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday night and ends at sundown Saturday night, holidays begin the day before. So families like mine actually get an extra part of a day to celebrate. Yom Kippur happens in early October, and families fast, they do not work or go to school, or do anything that would be seen as non-spiritual in their lives. I should mention that the point of Yom Kippur is to make amends, so to speak, for the errors we made, the mistakes, during the past year.
And my favorite Jewish holiday is Chanukkah, which is known as the festival of lights. Candles are lit and it makes a beautiful, peaceful experience for children and their parents. It happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I should explain that Chanukkah actually commemorates the rebuilding and rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; it was destroyed centuries ago and the renewal of our Temple has always been cause for celebration and remembrance. We Jews don't give presents like Christians do at Christmas, but there is a lot of social and commercial pressure for us to emulate in some way Christmas, so in our family we do give presents to the children and we cook special meals.
Question: How has religion shaped your life?
Answer: For one thing I love the Sabbath. I have enjoyed the experience of lighting candles on Friday night after the sun goes down my whole life. It is special because the Sabbath has always for my family -- and for me as a little girl -- been a time when our family takes a break from all secular activities and shares spiritual moments. We don't go do movies on the Sabbath and we don't go shopping; we stay home and the mother cooks a wonderful meal -- and we pray as a family. My life has been shaped around the Sabbath, because in my teaching career there have always been tensions and clashes between students and teachers and administrators, too. But I always remain calm because I know Sabbath will bring me peace and renewal.
Question: Have you been the subject of discrimination because of your Jewish faith?
Answer: Yes, I have felt the hurt from anti-Semitism on a few occasions. And I feel pain when I think about the brutality Jews went through in Europe because of the Nazis. But here in Skokie, Jews are very comfortable because a large percentage of residents here are Jewish and many Holocaust survivors came here after World War II. We have the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center where people who are not Jews can understand our history better.
Question: Are there challenges associated with being Jewish and practicing your religion?
Answer: Well yes of course because most people attend church on Sunday but we observe the Sabbath and that makes us different. Also, my children don't take part in many of the Friday night activities in their schools because as I mentioned Friday night is the beginning of the Sabbath for us. Sometimes children can actually resent their faith because all their friends go to movies and sports activities on Friday night and Sabbath; my children are no different from other Jewish children so this presents a problem for them. But in our family we try to make the Sabbath not just a day of worship and sacrifice, but a fun day so kids can relax and enjoy it.
Question: What are the biggest misconceptions about the Jewish faith?
Answer: Well, all Jews aren't the same but when people say Jews they tend to lump us all in one denomination. Our synagogue practices Conservative Judaism, which is not as strict, you might say, as Reform Judaism or Orthodox Judaism. Conservative Jews study Hebrew and strongly support Israel's right to self-determination. We also keep kosher -- we don't eat pork but keeping kosher goes farther than just not eating pork. We cut meat on one cutting board and cheese on a different cutting board. We don't mix dairy foods with meat, that's part of keeping kosher.
Question: What about divorce in your faith?
Answer: The Conservative Jewish approach is that secular, civil laws about divorce do not necessarily apply. In certain situations where the husband leaves or…