Bar / Bat Mitzvah – literally means son / daughter of the commandments. It is a title given to every Jew upon reaching one's 13th birthday to signify that he/she is prepared to take on personal responsibility for religious actions and moral responsibility through performing and observing the commandments. No ritual is necessary. However, over the past few centuries the ritual of celebrating this life cycle event has been practiced in different ways throughout the broad and diverse Jewish community.
Bimah – a raised alter. Sometimes it is in the center of the sanctuary and sometimes up front near the ark.
Break Fast – the meal after a day of fasting such as Yom Kippur.
Challah – braided bread that is used for Sabbath and holiday meals as well as other special occasions.
Charoset – a mixture of chopped food, wine and spices to resemble mortar and is a symbolic food at Seder. The ingredients vary depending on one's country of origin; for example apples, wine, nuts and cinnamon is a traditional Eastern European recipe, while dried fruit and/or citrus may be the basis of various different recipes from the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean countries.
Chanukah – an eight day long minor holiday commemorating the Rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in ancient days. Other names for the holiday are "Festival of Lights" and "Feast of Dedication". Candles are lit, adding one for reaching night, for eight nights, and foods cooked in oil are traditionally eaten.
Dayenu – a song sung at the Seder to express thanks to God for all God had done for the Jews. The word means "it would have been enough".
Dreydel – a four sided spinning top used to play a game on Chanukah. Each side as a letter, the first of four words translated to "a great miracle happened there". If one plays with a dreidel in Israel, one letter is changed so the phrase changes to "a great miracle happened here".
Eliyahu HaNavi – a song based on the prophet Elijah commonly sung at the end of the Sabbath at the Havdalah service and during the Passover Seder as well. The prophet Elijah's message is praying for peace, hoping to "turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and the hearts of sons to their fathers".
Haggadah – the book (text) used at the Seder on Passover.
Havdalah – the religious ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath, separating the holiday Sabbath and the upcoming secular week. The ceremony includes prayers said over wine, a lite braided candle (havdalah candle) and spices. The lit candle is then dipped into the wine to extinguish it.
High Holdy Days – refers to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, sometimes called the Days of Awe.
Kabbalah – there are many interpretations of the word; it is part of the mystical school of thought of Jewish tradition and a means of understanding the world, life and Torah.
Kabbalat Shabbat – literally means reception of the Sabbath, and is a set of prayers either at home or in the synagogue that welcomes the Sabbath holy day.
Keriah – the rending of garments either by cutting an article of clothing such as a tie or blouse or cutting a black ribbon that is then pinned to a garment. It symbolizes the emotions of the moment, "the tearing away of a person from one's life". The sound alone can be "felt" throughout one's body, especially in the heart.
Kiddush – the Hebrew blessing over wine, sanctifying the sabbath and holidays. The translation literally blesses God for creating the fruit of the vine.
Kippah – a hemispherical skullcap usually made from cloth or leather worn on the head, some choosing to wear it all times and others only when praying.
Kol Nidre – literally means all vows in Aramaic. It is considered a declaration regarding vows made for the coming year and recited and/or chanted during the evening service of Yom Kippur. It sometimes referee to the actual evening service in its entirety.
Latkes – fried potato pancakes traditionally eaton on Chanukah.
Matzah – baked unleavened bread used at the Seder and during the festival of Passover to remind us of the haste in which the Jews fled Egypt.
Mensch – a Yiddish word literally meaning man, but used to describe someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character, who knows right from wrong and is responsible.
Mitzvah – literally means commandment. It is also used to describe a charitable or kind act.
Motzei (Ha Motzie) – the prayer thanking God for providing bread for us. It is said before eating any meal but more commonly before a Sabbath or holiday meal.
Passover – a weeklong holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It occurs in the spring. Like Sukkoth and Shavuot, Passover is a major holiday described in the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah – literally means the head of the year. This Jewish holiday starts the Jewish calendar year, generally in September or early October.
Seder – a ritual performed by a family or community on the first and second nights of Passover. It retells the story of the exodus from Egypt.
Shabbat – the seventh day of the week (Sabbath) according to the Jewish calendar; a day set aside for rest and prayer and it begins at sundown on the sixth day (Friday) and ends the following day at sundown (Saturday). There are many customs for observing Shabbat according to the different denominations of Judaism. One noted custom is that shiva is not observed on the Sabbath or holiday days. Rather it is mandatory to uphold the laws of the Sabbath and the holiday days.
Shabbat Shalom – literally means a peaceful Sabbath and is a familiar greeting used before and on the Sabbath.
Shavuah Tov – translated it means a good week. It's a song sung at the end of the Sabbath at the Havdalah service and a greeting wishing everybody a good week, a peaceful week.
Shavuot – a holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai. It occurs on the fiftieth day after Passover and often coincides with confirmation of teens and/or graduations.
Sheloshim – comes from the word hirty ending the first month (30 days) of mourning. During this time, the mourner may go back to work and normal everyday activities, but traditionally is still restricted from attending joyous events like weddings. It recognizes the reality of a gradual readjustment after the week of shivah.
Shivah – comes from the word shevah meaning seven and is the period of formal mourning in the community, lasting for seven days. During that period, some mourners will traditionally sit on low stools, refrain from shaving and wear the ribbon or piece of clothing cut prior to the funeral service. The mourner will not go to work or perform chores. Instead, they will receive visitors who will share memories and feelings about the dead person. The purpose is to help the mourner further experience grief reactions, face the reality of the death, as well as be comforted by the visit.
Shroud – a cloth that covers, but commonly refers to the garment worn by the dead for burials.
Simchat Torah – a joyous holiday at the end of the week of Sukkot. It celebrates the reading of the last portion of the yearly cycle for reading the Torah. Immediately after, the first chapter is read aloud to continue the yearly cycle of reading the Torah.
Song of Songs – the book of the Bible sometimes called "Songs of Solomon". While they are love songs between male and female lovers, it is an allegory of the loving relationship between God and the Jewish people.
Star of David – a six-pointed star and is the most common symbol of Judaism today. It is an ancient symbol and has mystical meaning as well.
Sukkot – a biblical holiday that begins five days after Yom Kippur. It is sometimes called the "Feast of Booths" or "Feast of Tabernacles". It is customary to build temporary booths whereby the roof is partially open to the sky. It is celebrated by eating in the sukkah (booth).
Tallit – a shawl with fringes on the bottom corners used during prayer. Sometimes it is pronounced "tallis".
Temple – This is a term, used interchangeably with synagogue, for a Jewish house of worship.
Torah – has many meanings, one referring to the many teachings in Jewish literature; or it may mean a tangible object of the first five books written on parchment and attached to two wooden poles. The torah is kept in the ark unless it is being used during a prayer service. When taken from the ark, it is customary to rise to show respect for its teachings and symbolism.
Unveiling – the dedication of the moment at the gravesite, usually occurring between sheloshim and the first yahrzeit.
Yahrzeit – the anniversary of the death.
Yahrzeit Candle – a special Memorial candle lit before sundown on the anniversary of the death as well as the four times Yizkor is recited. It burns for approximately 24 hours.
Yizkor – the memorial prayer said four times a year; on Yom Kippur and on the last day of the threes major holiday - Sukkot, Peach (Passover) and Shavuot.
Yom Kippur – considered as the holiest day of the year, it follows ten days after Rosh Hashanah. It's a day of fasting and prayer and is one of the holiday days that include a Yizkor service, the memorial service for the dead.