Interactive Map European Jewry Before The War

Slideshow Jewish Life and Tradition

  • Jewish Culture

    Jews around the world are united by a rich variety of cultural traditions. From holiday observances to lifecycle rituals and other religious practices, Jewish tradition has helped sustain the Jewish community for generations.

    German family out for a walk in Berlin, late 1920s to early 1930s

  • Rosh Hashanah

    Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time of introspection and prayer. The festival is observed solemnly in the synagogue with the blowing of the Shofar (rams horn) and in the home with a festive meal featuring apples and honey.

    Blowing the shofar for Rosh Hashanah

  • Yom Kippur

    On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, God is said to judge the fate of every individual. Jews abstain from eating and drinking, and observant Jews spend virtually all day in synagogue in prayer and repentance. A single shofar blast ends the day.

    Praying for repentance on Yom Kippur

  • Succot

    On Succot, The fall Harvest Festival, many Jews build a temporary booth called a Succah. Joyfully decorated with produce, the Succah recalls the harvest as well as the ancient Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the desert.

    A family gathers for a meal in the succah

  • Passover

    The spring holiday of Passover recalls the liberation of the ancient Israelites from Egypt. At the festive Seder meal, families and friends gather to retell the story of the Exodus and eat matzah (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and other symbolic foods.

    Celebrating liberation at a Passover Seder

  • Shavuot

    Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and the first fruits of the spring harvest. Pious Jews spend the first evening in night-long study in remembrance of the revelation.

    New immigrants celebrate their first Shavuot in Israel

  • Hanukah

    Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, commemorates the Jewish victory over the Syrians in the year 165 BCE. The Menorah (Hanukkah lamp) is lit for eight nights, accompanied by special food, gifts, and games.

    A Hanukkah menorah rests on the sill of an apartment window in Kiel, Germany, 1932

  • Purim

    Purim marks Queen Esther’s successful efforts to save the Jews of Persia from an evil plot against them. This merry holiday is celebrated with costumes, festive meals, and the exchange of food baskets and charity.

    Children enjoying a Purim parade in Israel

  • Brit (Circumcision)

    Jewish boys are circumcised on the eighth day after birth, as a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. Many new and creative welcoming rituals for girls have recently been introduced as well.

    Preparing the baby for circumcision

  • Bar and Bat Mitzvah

    At age 13, a Jewish boy is called to the Torah for the first time and assumes the religious responsibilities of an adult. After 1922, Bat Mitzvah rituals for girls became common in many communities as well.

    Bar Mitzvah portrait of Josef Yehuda Radzinski, Warsaw, 1937

  • Wedding

    The chuppah, or wedding canopy, symbolizes a couple’s new home together. Under the chuppah, seven blessings are recited, a ring is placed on the bride’s forefinger, and the couple shares a sip of wine. The ceremony ends with the shattering of a glass.

    Stepping on the glass to conclude the marriage ceremony

  • Torah

    The first five books of the Hebrew Bible are called the Torah. One section from the hand-written parchment Torah scroll is read out loud during synagogue services every Sabbath.

    Reading from an open Torah scroll

  • Synagogue

    The synagogue, or Jewish house of worship, has no specific design requirements. All that is needed is a Torah scroll and a quorum of ten men -- in liberal community ten adults - over the age of 13 to form a minyan, a prayer community.

    A community joins in prayer in a synagogue

  • Shabbat (The Sabbath)

    The Sabbath, celebrated from sunset on Friday until dark on Saturday, is central to Judaism. By tradition, Jews refrain from work on Shabbat and observe the day with festive meals, including wine and challah, and synagogue services.

    Challah, wine, and candles for Shabbat

  • Kashrut (Dietary Laws)

    Jewish law features a number of dietary restrictions. For example, meat must be slaughtered by a kosher slaughterer, milk and meat must be separated, and only certain types of animals and fish may be eaten.

    A Kosher butcher preparing meat