Alphabetical Glossary of Terms

A

Aliyah
(Hebrew for to go up.) The honor of being called to the bimah to read the blessing before and after a section from the Torah is read. You’ll often hear this referred to as being given an Aliyah because it is considered a gift or honor to be invited to give this blessing. The blessing is done in Hebrew and should definitely be practiced in advance. The blessing can be slightly different depending on the affiliation. For example, the Reconstructionist version uses language that is egalitarian/gender neutral, while other versions are more old-school and traditional. (You might hear what sounds like the same word about someone who is moving to Israel, but the pronunciation is slightly different. The synagogue version is pronounced a-LEE-yuh, usually as in “being called up for an Aliyah.” When someone is moving to Israel it is pronounced ah-lee-YAH, usually as in “making aliyah.” Don’t be JewBarrassed – this used to confuse us too.)
Amidah and Repetition
Amidah means standing in Hebrew and refers to a series of blessings recited while, yes, standing. It’s considered the core of Saturday morning services. It’s recited silently while facing the front of the synagogue with your feet together. You’re supposed to say the words in a whisper and to sit down when you’re done. Don’t be JewBarrassed if you finish first, or if the people around you seem much more into it. We’ve all been there. When everyone finally sits down, or the rabbi decides enough is enough, the Amidah prayer is recited again, this time out loud by the rabbi or someone else. The out loud part is called Repetition. Makes sense, right?

B

B Mitzvah
‘Cause you know, in today’s world...everything is gender neutral, inclusive, and everybody-friendly. So, the term b mitzvah was made up to replace bar/bat mitzvah. We think that credit for the term goes to Lab/Shul.
Bedeken
The very sweet pre-wedding ceremony when the groom lowers the veil over the bride. The tradition started thousands of years ago, when Jacob, who thought he was marrying Rachel, was tricked into marrying Leah, her older sister instead. (We have so many questions about this, like why did they use such opaque veiling back then, and wouldn’t Jacob have noticed that something looked off with his bride, like maybe her posture or hands? But, that’s all for another time...) The groom is sometimes carried to the bride on a chair surrounded by a group of singing friends and family, which is a fun and celebratory way to start the wedding.
Beshert
(Yiddish for destiny.) Generally used to describe your soulmate. Like, “Do you really think you are going to find your bashert on Tinder?” (Answer: Maybe!)
Bimah
(Hebrew for platform.) The platform or stage in a synagogue where the rabbi conducts the service.
Blessing After The Meal
A set of Hebrew blessings that Jewish Halakha ("collective body of Jewish religious laws") prescribes following a meal that includes at least a ke-zayit (olive sized) piece of bread or matzah made from one or all of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt. It is a mitzvah that is written in the Torah. It is a matter of rabbinic dispute whether Birkat Hamazon must be said after eating certain other bread-like foods such as pizza. Birkat Hamazon is typically read to oneself after ordinary meals and often sung aloud on special occasions such as Shabbat and festivals. The length of the different Birkat Hamazon can vary considerably, from benching under half a minute to more than 5 minutes.
Book of Life
The book that God uses to keep tabs on us. Just go with it for a minute here. The Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah and closed on Yom Kippur. It’s said that each one of us has a page that lists all the things we’ve done in the past year and that God uses it when deciding who lives for another year. A little like Santa’s list of who’s naughty and who’s nice, but with higher stakes. So, maybe take the repenting seriously and stack the cards, just in case.
Books Of Prophets
(Also known as Nevi’im Aharonim) The Prophets section of the Bible which contains the prophecies and teachings of individual prophets.
Bride Circles
Jewish wedding ceremonies traditionally begin with the bride circling the groom seven times. Seven represents the seven days of creation, and, are you sitting down for this one, another reason the bride circles the groom is to signify how he is the center of her world. The good news is that there are many ways to modernize this really old-fashioned ritual. The bride and groom can both circle, first the bride then the groom, or vice versa. Some couples choose to hold hands and walk the seven circles together. Sometimes the bride and groom do three circles each, and the seventh circle together. You get the idea. Some say the circling is the symbolic building of a wall of love around the bride and groom. We like that version the best.
Bris
The Jewish ceremony of male circumcision. It traditionally happens on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life and is performed by a mohel, who may or may not be a medical doctor. It marks the covenant between God and the Jews, which is a long story that you can Google if you want to.

C

Challah
Braided egg bread that is typically eaten on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. A typical challah has three braids said to represent truth, peace, and justice…okay, well maybe the only ones who say that are granola-loving, guitar-playing Jews, but still, kinda sweet right? Oh, and the leftover bread makes for fantastic French toast.
Challah That Is Round For Rosh Hashanah
On Rosh Hashanah the challah is round, rather than braided, to signify the circle of life and the cyclical nature of seasons/time. Just as delicious as the regular stuff, but often contains raisins to add to the sweetness, although TBH, we’re not fans cause…cooked raisins?
Charoset
A delicious mix of chopped apples, walnuts, sweet red wine, honey and a pinch of salt. There are lots of different recipes for charoset, just check Google. If you use your imagination, charoset looks like the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to make the bricks for the Egyptian pyramids. We eat charoset on matzah during the Seder.
Chuppah
The chuppah represents the home (tent) of our biblical ancestors Sarah and Abraham, open on all sides so guests know they will always be welcome. It also symbolizes the home the bride and groom will build together. It can be free-standing or held by four pole-bearers (a great way to honor four loved ones) and can range from a simple tallit held by tree branches to something very ornate, depending on your taste (and your budget). Some couples have a quilt made for the top of the chuppah instead. It’s a small space, with just enough room for the bride and groom, their best man and maid of honor and the officiant. According to tradition, as long as a Jewish marriage is performed under a chuppah, the wedding can take place anywhere.
Circumcision
The removal of a baby boy’s foreskin, typically when he is eight days old. This is a sensitive topic (see what we did there?). Check out JewBelong’s bris section to learn all about it!
Conservative
A middle ground between Reform and Modern Orthodox. The name comes from the idea of trying to “conserve” traditions rather than leaving them unchanged or full-out reforming them. Services are often a mix of Hebrew and English. There’s a wide range of observance among Conservative Jews: Some keep kosher, some don’t; some refrain from work and driving on Shabbat, some don’t… (See Different Kinds of Jewish for more.)

D

Diaspora
Anywhere but Israel, e.g. “the Jews of the diaspora.” Those of us in New York, LA, etc. You get the picture...
Disengaged Jews (DJs)
DJs for short. Arguably the biggest group of Jews at least in America. DJs have little connection to being Jewish. It’s not that they dislike Judaism, it simply doesn’t play a large role in their lives. Because Judaism has so many laws, it is easy for DJs to feel like outsiders, so they start to steer clear of Jewish practice. But we want and need them back. That’s literally why our name and tagline is JewBelong: for when you feel you don’t! JewBelong was created for anyone interested in Judaism, especially for DJs, to help them find the joy and meaning that Judaism has to offer.
Dreidel
The four-sided spinning top used to play the gambling (yet TBH kind of boring) game dreidel. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which together form the acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham — "A great miracle happened there." Fun fact: In Israel, dreidels feature the acronym for “a great miracle happened here.”

E

Elijah
An important prophet who lived during the 9th century B.C.E. and is said to visit every home during the Passover Seder (thank goodness he has Waze). Passover tradition is to put a cup of wine on the table for him, and when the time comes (just follow the haggadah so you’ll know when), to open the door to welcome him in. Then check Elijah’s glass to see if some of the wine is gone, which of course it will be. It’s a little like the Jewish version of Santa’s milk and cookies. Jews also sing about Elijah each week during Havdalah, because Shabbat is supposed to give us a taste of what life will be like when the Messiah comes. Basically, Elijah represents the start of a new era of worldwide peace, justice, and harmony and we all wish he’d just hurry up and get here!
Eternal Light
The light near the ark in a synagogue that is always lit as a reminder of the Torah scrolls that are stored within the ark. It’s also meant to remind us of God’s presence and love for the Jewish people.
Etrog
A large citrus fruit that’s shaken along with a lulov (bunch of branches) during the celebration of Sukkot.
Exodus
The section of the bible that tells the Passover story.

F

- There are no terms for this section -

G

Gelt
German for money, but for the purposes of Hanukkah it’s those chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil that come in a nifty mesh bag that are popular during Hanukkah. (Depending on the brand, the chocolate may or may not be worth the trouble of getting those foil covers off.)
Get
Jewish divorce document. It is traditionally presented by the husband to the wife in the presence of witnesses. It is required by observant Jews to end a marriage in the eyes of Jewish law. (The rest of us just take our lawyer’s word for it.) A get is very short and states "You are hereby permitted to all men," which means that the woman is no longer considered married. Every once in a while, you can read about an orthodox Jewish couple going to court because the husband won’t give his wife a get.

H

HaMotzi
The blessing over the bread (often a challah) that is said before meals and on Shabbat and most Jewish holidays, usually after Kiddush. (Not to be overly opinionated here ‘cause that’s not how we roll, but this blessing is very short and an easy way to take a moment to be mindful/grateful for the food we are about to eat. Some people say it before every meal. Try to do this one every Friday if you can, even if you don’t do anything else. Trust us on this one.)
Haftorah
Seriously, we grew up under the assumption that the Haftorah is simply half the Torah. Makes sense, right? Ah, if it were only that easy. Actually, the Haftorah is a selection from the Book of Prophets (Nevi’im) about a bunch of well, prophets, including Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Only selected passages make it into the Haftorah cycle. There’s a portion to match each week’s Torah reading. The Haftorah is part of a book, not a scroll, and, also unlike the Torah, it has vowels, which makes the Hebrew infinitely easier to read. (Don’t worry – there’s no quiz on this.)
Haggadah
(Hebrew for telling.) A guidebook that has all the blessings, songs, etc. for a Passover Seder. JewBelong's Haggadah includes all the traditional stuff, plus a hysterical skit, original songs, and a don't-miss drinking game! Just make copies for all your guests, review the Haggadah before the Seder starts, and let 'er rip!
Halakha
The Jewish religious laws that come right from the Torah.
Hamentashen
A triangle-shaped cookie named after Haman, the bad guy in the Purim story. Why name a cookie after a bad guy? To celebrate that he lost! Some folks say that Haman wore a three-cornered hat but others say the three-sided thing has to do with Haman’s ear, or with his dice. Either way, hamentashen can be tasty and crunchy or kind of soft and doughy depending on who’s baking. They’re traditionally filled with poppy seeds or fruit preserves but these days you can find lots of other fancier fillings too.
Hanukkah
An ancient story about a war, some badass Maccabees who were the underdogs but won, a temple that was decimated, and some oil that should have kept a candle lit for one day that lasted for eight. Check out JewBelong’s Hanukkah section for more details!
Hebrew Prayer For The Dead
(El Maleh Rachamim) A prayer for the soul of a person who has died that is recited with a haunting chant at funeral services, on visiting the graves of relatives (especially during the month of Elul), and after having been called up to the reading of the Torah on the anniversary of the death of a close relative. It is also part of the Yizkor memorial service on Yom Kippur and on the last days of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. If one of both parents of either a bride or groom passed away, it is customary to visit the grave before the wedding to recite the prayer. There are different iterations of the prayer for a man and a woman.
High Holidays
(Also known as the High Holy Days.) The two days of Rosh Hashanah and the one day of Yom Kippur that are considered the most solemn/important days on the Jewish calendar.
Holocaust
(Shoah in Hebrew.) The genocide during World War II in which Hitler's Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered six million European Jews, about two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.

I

Interfaith/Intermarried
When people from different religions/ backgrounds marry but also SO much more than that. Honestly, there’s a lot to say on this, so please just save us the time and go straight to the Interfaith Blessings.
Iyar
The second month of the Jewish calendar, it usually coincides with parts of April and May. It is considered the healing month according to the Jewish calendar.

J

JewBarrassed
The feeling you get (may include sweating, shortness of breath or mild panic) when you think you should know something Jewish, but you don’t. Also occurs when you’ve said or done something Jewish “wrong.” We’ve all been there. At JewBelong, we’re on a mission to end JewBarrassment so that people can focus on the good parts.
JewBarrassing
The feeling you get (may include sweating, shortness of breath or mild panic) when you think you should know something Jewish, but you don’t. Also occurs when you’ve said or done something Jewish “wrong.” We’ve all been there. At JewBelong, we’re on a mission to end JewBarrassment so that people can focus on the good parts.
JewBarrassment
The feeling you get (may include sweating, shortness of breath or mild panic) when you think you should know something Jewish, but you don’t. Also occurs when you’ve said or done something Jewish “wrong.” We’ve all been there. At JewBelong, we’re on a mission to end JewBarrassment so that people can focus on the good parts.

K

Ketubah
A ketubah is essentially a religious prenup – a marriage contract that is signed before the wedding ceremony. The ketubah outlines the husband’s responsibilities in the areas of clothing, food, sex and just in case, divorce. Today, it’s more seen as an agreement of commitment to each other, signed by two witnesses. Technically, the witnesses aren’t supposed to be blood relatives, so signing is an honor that often goes to close friends. Ketubahs are often quite beautiful, and lots of couples frame them and put them in their bedroom. The cost of a ketubah varies greatly. You can buy them online. There are lots of beautiful ones on Etsy.com, and in most stores that sell Jewish objects.
Kichel
Sweet cookies/crackers sometimes called bow tie cookies because of their shape. Honestly, they’re not our fave, but some people like them. During Passover, kichel can be made with matzah meal instead of flour and are therefore kosher for Passover.
Kiddush
(Hebrew for holiness.) The blessing said over wine or grape juice to sanctify Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.
Kiddush Cup
Glass, cup or goblet used to hold wine, grape juice or whatever you’re using when you say Kiddush, the blessing over the wine before the meal on Shabbat or other holidays.
Kittel
A white robe made out of cotton which represents purity. Jews are supposed to be buried in a kittel/shroud.  They are plain garments, and unlike some religions, where people are buried with items to show their wealth, a kittel/shroud signifies equality for all in death. That is also why Jews are supposed to be buried in a plain pine coffin. No fancy stuff at all. Kittels/shrouds are sometimes worn by rabbis during High Holiday services, or by people on other important occasions, like a groom on his wedding day.
Knesset
National legislature of Israel, which passes all laws, elects the president, approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government.
Kol Nidre
The service/prayer that is chanted at the start of Yom Kippur (which like all Jewish holidays starts at sundown the day before the actual day of the holiday). It’s an ancient prayer that asks God to release us from any vows we’ve made that may be hanging over our heads so that we can start the new year, which starts the day after Yom Kippur, with a clean slate.
Kosher
Comes from Hebrew for fit or appropriate but is derived to mean clean or pure and refers to food that has been ritually prepared or blessed and which meets the requirements of Jewish law, of which there are many. One basic kosher rule is not eating milk and meat together. So, no cheeseburgers. And since the rule is you need to wait either three or six hours (depends who you ask) after eating meat to have milk products, no ice-cream after a steak dinner either. Other basic rules that you may have heard of are no pig products and no shellfish. See kosher symbols for more information on how to tell if foods are kosher. Google is full of a seemingly never-ending rabbit hole of kosher information. Rock on.
Kosher For Passover
The short version that most people follow is to only eat foods that are unleavened (don’t rise or include yeast). But, there are way more guidelines. Foods that rise are forbidden during Passover because when the Jews were running to escape Egypt they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. If you want to know more about what is and isn’t kosher, you can find more information on our Kosher page.
Kosher Symbols
Kosher symbols, which are called hechshers, are meant to make it easy to figure out if a food is considered meat, dairy, or parve (neither dairy nor meat) according to Jewish law. These foods are labeled with one of the many kosher symbols, including K and some of the more common ones which you can see examples of in our kosher section. You can usually find these symbols in small type on the bottom front of the package. (If you’ve never noticed them before, you’ll probably start now…) To complicate things, there are many organizations who approve the kosherness of food and they don’t use the same symbols. For instance, the one pronounced “OU,” which is one of the more common symbols means a product was certified as kosher by the Orthodox Union. But there are many other symbols out there. There are a few reasons for this. The main one is that some people only trust certain organizations to do a good job of making sure something is kosher. The other reason is that like with any business, there is competition, and some organizations cost more to work with!
Kugel
A casserole made from egg noodles or potatoes often served on Shabbat and other holidays.
Kvatter/Kvatters
The person/people who take the baby from his parents and carry him into the room where the bris will take place. After the bris, the kvatter/kvatters brings the baby back to his parents. This role is considered an important honor and is assigned to family members or loved ones.

L

L'shanah Tovah
Translated in Hebrew, Shana means “year” and Tova means “good.” How some people say Happy New Year on Rosh Hashanah. Or stick with regular Happy New Year if Hebrew isn't your thing.
Lag BaOmer
The 33rd day of the 49-day period of counting the Omer, which is meant to be a somber time of spiritual renewal, where you can take a break from being sad and do something fun.
Latkes
Fried potato pancakes that we eat during Hanukkah. Latkes are often eaten with sour cream and/or applesauce. Because why stop the fried food binge there, we also eat jelly donuts, called sufganiyot in Hebrew. Yes, a regular donut will suffice too. All this fried food is because we are remembering that miracle oil that lasted for eight days and symbolizes the miracle of Hanukkah.
Leil Selichot
Kind of like pre-gaming for the High Holidays. Selichot are prayers of forgiveness that are said during the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Lulov
A bunch of branches (generally willow, myrtle and palm) which are shaken together with the etrog (a citrus fruit) during the celebration of Sukkot.

M

Macaroons
A Passover macaroon is a sticky coconut-based cookie made without leavening that generally comes in a can. Not to be confused with French macaron, which are those fancy meringue cookies made from almond flour that come in lots of pretty colors, but which makes one wonder how one itsy-bitsy cookie can possibly cost $4.00?
Maccabees
Badass group of Jewish rebel warriors that saved the Jews from being forced to adopt a Greek lifestyle around 165 BCE. (That’s 165 years before the year 0.)
Manischewitz
The world’s largest manufacturer of matzah and the maker of the delicious sugary wine used during many Jewish holidays. Tastes kind of like juice so be careful because it’ll catch up with you. Most people stick with concord grape but we love the blackberry flavor.
Matzah
Unleavened bread (meaning it doesn’t have yeast), which looks and tastes more like a cracker. Matzah comes in a few flavors… egg, onion, and there’s even a gluten-free version.
Matzah Meal
Flour made from matzah, and the main ingredient in many Passover foods, including matzah balls. (But not a meal made from matzah! Get it? Matzah meal... LOL.)
Menorah
(Hebrew for lamp.) Any seven-branched candelabra is called a menorah. A Hanukkah menorah is technically called a hanukkiah and has nine branches – one for each night of Hanukkah plus the shamash, which is used to light the other candles. Most of us just call the hanukkiah a menorah though.
Mensch
Someone your mom would be happy to see you date. A person known for their integrity/doing the right thing.
Mezuzah
(Hebrew for doorpost.) There are two parts to a mezuzah: a scroll and a holder. The scroll is a small piece of parchment, typically handwritten in Hebrew by a scribe, that contains the words of the Shema. The rolled-up scroll is put into a holder and attached to the doorposts of many Jewish homes. Some people just have one mezuzah at their front door, and others put them on doorposts throughout their homes, especially bedrooms. There are lots of cool holders to choose from. (And if you didn’t realize that there was a scroll in those holders, don’t be JewBarrassed. Neither did some of us at first!)
Mi Chamocha
Some think of this Hebrew prayer as part three of the Sh’ma. It’s a prayer of praise and thanks God for rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. True, we tell the story of this liberation to freedom on Passover, but we remember it and give thanks weekly, because it was a biggie.
Mi Shebeirach
The central Jewish prayer for anyone who is ill or recovering which asks for a physical cure and spiritual healing.
Minyan
The group of ten people over the age of 13 that is required for traditional Jewish worship. Observant Jews will only count men, not women, for a minyan. We call BS on that.
Miriam
A prophet and Moses’s sister. She’s known for doing a lot of important things, mostly related to water, like saving Moses from being drowned as an infant, and helping the Jews find water while they were trekking across the desert for all those years. She gets her own cup filled with water at the Seder table. Miriam was also a good dancer and tambourine player.
Miriam's cup
A cup filled with water and placed on the table during Passover to symbolize Miriam’s Well, a magical source of water that lasted during the 40 years the Jews spent wandering in the desert. Also used to honor Miriam’s role in liberating the Jewish people, first by saving Moses from death on the Nile and then helping to raise him. Miriam’s cup also celebrates the critical role of all Jewish women, past and present.
Mitzvah
A good deed.
Mohel
A person who performs circumcision, and is often, but not always, a doctor or a rabbi.
Moses
An important biblical figure considered to be one of the greatest Jewish prophets. He led the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom, and spoke to God more than once, including the time that God told him the 10 Commandments. Moses really didn't want the job of being a prophet when God first approached him. (For one thing, Moses stuttered which made him shy.) Fortunately, Moses turned out to be pretty good at the prophet thing.
Mourner's Kaddish
The Hebrew prayer recited in memory of the dead during the mourning period and to mark the anniversary of the death of a loved one. People can say Kaddish for people they don’t know, too. For instance, to remember those who died in the Holocaust. Interesting fact – death isn’t mentioned in the Kaddish, instead the prayer is largely focused on praising God.
Musaf (Mussaf)
Also known as addition because it’s like an extra service that is said at the end of some Shabbat morning services. Considered a verbal substitute for the animal sacrifices that used to be offered on Shabbat, and another chance to thank God for the joy that Shabbat brings.

N

Naming Ceremony
Ceremony when a baby girl, and sometimes a boy, is given a Hebrew name. A little like a Jewish baby shower, but it takes place after the baby is born. Check out our section on baby naming because you’ll learn a lot, and we also have a naming ceremony booklet that you can print, and voila, baby naming ceremony ready to go!

O

Orthodox
There are different groups within the Orthodox community, including Modern Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Chabad and others. Keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and other holidays with an all-the-rules approach, belonging to a synagogue and going to services, having children in Jewish day school, etc. are important across the board. The communities differ in many ways though, such as how they dress, and level of participation in modern society, which ranges from all-out to pretty much none. (See Different Kinds of Jewish for more.)

P

Parasha
The weekly section of the Torah that is read aloud in Hebrew and discussed during Shabbat services. (The Torah is divided into 54 weekly portions, in case you were wondering.) After the reading comes the D’var Torah, which is a short speech or mini-lesson based on the Torah portion that was just read. It’s often the most interesting part of the service because it can vary depending on who is doing the lesson, and sometimes people get kind of creative.
Pareve
Food prepared without any meat or dairy, which can be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes according to kosher dietary laws.
Passover
(Pesach in Hebrew.) The eight-day celebration that commemorates the Jews being freed from slavery in ancient Egypt. Also, the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, with good reason. The Seder, which takes place on the first two nights of Passover, is like a fun dinner party with interesting conversation, singing, wine, JewBelong's hilarious skit (no props required), and if you're really in the mood to party, a drinking game.
Purim
A happy holiday that celebrates the defeat of Haman's plot to massacre the Jews as written in the biblical book of Esther. The celebrations often include Purim Schpiels which are plays that retell the Esther story but in original ways. Also a holiday to dress up in costumes, eat hamentashen (triangle-shaped cookies), and drink till you’re shit-faced.
Purim Schpiels
A funny skit that tells the Purim story. Often includes dressing up in costumes so some people call it Jewish Halloween, but really, it's not.

Q

Queen Esther
Smokin’ hot Queen of Persia who saved the Jewish people from destruction. Check out Purim in JewBelong's more holidays section to learn more.

R

Rabbi
A Jewish scholar or teacher and spiritual leader. If you want to become one, be prepared to go to rabbinical school for five years.
Reconstructionist
Somewhere between Conservative and Reform. It started as an offshoot of the Conservative movement but today it’s closer to Reform. Services and observance seem traditional, but the overarching idea is that Jewish values and practices take precedence over religious rules and traditions. Reconstructionist Judaism seems to work well for interfaith families or Jews by choice. It’s heavier on meaning, welcoming and spirituality than on dogma.
Reform
Known for being less bound to rule-following and more focused on Jewish values. Maybe not coincidentally, it’s the largest group of North American Jews. Reform services are often in English, sometimes with a guitar or other musical instrument. (See Different Kinds of Jewish for more.)
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. Rosh means head and Hashanah means the year. So, Rosh Hashanah translated means head of the year.
Ruth's Blessing
Ruth, as in The Book Of, as in the great-grandmother of King David, was part of an interfaith marriage. To honor the growing diversity of the Jewish people, and to give thanks to our badass matriarch for leading the way, we created Ruth’s Mix to go with the blessings. It’s a combination of almonds, raisins and chocolate chips. The idea is that each of these ingredients is good on its own, but when mixed together, they’re even better. If you include Ruth’s Mix (you don’t have to, but it’s a crowd-pleaser), take a bit before reading JewBelong's Ruth's Mix blessing.

S

Sandek
The sandek was traditionally the person who held the baby on his lap while the mohel performed the bris. These days most parents prefer that their baby boy is placed on a sturdy table, for obvious reasons, with the sandek standing close by. Being the sandek is considered the greatest honor at a bris.
Secular
Yup, you can be an atheist and a Jew. One of the coolest things about Judaism is that it does not demand belief in God to be a good Jew. It puts acts of kindness in front of faith. Secular Jews often include Jewish traditions and values in their lives. Some may also belong to a synagogue or another Jewish community that does Jewish stuff but that don’t have a big focus on the God parts. Almost half of American Jews consider themselves Secular or somewhat Secular, according to a Pew study that was done in 2013. So yeah, this is a big group.  
Seder
(Hebrew for order.) The dinner held on the first two nights of Passover. The Story of Passover is told in the same order around the world, hence the name Seder - get it? Also, if you think Seders are boring, you've never used the JewBelong Haggadah.
Seven Blessings
A traditional part of a Jewish wedding, and also a great way to include loved ones in your ceremony. Check out JewBelong's wedding section for the original blessings plus a few new ones.
Sh'ma
Considered the most important prayer by most observant Jews as it declares belief in one God, which is really important in Judaism. It’s generally said twice a day, upon waking and before going to sleep at night. It’s very short and translates to Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Shabbat
(Also known as the Sabbath.) The day of rest that starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Most of the time when we refer to Shabbat at JewBelong we mean Friday night, especially dinner. There are many ways to “keep Shabbat.” Most refer to a staying away from using any electricity, perhaps going to synagogue, taking a nap, spending time with family and friends and recharging yourself for the workweek ahead.
Shamash
Also known as the helper candle. Used to light the other candles on Hanukkah.
Shavuot
A harvest festival mostly known for the time when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai. The tradition is to stay up all night and study Torah, which is surprisingly awesome. We know, you’re like, dude, what’s so great about that? But remember back in college when that crazy studying 3:00am slightly euphoric feeling set in and you suddenly and inexplicitly feel at one with everyone else in the library? It’s like that but better, ‘cause there’s no test or deadline. There’s also a tradition of eating dairy foods like blintzes and cheesecake (and Lactaid).
Shema
Probably the most important Jewish prayer. It’s very short and straightforward. (The English translation is: Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.") Observant Jews say the Shema twice a day. This prayer is also meant to be the last thing said by someone who is about to die.
Shemini Atzeret
The day after the last day of Sukkot (Shemini means eighth in Hebrew and some people consider this the eighth day of Sukkot) and the day before Simchat Torah. No one can really explain what the holiday is about because there isn’t a clear translation for the word Atzeret.
Shemira
(Hebrew for watching or guarding.) The tradition of staying with someone who has died from the time of death until burial. This is done out of respect for the dead, so that they don’t have to be alone prior to burial. We also think it’s comforting for the deceased’s loved ones, because it’s sad to think of the person who died lying alone in some cold room. Being a shemira (guard) is considered the highest form of mitzvah because you are helping someone who can never repay your kindness.
Shiva
(Hebrew for seven.) The week long period of Jewish mourning for close relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister and spouse. Generally referred to as "sitting shiva." Shiva is fantastic because in an odd way it celebrates mourning. It’s not about “getting over it,” or “getting back to normal life.” The time is meant to be spent mourning the person who died. Many people sit shiva for less than seven days, which is fine of course, but tradition is to sit for all seven days to get the full effect. If you know someone who has had a death in their family, don’t wait to be invited to shiva. Just find out when it is and go. It’s a mitzvah.
Shloshim
The 30-day period following burial (including shiva). So, even after shiva (the initial 7-day period) is over, there are still another 23 mourning days. The mourners go to work and carry on with their lives, but there are some restrictions (like going to parties, etc.) that people in shloshim typically don’t do. When shloshim is over, the mourning period is over, unless it’s your mom or dad who died. In that case, your mourning period is one full year.
Shofar
A musical instrument made from a ram’s horn. It’s blown during Rosh Hashanah services and again to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur. Sounds like a horn and is way harder to play than it looks!
Shroud
A white robe made out of cotton which represents purity. Jews are supposed to be buried in a kittel/shroud.  They are plain garments, and unlike some religions, where people are buried with items to show their wealth, a kittel/shroud signifies equality for all in death. That is also why Jews are supposed to be buried in a plain pine coffin. No fancy stuff at all. Kittels/shrouds are sometimes worn by rabbis during High Holiday services, or by people on other important occasions, like a groom on his wedding day.
Simchat Torah
(Hebrew for Rejoicing with the Torah.) Celebrates the end of the yearlong cycle of weekly Torah readings. It’s a cool holiday because if you go to a synagogue, you can actually see the rabbi or whoever read the end of the Torah and then basically wind the whole thing to the other side to start from the beginning again. Some synagogues unscroll the entire Torah, with people standing next to one another holding the top and bottom of the parchment really carefully so it doesn’t rip, which looks super cool. Simchat Torah is a happy holiday with lots of singing and dancing and eating.
Sukkah
A temporary hut built during the celebration of Sukkot, also known as the Harvest Festival, and kind of like Jewish Thanksgiving. Many families spend time hanging out and eating meals in their sukkahs. Some families even sleep in them, which can be like a big family sleepover.
Sukkot
The Harvest Festival, kind of like Jewish Thanksgiving. It lasts for seven days. The holiday is named after the temporary huts that the Israelites lived in while they wandered through the desert for 40 years. Many people celebrate Sukkot by building their own huts, called sukkahs, and hanging out and eating their meals in them. Some families even sleep in their sukkah, which can be like a big family sleepover. Two traditions of Sukkot are waving the lulov and etrog, which has to do with joy, fertility and rain, and decorating the sukkah with fruit and paper chains.
Synagogue
Also known as a shul or temple, the building where a Jewish congregation meets for religious worship, Jewish holidays, Hebrew school, etc. Like a church or a mosque for Jews.

T

Tallit
(Sometimes pronounced tallis.) A prayer shawl. It looks like a regular shawl but has special knotted fringes (known as tzitzit) at the four corners. Traditionally only men wore them, but ya’ know, equal rights. In many synagogues people only wear tallitot (plural for tallit) when the Torah is going to be read, which is usually on Saturday mornings and other holidays. (So, you know you’re in for a longer service when you see a tallit.) A tallit used to be mostly white with blue stripes, but now they can be found in many gorgeous colors and fabrics. Tallit are supposed to be made from wool, cotton or some synthetic fibers. There are kosher rules about this. Who’d a guessed?
Talmud
(Hebrew for instruction.) A set of books that is comprised of the opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects and largely based on laws. It is meant to be studied and discussed in groups rather than just read to oneself. Some observant Jews spend a large part of their lives studying the Talmud. Like really, that is what they do every day, all day. This is a real problem for the economy of Israel as most of these studiers are supported by the country which is not all that wealthy to start with. But we digress...
Tanakh
(Pronounced tanach.) The collection of Jewish texts and scriptures, including the Torah. Sometimes called the Hebrew Bible.
Tashlich
(Hebrew for cast off.) As in to cast off your sins. All you need is moving water (like a creek, or even a sink if that’s all you’ve got), some small pieces of bread, and a mental list of all the garbage you need to chuck to start your year with a clean slate. Think about everything you need to let go of – the guilt, the habits, the shame, etc. And then cast it all away using the bread as a stand-in.
Tchotchke
The Yiddish word for a knickknack or little gift. You know, like those things that your Bubbe used to give you when she came for a visit. Tchotchkes are also the things that you toss when you finally decide to clean out your desk.
Tikkun Olam
(Hebrew for repair of the world.) A key Jewish value defined by acts of kindness meant to help repair the world. This is a basic Jewish teaching and is one of the reasons that Jews are so involved in social justice issues. As Jews, we are commanded to repair the world, and God knows, it needs it. Yes, this is pressure, but the idea is that no one of us can heal the world on our own, but we are all accountable for doing our part, so we also keep our expectations realistic.
Tisha B’Av
A day for remembering tragedies that the Jewish people have been through, commemorated with fasting and sadness. There are too many tragedies to list, but a few of the big ones that people think about are the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem, and the Holocaust.
Torah
The central scriptures of Judaism. Torah can refer specifically to the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) or more generally to the entire Old Testament, known as the Tanakh.
Tu B'Shvat
Think of it as Jewish Arbor Day. In Israel, trees are an extra big-f*#king deal because most of Israel was a desert and the trees were planted one by one. People celebrate by eating fruit and planting more of those badly needed trees.
Tu B’Av
Like a Jewish Valentine’s Day. It’s a sweet day to celebrate love and romance. Back in the olden days, it was a 24-hour period for unmarried women to find a husband (without help from J-Date or Tinder).
Tzedakah
Hebrew word that people often say when they are referring to charity or charitable giving, but which actually means righteousness, justice or fairness. A core value of Judaism, giving to those in need is considered an act of social justice, and something that Jewish people are obligated to do. Considered a key part of living a meaningful life. There is a ton of Jewish wisdom about tzedakah. For example, the bible commands that farmers leave the produce at the edges of their fields unharvested so it can be taken by people are in need.
Tzitzit
The fringes at the end of a tallit. Also the fringes at the end of a vest that is worn like an undershirt. Most observant Jewish men wear tzitzit all the time, either visible or tucked into their pants. Some women probably wear them too, but we have never seen any in real life, only on Google. The tzitzit are meant to be a reminder of religious obligations and the Exodus from Egypt.

U

Unveiling
This ceremony takes place within the first year after the death of a loved one, often close to the one year anniversary of the burial. Mourners gather at the gravesite for the formal dedication of the tombstone. While this tends to be a somber ceremony, feel free to lighten it up by telling stories and talking about the deceased.

V

V'ahavta
Think of it as part two of the Sh'ma. The V’ahavta is a promise to love God with all of our hearts, soul and might. We like to think of this as a promise to do things that God would be happy about, like being a blessing and doing good for the world in ways big and small.

W

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The 1943 Jewish resistance movement that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust. A total of 13,000 Jews died in the uprising. It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.
Why Jewish Holidays Begin The Evening Before The Date Specified?
The short answer is that Jewish calendar days always begin and end at sunset, rather than at midnight. This is based on the section in Genesis that says, "And it was evening, and it was morning." One interpretation of this night-before-day idea that we love is that darkness is always followed by light. Nice, right?

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Y

Yahrzeit
Yahrzeit is a Yiddish term that means the anniversary of a loved one’s death, generally based on the Hebrew calendar, but the regular calendar works too. To mark it, you light a special yahrzeit candle, which burns for 25 hours and can be found in many grocery stores or ordered online, at home. Or make your own traditions. Choose a favorite reading, or toast your loved one with their favorite beer, or watch their favorite movie. The idea is to do something to help keep the person’s memory alive. Some people also light a yahrzeit candle on the eve of Yom Kippur and on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Yarmulke/Kippah
(Hebrew for skullcap.) Referred to as a kippah, which is Yiddish for skullcap.) A small cap that Jewish men, and sometimes women wear. Observant Jews wear one all the time and others typically wear it while praying or while at a Jewish ceremony. Kippot (plural for kippah) used to be basic black, but like the tallit, they now come in assorted colors and fabrics.  The kind of kippah you wear even helps to define the kind of observant Jew you are. Like for example, guys who wear those cool crocheted kippot are likely modern orthodox, but not Haredi (traditional orthodox). Got team spirit? You can even find a kippah with the logo of your favorite sports team or university.
Yom Ha'atzmaut
Israel’s Independence Day and a lot like American 4th of July with parties to celebrate independence. And, TBH, Israel’s very existence often seems like a bit of a miracle, so celebrating her independence is not something that people take for granted.
Yom HaShoah
Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed in commemoration of the approximately six million Jews who perished and to recognize the Jewish resistance. In Israel, it is a national Memorial Day. One incredible tradition is that every year at 10:00am an air raid siren sounds throughout the country for a full two minutes. Almost everyone stops what they are doing, even drivers stop their cars in the middle of the road and stand beside their vehicles, to mark the meaning of the day.
Yom HaZikaron
Israel’s Memorial Day, a Remembrance Day for Israeli military who lost their lives fighting for the State of Israel. There are dramatic memorial siren blasts in the morning and the afternoon and the whole nation stops to listen and remember the fallen, which is really intense and beautiful.
Yom Kippur
(Also called the Day of Atonement.) Most well-known as a day to be hungry since it’s a 24-hour fast to cleanse us of our sins, but there’s way more to it than that.

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