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Section: Judaism and Jewish life

Community life

A class photograph of Jewish pupils with their teacher Mozes Goubitz. The students are learning to read the Torah. The photograph is part of an album documenting life in the Jewish quarter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
A class photograph of Jewish pupils with their teacher Mozes Goubitz. The students are learning to read the Torah. The photograph is part of an album documenting life in the Jewish quarter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. © 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

Within the Jewish community one will find an extremely rich cultural life. Jewish religious and community life across the world and within Britain is all encompassing.

The synagogue is one of the most important institutions in Judaism.

As Jewish religious texts say that Jewish families must teach their children carefully, education institutions are also central to Jewish cultural life.

Jews often prefer to live in Jewish communities for the convenience of being close to Jewish schools, synagogues, kosher food shops and whatever allows them to live a religious cultural life. Within the Jewish community one will also find a remarkable network of welfare provision that supports the young, the sick, the elderly and the needy.

This section of The Holocaust Explained will describe and explain the richness of these Jewish community institutions and Jewish cultural life in general.

The synagogue

© 2011 Beit Hatfutsot.

The synagogue is one of the most important institutions in Judaism. It houses the Torah scrolls, which are kept in an Ark. However, it is by no means merely a house of prayer. In essence, it is the centre of the community.

Inside the prayer space in the synagogue, there will be an Ark facing towards Jerusalem (the capital of ancient Israel), so that Jews will always have their minds turned in that direction when praying. The Ark houses the scrolls of the Torah, which are often beautifully decorated. In front of the Ark or hanging by the side of it will be an eternal light. A curtain covers the front of the Ark. All these artefacts represent features in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.

In the synagogue there is a usually a bimah from which the services are led and the Torah is read. However, this is often not the case in a Reform synagogue, where religious practices are not as traditional as in an Orthodox community.

Education

A pre-war photograph of young Jewish boys learning to read the Torah. The image was probably taken in a small town in Eastern Europe.
A pre-war photograph of young Jewish boys learning to read the Torah. The image was probably taken in a small town in Eastern Europe. © 2011 Beit Hatfutsot.

Education is central to Jewish life.

The ‘Shema‘, one of the most important Jewish payers, says, “you must teach your children carefully, when you’re at home, when you’re out, in the evening and in the morning.”

In order to take part in a service, all Jewish males have to learn to read Hebrew and a network of schools was set up over 2000 years ago. This also ensured that the Jewish tradition was passed on. Over time, this rich tradition – of learning, studying texts and debating their meaning closely – developed a real commitment to education amongst Jews.

The Jewish community in Britain

The Jewish community in Britain today consists of around 300,000 people, with the largest single community based in London. It reflects a wide variety of religious practices, but all members consider themselves to be Jewish.

One of the great sources of pride for British Jewry is the remarkable network of welfare provision that exists. There are retirement homes, mental health organisations, provision for families in crisis and distress, Jewish women’s shelters, a drugs counselling service, marriage guidance and so on.

This provision indicates that members of the Jewish community have the same problems as everybody else. In order to help run all of these various organisations, a huge amount of charitable activity goes on to raise the necessary funds.

Jews in Britain are also active in supporting Jewish and non-Jewish communities across the world by providing financial, educational and physical support.

 

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The Jewish community in Britain

The Jewish community in Britain