Explore Jewish Life

Explore Jewish life with the help of objects from our Mira and Gustav Berger Judaica Collection, which totals 119 objects, and photos from our archives.

Judaica Exhibition (2020-02-05)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Rituals and practices define Jewish observance. These customs mark the milestones of lifecycle events and the celebrations of holidays, and they set the Sabbath apart from the rest of the week. From ancient times, rabbis have enjoined Jews to "adorn our commandments".

OJMCHE Neveh Shalom Exhibition (2019-05-22)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Performing a ritual with a beautiful ceremonial object honors God's commandments. The life cycle events are birth, b'nai mitzvah, marriage and death. Each has its own rituals and its own ceremonial objects.

The Autumn and Winter Jewish Holidays

Jewish holidays are tied to the seasons, a reminder of the days when Jews were bonded more closely to the earth. A cycle of three holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot - takes place in the autumn. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights falls at the darkest point of winter.

Public Menorah Lighting (2000) by Jewish ReviewOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

What is Hanukkah?

The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah ("dedication") is rooted firmly in history. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE after its desecration by the invading Syrians.

Hanukkah MenorahOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Menorah

The Hanukkah menorah is a nine-branched candelabrum recalling the candelabra which stood in the Temple in Jerusalem. Each night of Hanukkah a new candle is added to the menorah and lit with the helper candle (shamash) until, on the eighth night, all of the candles are lit.

Hanukkah Menorah, 1856, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Miniature Hanukkah Menorah, c. mid-18th, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Hanukkah Menorah, 2023/2023, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Hanukkah Menorah, c. 17th century, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Hanukkah Menorah, 1850, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Hanukkah Menorah, 1970, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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The menorahs in OJMCHE's collections span over centuries, each with their own story.

The Spring Jewish Holidays

The spring festival of Passover embraces themes of rebirth and renewal, at the time that nature blooms. Shavuot, in late spring, commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Special recipes and unique ceremonial objects emphasize the distinctiveness of each holiday.

Rabbi Stampfer on Sukkot (1960)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Sukkot

Sukkot, a spiritual harvest festival commemorating the historic journey of the ancient Hebrews across the desert, begins five days after Yom Kippur. The name of the holiday comes from the temporary shelter (sukkah) Jews build each year to mark the week-long holiday.

Young Adult Sukkot Service (1951)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Sukkah

The sukkah is decorated with fall harvest vegetables, greens from local trees, and a table and chairs where the family has meals and invites guests during the week. A yellow citron (etrog) is one of the four species of plants blessed during the ritual of the holiday Sukkot.

Etrog Box, 1762, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Etrog Container, 1798, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Etrog Container, Joan Mesznik, 1980, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Here are three examples from the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education collections that show etrog boxes as long as the etrog is protected, the designs can be as ornate or simple as you want.

Ahavath Achim Torahs arriving at Barbur Blvd Location (1966) by Congregation Ahavath AchimOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Synagogue

The synagogue forms the center of Jewish communal life. Jews gather in the Synagogue for prayer, holiday observance, life cycle events, and study. The Torah is treated with a special reverence in the synagogue.

Symbols in a Synagogue

Synagogue ornamentation frequently recalls images of the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed in the first century of the Common Era. Contemporary design draws upon symbols in use for generations - a tree of life, an open gate, lions, the Ten Commandments, a crown. The Ark is at the front of the sanctuary along the eastern wall, which allows the congregation to pray in the direction of Jerusalem. In front of the Ark hangs the ner tamid, an eternal light. The Ark holds the Torah Scroll.

Cantor Judith Schiff (1983)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Reading the Torah

The Torah—the first five books of the Bible is hand-written in Hebrew calligraphy on sheets of parchment sewn together to form a continuous scroll. The yad ("hand") is used to follow the text when reading the Torah scroll.

Torah Shield, 1875, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), 1790, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Pair of Torah Finials, 1857, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Other important parts of the Torah include decorative finials called rimonim ( "pomegranates") that slip over the wooden rods on which the Torah scroll is rolled. The shield adorns the cloth covering the Torah scroll. An eternal lamp (ner tamid) hangs in the synagogue in front of the ark that holds the Torah scrolls.

Lighting the Shabbat Candles (1980)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

The Sabbath

The seventh day of the Jewish week, the Sabbath (Shabbat), marks a day of rest and abstention from work. 

The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The weekly holiday is ushered into the home with blessings over candles, wine, and bread.

Kiddush Cup, c. 1800, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Spice Box in the Form of a Tower, 1860, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Pair of Sabbath Candlesticks, From the collection of: Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
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Spice boxes, kiddush cups, and candles are all part of the Shabbat ritual. There is no set look for these objects, so one can find something that truly fits their style.

Pair of Sabbath Candlesticks (early 19th century)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Candles

Each week the Sabbath begins with a blessing over the lighting of candles. One candle represents the commandment to remember (zakhor) and the other to observe (shamor).

Kiddush Cup (1786) by Ivan ShaginOregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Kiddush Cup

Before a Sabbath or holiday meal, the head of the household recites the Kiddush ("sanctification") blessing over a full cup of wine or grape juice. Traditionally an ornate cup is reserved for this blessing and may be engraved with a name or the date of a special occasion.

Spice Box in the Shape of a Tower (1872)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Havdalah

The Havdalah ceremony formally marks the end of the Jewish Sabbath and users in a new week. Havdalah takes place at sundown on Saturday, with blessings over a braided candle, a cup of wine, and sweet smelling spices.

Spice Box in the Shape of a Poppy with Stem (late 19th century)Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Spice Boxes

Fragrant spices (besamim) for the Havdalah service are kept in container with holes through which the sweet aroma can be smelled. Because the Havdalah ritual takes place in the home, spice boxes often come in shapes to delight small children.

Jewish life centers on family and home. Holiday and lifecycle events are celebrated with distinctive rituals that connect individuals to community and tradition. The objects associated with these rituals can be everyday items repurposed and decorated to set them apart for sacred use. Other objects are uniquely Jewish and used only for special occasions. Ceremonial objects are typically decorated with quotations from Hebrew texts and symbols such as fruits, lions, or the skyline of Jerusalem.

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