Susan Shawlee (left) and Dinah Kerzner

Susan Shawlee (left) and Dinah Kerzner

Jews share a concern for the well-being of humanity

Judaism originated in the Middle East more than 3,500 years ago — there are more than 13 million Jewish people around the world

Editor’s note: Following is the next in a series on the Inter-Faith Bridging Project, launched last fall by Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society, with funding from Embrace B.C.

Judaism is one of three religions, including Islam and Christianity, which go back to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham.

“I don’t think most people know much about Judaism,” said Susan Shawlee, a member of the Okanagan Jewish Community Centre in Kelowna.

“Jews have been debating and arguing Judaism for more than 4,000 years. We question, study, learn. Hillel, a leader and teacher, said, ‘That which you find distasteful to you, do not do to others. Now go and study. Never stop learning.’”

Judaism is founded on the Hebrew scriptures, called the Tanakh, (the Christian Old Testament) with the Torah, the basis for teaching, being the first five books of the Old Testament. Scholars have added interpretations and commentaries over the centuries.

Shawlee makes a distinction between religion and faith.

“Religion is the embodying organization for the direction of faith. Faith is the ability to accept the discipline of the religion and to accept the belief of God. Faith is a personal choice,” she said.

The Okanagan Jewish Community Centre had a display at the Diversity Health Fair in Vernon with some of the items which would be used for the Seder supper at Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. People familiar with the Christian Bible will know this as the history recounted in the book of Exodus.

“This is a celebration of our freedom from Egypt. The Matzah, the flat, unleavened bread, remembers the time when we had to flee and there was no time to make leavened bread. These ceremonial foods would be used for the Seder service at home or as a community supper. The Seder is celebrated on the first, second and last nights of Passover.”

The charoset, which includes apples and nuts, represents the mortar used in building the storehouses of Pharaoh when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt.

“The bitter herbs, usually including horseradish, are a symbol of the bitterness and hardship we suffered when we were slaves. The salt water represents the tears,” said Shawlee.

The lamb shank, for the Paschal lamb, and a roasted egg are among the other foods served. The decorated Seder plate tells the order of service and the plates are often family heirlooms.

“We are brought up to love our fellow people, all fellow people,” said Lillian Goodman, a member of the Okanagan Jewish Community Centre. “We have great love for our family, for the greater family. One of our most important traditions is education.”

Shawlee said, “Education is part of tikkun olam, repairing the world, which we do through our actions every day, in everything we do.  We are admonished as part of our law to heal the world. We must actually set out to make this a better place.

“We all have to take care of our little section of the universe through considering and respecting everyone else. We have to live in such a way that we honour the laws that God has given us. While there are many laws, traditions and customs, there are only 10 written in stone and these are non-negotiable.”

Passover, which always begins on the day of a full moon, starts at sundown April 6 this year and continues for eight days.

“Judaism is belief in one God, the growth of learning through your religion. Be good to yourself. Be good to one another,” said Shawlee.

Editor’s note: There were no Jewish representatives on the board of the Inter-Faith Bridging project sponsored by Vernon and District Immigrant Services, funded by EmbraceBC, but the committee wished to recognize Judaism as one of the oldest world religions.