Jewish customs carry the past

Turning 13 is more than becoming a teenager in Judaism. Turning 13 involves endless hours of practice trying to pronounce words correctly in Hebrew. Turning 13 is the “ultimate test,” as Math Department Chair Andrew Walter said.

For the celebration, known as a bat or bar mitzvah, a child prepares years prior by learning Hebrew. When Walter turned this age, he had a tutor assist him. “You learn how to speak and read in Hebrew,” he said. It’s a tradition for the celebrated individual to read from the Torah, the Jewish bible, in Hebrew in front of numerous adults in the temple.

Since Hebrew script has no vowels, this process, Walter said, is “nerve-wracking.”

Although he sees it as a stressful step it certainly brings confidence afterwards.

The tradition symbolizes a welcoming to the religion as an adult. “It’s having a stronger connection to Judaism.You’re part of the religion now.”

Walter, father of three, has been part of his two sons’ bar mitzvahs. “I know what they feel.” He admits he felt more nervous than his younger son Ian.

“It’s an overwhelming joy,” he said, seeing his sons accomplish this. To him it’s “good to see a maturity change” in each son days after the celebration.

In the religion, Jerusalem is considered as holy city. With its significance, his children would want to visit the city after they all have completed their bat or bar mitzvah. In three years, Emma, 10, will have completed her cel

ebration. After her ceremony, a family trip take place.

The Jews’ escape from Egypt and liberation from slavery is significant in history and also in Judaism. Passover is a week spent remembering “how lucky we are for slavery to be over,” Walter said. In that week, anything can be eaten but yeast. Avoiding yeast refers to the little time Jews had to wait for the bread to rise during that time period. Matzah, a cracker, was commonly eaten instead of other food.

The eternal light during Hanukkah plays a meaningful part during the holidays. When the Jewish temples were destroyed by the Greeks and Romans, people lost hope. After everything was cleaned up, the Jews would light up oil lamps for every day. But they had a limited amount of lamps for a week. When the seventh day arrived, they left to another town to obtain oil they needed. After a week, the last oil lamp that was lit remained flaming throughout their lasting trip.

Jews believe this long-lasting flame to be a miracle.

During Hanukkah, a candle is lit for seven days to represent the eternal light. “Our family gets together for one night and celebrate. We live too far from each other to do it for the whole week,” Walter said.

On Rosh Hashanah

, or Jewish New Year, “one makes amends with people and think about what you did wrong.” In other words it’s a week of reflection.

Silent meditation is something Walter does with his family during Yom Kippur. Also known as the Day of Atonement, this event centers on confession and cleansing. For 24 hours, one cannot consume any food or liquids. The purpose of this day is to “clear yourself through prayers.”

The passing of a person in Judaism is a different process compared to other religions. “For one month, you don’t look at yourself in the mirror. You focus on the experience and in the life of the person,” he said. Yahrzeit, an event meant for remembrance, honors people that have passed, keeping their memory alive. “A candle is lit in the temple for someone who passed. On their anniversary their name is said to remember that person.”

“A common theme in Jewish holidays is how to make yourself better and make the world better as well,” Walter said. According to him, Jews tend to become lawyers, doctors and teachers. “It’s about giving back.”

“I was born into Judaism.” The maternal side of his father has been Jewish for hundreds of years while the paternal side converted into the religion years later.

“My dad was in the Holocaust,” he said. Although Jews were persecuted, Walter’s grandfather, August, maintained safe because he was a royal baker. While working for the Nazis kept him relatively safe, his children and wife were not.  But that was until the end of the war.

“I lost about 600 family members.”

Women and men went different directions when they were taken. “Men were killed and women were kept if they were ‘worth’ keeping,” he said.

His father, Gilbert, and siblings managed to escape to the United States but they all took different paths. “His sister (Margot) took a bike and left the country.” His dad’s brother, Hans, made tools and jewelry so he was kept alive in the Nazi concentration camp he was in. Eventually he made a press that produced fake money. This was used by the Nazis that he worked for.

“He began making fake passports to help other Jews leave the country,” Walter said.

Lastly, his father was snuck into the female camps from which he later escaped. “He had polio. The ladies felt bad for him and hid him under their skirts.”

At 14 years of age his father came to the U.S. where he eventually met his wife. He arrived at Ellis Island, alone, speaking no English. He had no one there to meet. He made his way to Ohio, more than 500 miles away.

“Judaism to me is a set of ethics.” Walter lives by its morals and principles. “You do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s ethical.”