Soon after birth, every Jewish boy should be circumcised. This takes place in a ceremony called brit mila held on the eighth day after the birth or as soon as possible, if that is postponed for medical reasons. A circumcision is performed by a mohel, a person with relevant training and certifications, not infrequently a doctor or a nurse. A boy’s name often remains undisclosed until the ceremony. A girl will be given her name at a synagogue ceremony, usually held on the first Shabbat following her birth.
It was with the youngest children in mind that the Drejdel Children’s Day Club organised itself as a Jewish Community institution in 2016. It provides day care services and early education to children aged one to three years. Drejdel cares for a group of children smaller than that of an average crèche as it values collaboration with the parents, the individual approach and careful observation of the child’s needs. Drejdel was conceived and developed by Iga Kazimierczyk and the Space for Education Foundation.
The Warsaw Jewish Religious Community supports educational activities for Jewish children through its Shabbat School and Cheder Warszawa. The Shabbat School is active at the Ec Chaim Synagogue. As the adults participate in Shabbat morning prayers, the children join in the fun of learning, and right before the Torah reading are invited to perform the important privilege of opening Aron Kodesh (a closet which contains Torah scrolls). Children also earn public school credit points for participation in these activities. The Cheder classes are held on Sundays. In the current school year, every weekly meeting provides the participating children with an in-depth study of a single mitzvah (commandment) and of prayers as well as art classes and games. A tasty meal is part of both the Shabbat School and the Cheder Warszawa programmes.
It is the Jewish tradition that 13-year-old boys pass the Bar Mitzvah ceremony (which literally means the “son of the commandments”), after which they are considered adult members of the community. In Orthodox synagogues, the ceremony is preceded by a period of religious studies, preparing the boy for his first public reading of a Torah passage. In Conservative and Reform as well as some Orthodox synagogues, this process also engages girls. Girls are deemed to reach their religious maturity at the age of 12, which is when they celebrate their Bat Mitzvah. These ceremonies often end with a festive reception. The Warsaw Community enables the passage of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah process through its Nożyk and Ec Chaim synagogues.
Jewish weddings can take place every day, except on the Sabbath, the feasts and the periods of fasting and mourning of the Jewish calendar. The wedding ceremonies can be organised anywhere, though that usually takes place in the synagogue. The wedding ceremony is followed and the wedding party while in the week following the family and friends organise festive meals for the bride and the groom in their homes on a daily basis.
The Jewish Religious Community of Warsaw holds the elderly in high esteem and provides a safety net for them. It is on a daily basis that the community Senior Club offers meetings over coffee and tea, music classes, lectures by preventive medicine and health promotion specialists, meetings with psychologists, meetings with interesting guests and lectures by rabbis. The Senior Club also organises celebrations of Jewish holidays and anniversaries, and of the members’ birthdays. The club members visit exhibitions and go to the cinema together, they are offered individual computer tutorials as well as physiotherapy (massage) and yoga sessions.
The community accompanies its members through all the lifecycle events, until the final day, and ensures that after death the body of the deceased is treated with great attention and respect. The special rules for preparation of the body for burial are referred to as taharah; that preparation is undertaken by funeral fraternities (separate for the women and for the men) called chevra kadisha. Those ceremonies are usually performed in morgues or – conditions allowing – in funeral homes. The closest family of the deceased engages in a seven-day period of mourning referred to as shiva. The mourners remain at home where the community members visit them to offer condolences and to bring food. Traditionally, all the mirrors in the house of mourning remain covered.