Saturday, September 23, 2006

Doctor educates group about Jewish culture

Sept. 23, 2006
Telegram Staff Writer

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began yesterday at sundown. And at sundown Oct. 1, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will begin.
'And that'll be it. Either you get to live another year, or God's going to call you home,' said Dr. Brenda Holbert, during an informative session about the Jewish culture last Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Belton. 'This holy time is reserved for prayer and fast. At Yom Kippur, we apologize to everyone we think we may have wronged over the last year. And then God judges us. It is also a time to give to charity.'
Dr. Holbert, a diagnostic radiologist at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, is a Unitarian Universalist of Jewish background. In her youth, her family followed traditions of Orthodox Judaism.
Last Sunday's program was about education.
'We try to recognize different cultures and explain the differences,' said James Glines, program committee member at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. 'Our hope is that our programs will help us understand each other.'
The Fellowship dedicated the month of September to Judaism because of the two significant Jewish holidays that occur, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Their next program, set for 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, will feature Charles and Jan Hart of the Texas Jewish Historical Society. The couple will discuss the impact and influence of the Jewish culture in Texas history. The program is open to the public.
As they celebrate these holidays, the Jews in the Temple-Belton community will travel to the bigger cities of Austin and Waco to worship in synagogue. Dr. Holbert said there is no temple in the local community where Jews can gather for formal worship.
In the presentation last Sunday, Dr. Holbert displayed several Jewish icons and explained their religious significance, including the Tallit (prayer shawl), Yamelke (prayer cap) and Phylactery, a strip of leather with the words of the Jewish prayer inscribed on it.
'The Tallit wraps the person in holiness, so he or she can forget all the troubles in the outside world,' Dr. Holbert said. 'And the leather prayer straps are not used for self-castigation.'
The reference to the idea of inflicting pain in God's glory came in response to a question from the audience. Its answer segued into a conversation about Judiasm's teaching that flesh is beautiful.
'It is a good deed to come home and make love after a service at synagogue. It's a good thing to celebrate the flesh,' Dr. Holbert said. 'Similarly, the leather strap is a symbol of God's binding between you and him. It's a positive idea.'
Dr. Holbert also described sitting Shiva, the Jewish act of mourning a loved one as a positive experience.
'It's a happy thing. This person lived, they did,' Dr. Holbert said. 'And we celebrate that life and all that was accomplished.'
During the Shiva period, the community cares for the one who is mourning, providing that person with his meals and cleaning his house.
'The mourners should be focused on their loved one,' Dr. Holbert said. 'Work should not be a distraction.'
The doctor then concluded the program with a description of the various sects of Judaism and offered brief explanations of the differences between them. Her facts are supported by research from the American Jewish Committee, which can be viewed at
Those who practice the Jewish faith can be divided in three main groups:
-- Orthodox Judaism - About 15 percent of the Jewish community in the United States practice this variant of the religion, the sect that adheres to the religious rituals as outlined in the Torah, the holy book of Judaism, which comprises the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. This group follows the mandate that men and women must worship separately.
-- Conservative Judaism - About 47 percent of Jews in America follow this variant, which is more relaxed. Men and women can worship together, and the prayer rituals are tweaked to accommodate modern life.
-- Reform Judaism - About 36 percent of the U.S. Jewish population practice this variant, which is dubbed the most liberal. It calls for a deeper examination of the individual's relationship with God as applied through Jewish thought.
The Reconstructionists are a fourth group outside of the main three that consists of less than 5 percent of the U.S. Jewish population. These people are more or less starting over, returning to the fundamentals of Judaism, Dr. Holbert said.
The three main groups also have divisions within themselves. Detailed explanations of the sub-divisions can be found at as well.
'An even smaller sect within the Orthodox Jews is a group that is true to the idea of no work on Sundays,' Dr. Holbert said. 'Their toilet paper is pre-torn, and their light switches are on automatic timers.'
Audience members said they enjoyed Dr. Holbert's presentation and look forward to the next program about Judaism on Oct. 1.
For information about programs at the church, located at 1726 Morgan's Point Road in Belton, call (254) 780-1008.

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