Iris grew up in Israel, then lived in Venezuela and the US. She moved to the UK two decades ago, and gives up much of her spare time to her local Jewish community, interfaith activities, and cultural and faith awareness training
Q: Did you grow up in a devout family?
Iris: Not at all. The majority of the Jewish people in Israel are actually what I would call very secular. You can talk to many Jewish people who will tell you they are not religious, but they still feel that they have a very strong Jewish identity. Whether that comes through the food, through the music, through the literature, I don’t know. There are things that are intermingled between the religion and the culture. And I think people mistake one for the other.
I don’t remember my parents going into a synagogue. I went a couple of times growing up in Israel. But, because everyone around is Jewish, you learn about the history of the Jewish people at school, and you learn about the Jewish festivals.
It was more after my daughter was born and I wanted to pass on the tradition. That was when we were still living in the US and she went to a playgroup attached to a synagogue. In England, I put her in a nursery around here. Then she came home aged three-and-a-half and said, “Mum, how come they don’t light candles?” “How come they don’t give us challah [special bread made for the Shabbat or Jewish day of rest]?”
So I learned how to bake challah and I started lighting the candles because my three-and-a-half-year-old asked for it. I ended up marrying someone who is not Jewish. My daughter or may not continue with Judaism. But I passed on the traditions.
Q: How does being Jewish affect your everyday life?
Iris: Depending on who you ask, you would probably get a different answer to your question. From my point of view, I think we should just try to be the best people that we can be.
I don’t follow kosher rules for food. I don’t think I am unusual, but I wouldn’t say that everybody at the Bristol synagogue is like me. Some people have gone vegetarian, so that they don’t have to worry about all these issues of what is permitted or not permitted.
I eat everything. I can explain to a group of people what’s behind keeping kosher, but I don’t do it. Because in my mind, there are other aspects that are more important, like your behaviour towards other people.
Q: And you are involved in interfaith activities?
Iris: I get a lot of satisfaction from what I’m doing. I host school visits at the synagogue in Bristol and I also go into schools. I also do faith and cultural awareness training for children, for adults, for the police in Wiltshire, and for other organizations that feel it will be helpful for their staff to know more about the minorities who live in the UK.
I don’t believe in God, yet I like the traditions. Is it hypocritical in some people’s mind, ? Then I go into schools and I explain the basics of Judaism and talk about the Torah. How does that go together? I don’t know.