Hebrew Word of the Week: hitqarbenut


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Hebrew Word of the Week: biTTaHon


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Hebrew Word of the Week: pasul


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Hebrew Word of the Week: hafTarah


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Jeremy Cowan is the founder of Shmaltz Brewing Co. Photo courtesy of Shmaltz Brewing Company.

Ale to the chief: ‘He’brewery’ wins fans — and awards


On the eve of Chanukah 1996, Jeremy Cowan began experimenting with squeezing pomegranate juice into a batch of his freshly brewed beer. Working out of a small Bay Area brewery, Cowan hand-bottled and hand-labeled 100 cases of what he dubbed He’brew Beer’s Genesis Ale.

The upstart brewer and recent Stanford graduate peddled his product from his grandmother’s Volvo to local retailers in and around San Francisco’s suburbs. His mother helped deliver some cases, too.

“It was a very organic, hands-on beginning,” Cowan, 47, who now lives in Troy, N.Y., told the Journal in a recent phone interview.

Two decades later, Cowan, 47, still is making his Genesis Ale — but that’s not all.

He’s also making beers with names such as “Chanukah, Hanukkah … Pass the Beer,” a dark ale brewed with eight malts and eight hops with 8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and “Genesis 20:20,” a barrel-aged, tart barleywine with 16.7 percent ABV. (Before you run to your Torah, don’t worry, Genesis Chapter 20 has only 18 verses.) There’s also “Jewbelation 20th Anniversary Ale,” brewed with 10 malts and 10 hops with 16.8 percent ABV, and “Shtick in a Box,” a holiday variety 12-pack featuring items like “Messiah Nut Brown Ale.”

The brand is known for the Jewish, shtick-laden names gracing its labels.

“Every year, we have to keep trying to be creative, be imaginative and keep putting out quality products, and keep having fun along the way. One of the things we definitely focus on is a whimsy, creativity and sense of shtick,” the craft beer veteran explained.

The “we” refers to Cowan’s team of more than 30 employees helping to produce, promote and sell what his Shmaltz Brewing Co. proudly terms “the chosen beer.” His company operates out of its own 40,000-square-foot, 50-barrel brewhouse — opened in 2013 — in Clifton, N.Y.

For its first 17 years of existence, Shmaltz was a contract brewer, meaning it had to outsource production of its beer to bigger brewers. Now, its upstate New York facility has an annual capacity of 20,000 barrels and boasts a tasting room open to the public. The space frequently hosts events such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and even brit milah ceremonies.

Shmaltz sells its beer across 35 states in nearly 5,000 retailers, including Vons, BevMo and Cost Plus World Market locations. In 2016, Shmaltz did $4 million in gross sales — a far cry from the back of the Volvo.

“It’s really astounding,” Cowan said of Shmaltz’s rise to Jewish beer prominence.

Shmaltz recently combined two of Cowan’s eternal loves — pastrami and beer — to create “Pastrami Pils,” a 5.5 percent ABV pilsner brewed with caraway, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, and dry hopped with horseradish and rye blend.

Also a lifelong “Star Trek” fan, Cowan secured an exclusive agreement to create the only officially licensed “Star Trek” beers in the country: “Golden Anniversary Ale: Voyage to the Northeast Quadrant” and “Golden Anniversary Ale: The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Shmaltz isn’t just a success story and it isn’t just Jewish. It’s also high-quality craft beer.  RateBeer.com ranked Shmaltz as one of the “Top 100 Brewers in the World” in 2013. The company has amassed 40 awards, including 10 gold medals and six silver medals combined at the past several World Beer Championships.

Born in Los Angeles, Cowan spent his early childhood in Beverlywood. His father taught special education and English at nearby Beverly Hills High School.

After college and before his prophetic pomegranate episode, Cowan spent time in New Orleans, soaking up the diverse culture and working at one of the oldest breweries in Louisiana.

“I didn’t think about what I wanted to do,” Cowan said of that time. “I just wanted to read, write music and eat good food.” In the Big Easy, he first developed an appreciation for beer, particularly European styles.

When he returned home to the Bay Area, Cowan set out to find his own calling within that region’s bustling beer culture. He sensed his Jewish identity had a part to play. Many beers conjure up a homeland or constitute a point of pride for drinkers — Heineken, for instance, is as Dutch as windmills or wooden clogs. Cowan wanted to forge a place for Jews in the realm of great beers and to dispel what he saw as a myth that Jews don’t enjoy beer.

“When I started, there was no Jewish celebration beer,” he said. “Every group had some beers they could call their own. I wanted to create something that would combine a sense of history, referencing pop culture, literature, traditions and holidays and, of course, a beer that can stand with the most innovative, creative delicious beers in the world. Then putting a bunch of shtick on the beer labels. I thought people would feel a meaningful connection.”

The craft beer industry is cutthroat, particularly because it comprises so many small businesses clawing to stand out. According to Cowan, the field has seen more growth in the past three years than at any point in history, ballooning to more than 5,000 craft brewers operating in the country.

“This is the single greatest time in history to enjoy great beer and to make craft beer,” he said.

The Jewish branding of Shmaltz is unique, Cowan said. Iconic kosher wine companies such as Kedem and Manischewitz — the names most Jews attune to when playing word association with “Jewish” and “alcohol” — are owned by bigger companies. Cowan hopes drinkers of his beer relish Shmaltz’s ascendancy in the highly competitive beer marketplace as a Jewish independent business going on 20 years.

“I hope the Jewish community feels proud,” he said. “We do feel the support at events and on social media. It’s very difficult to maintain a for-profit consumer Jewish business, and I’m very proud that we’ve accomplished that and hope we can for many years to come.” 

Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘almah


Hebrew Word of the Week: urim ve-tummim


Apparently, two objects used by the High Priest (ha-Kohen ha-Gadol) for casting lots, to know “guilty” or “innocent, “yes” or “no” questions (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Ezra 2:63). But also by individuals, as when “Saul inquired of the Lord … either by dreams or by an oracle (Urim) or by prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6).  

Usually translated “Light and Truth,” “Lights and Perfections,” or “Revelations and Truth.”*

Traditionally, Urim is seen as plural of ur “(fire)light” and tummim as plural of tom “innocence” (as be-tom-lev “in good faith”); compare to tam (as the third child in Passover haggadah) or tamim “innocent.” In Israeli Hebrew, Chanukah is often called Hag ha-urim “Holiday of Lights.”

* The seal of Yale University, one of the oldest in America, uses the Hebrew אורים ותומים and the Latin Lux et Veritas, which also is translated as “light and truth.”


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Hebrew Word of the Week: hiqliq


In this age of computers, everyone clicks. That includes Hebrew speakers: maqliqim (מקליקים) yomam valayla “click day and night.” Hebrew’s hiqliq sounds like the English “click” since both are an imitation of the natural sound klik.* (Similar sound-imitating words exist in other languages, such as klikken in Dutch, cliquer in French, klicken in German, klik kardan in Persian, hacer clic in Spanish.) Compare to similar English sounds: clink, clack, cluck and clock (from the Latin clocca “bell”).

To click in the sense of “hit it off, become friendly upon meeting,” is a metaphorical use. Compare it to the informal Israeli phrase nafal li ha-asimon (נפל לי האסימון), “it hit me, I got it, finally understood what was going on,” literally “my (telephone) token dropped in.” Also the English-French word clique, meaning “a party, small group with a common interest,” originally meant people who “click” together.

* Probably based on the sound of a key in a lock, or latching a door bolt. Compare this with other echoic words: Hebrew’s liqqeq (ליקק) with the English “lick”; and girger (גרגר) with “gargle, gurgle.” 


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Burger King Israel introduces doughnut burger for Chanukah


Burger King restaurants in Israel have introduced a doughnut burger for the Chanukah season.

The SufganiKing is a Whopper with savory doughnuts in place of buns. Its name is a play on the Hebrew word for doughnuts, sufganiyot, which are ubiquitous on every Israeli street corner in the weeks leading up to Chanukah.

The burger “proves that miracles still happen,” Burger King Israel said in a Facebook post, a reference to the miracles at the heart of the holiday story.

The SufganiKing will be sold for about $4. It will be available through Jan. 1, the last day of Chanukah, according to reports.

Hebrew Word of the Week: shafel/shafal


A word may develop two opposite, or quite different, meanings, as the English word “nice,” which once meant “stupid, ignorant,” but which currently means “pleasant, agreeable, polite.” Similarly, in Hebrew, shafel has developed a variety of meanings, from a physical “low” to the abstract “base, mean, despicable.”

Some biblical nuances: nivzim ushfalim “nasty and despicable” (Malachi 2:9); shafal “low standing; person of little value” (Psalms 138:6); shfal-ruaH “humble” (Proverbs 29:23); shfal anashim “(God may set as a ruler) the humblest (perhaps sometimes the most despicable?) of men” (Daniel 4:14). 

Modern uses: shiflut “meanness”; shefel kalkali “economic depression”; shefel ba-‘asaqim “business downturn”; shefel ha-madregah “the lowest rung, the worst situation”; hishpil “to humiliate; insult, put to shame”; hashpalah “putting to shame, humbling”*; mashpil “humiliating, insulting.”

Arabic cognates are safil, sufli “hooligan, hoodlum”; in Yiddish, shofel “worth little, common.”

*As (God) is able to humble (hashpalah) those who behave arrogantly” (Daniel 4:34).


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Israel’s justice minister: The more Jewish Israel is, the more democratic it will become


The more Jewish Israel is, the more democratic it will become, the nation’s justice minister wrote in a new journal.

The legal system in Israel should strengthen its Jewish nature, Ayelet Shaked wrote in the inaugural issue of the Hebrew language policy journal Hashiloach, published by the Tikva Fund.

“When we wish to put Israel through advanced democratization processes, we must simultaneously deepen its Jewish identity,” Shaked wrote. “These identities are not contradictory. On the contrary: I believe they reinforce one another. I believe the more Jewish a state we are, the more democratic a state we will be, and that the more democratic a state we are, the more Jewish a state we will be.”

The legal system must take the Jewishness of the state into account in concrete ways, Shaked also wrote.

She also called for more separation of powers, and to strengthen Israel’s legislative branch vis-a-vis the judicial branch.

Hebrew Word of the Week: sliHah


A major concept of the High Holy Days is forgiveness. What do we do when we forgive? The English word “forgive” (German vergeben) meant “give wholeheartedly, grant, allow; remit (a debt completely), pardon (an offense); give up (with no grudge)” and “give in marriage (graciously).” 

The Hebrew salaH “forgive, be indulgent toward” is perhaps related to Semitic root s-l-y “toss aside, shake off, make light, forget about (a grudge, sin)”* and perhaps s-l-l “lift up, pave, cover smoothly,” which is semantically similar to kipper “cover; atone” and nasa’ “lift up, remove (sin).” 

Other derived words: God is known as sallaH “ready to forgive” (Psalms 86:5) and eloah sliHot “God of forgivings” (Nehemiah 9:17 and High Holy Days prayer book); salHan/solHan “forgiver”; salHani “forgiving”; saliaH “forgivable; fit for pardoning”; and sliHot “penitential prayers.”  

*Compare the tashlich ritual to “cast away (sins)”; Judeo-Arabic of Baghdad: ishlikhu binTilah, “cast it away, forget it (at the ritual hand-washing).”


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Hebrew Word of the Week: rimmon


The pomegranate is one of several components of the Sephardic seder for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday. The symbolic reason for eating it is “so that we become filled with mitzvot (good deeds, religious observations), as the pomegranate is filled with seeds.” Interestingly, the English word also means “apple/fruit full of grains (seeds),” from French-Latin pomum granatum. Compare to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits.

The etymology of the Hebrew word rimmon is not clear. Some connect it with rimmot “worms” (the seeds look like a swarm of worms?); more likely it comes from r-m-m /r-u-m / ramah “hillock.” Indeed, several places in the Bible are called Rimmon (Joshua 15:32; Judges 20:45-47). In Song of Songs 4:3, the beautiful face of the beloved is compared to a luscious and shining split-open pomegranate, and she promises her lover to let him drink of her pomegranate juice (8:2).

Hebrew Word of the Week: mitslalah


In hot sharav/Hamsin, scorching summer days in Israel, people are desperate to find a shady outdoor spot. So the municipalities have been providing mitslalot “public shaded areas.” The word is obviously related to tsel “shade; shadow; protection”* (plural tselalim). The mi- is a prefix that usually indicates a place where something is done, as with mis’adah “restaurant” (from the root s-’-d “to eat”); mikhbasah “laundry” (k-b-s “launder”). 

Other related words include tsalal “become shady, dark” (Nehemiah 13:19); tselalit “silhouette”; hitslil/hetsel “cover with shade”; hatslalah “shadowing”; tselali “shady, shadowy.” Closely related are tselem “(dark) image, likeness”; matslemah “camera obscura”; tsalmavet “shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4); tsalah “to roast, grill, make dark (red meat).”

*As in “God is your shade / protection (tsillekha) at the right hand” (Psalms 121:5), betsal’el “Betsalel” (in God’s shelter), and perhaps Tsillah/Zillah (“God’s protection”). 


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Why Bill Clinton’s Hebrew Hillary button resonated


There was a thrill ride on Jewish Democratic social media Wednesday night when Bill Clinton was spotted at the Democratic National Convention sporting a button backing his wife – in Hebrew.

Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman, indulged in a little partisan kvelling when he appeared Thursday with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer on a panel.

“What a remarkable statement for America that a former president of the United States could wear that,” said Wexler, who now directs the Center for Middle East Peace.

Wexler’s enthusiasm was telling: As a prominent Florida lawmaker, he was the first major Jewish political figure in 2007 to endorse then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Most of the rest of the unofficial Jewish caucus in Congress went with Hillary Clinton.

Yet here he is nine years later sounding almost wistful about the Clintons.

Democrats will vigorously defend Obama’s record on Israel, and they are able to cite a formidable array of facts: the launch of the Iron Dome missile defense system – U.S. funding originated not in Congress, but in the administration – and unprecedented levels of military and intelligence cooperation. Stuxnet, the virus that disabled Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, is widely believed to be a U.S.-Israel operation, and happened on Obama’s watch.

Yet, there is the “kishkes” thing, which drives Obama and his partisans nuts. The subtle – maybe not so subtle – messaging from the organizational Jewish side: Bill Clinton got Israel! Hillary Clinton gets Israel! What’s with Obama? The frustrated reply: Of course he gets Israel, he’s been to Sderot, and made the threat its residents face from the Gaza Strip personal when he said he could imagine his daughters facing it. He visited the grave of Zionist founder Theodor Herzl. He gets it!

And yet. Clinton was the first Democrat to mention Israel on the main stage on Tuesday night, and it came up not in the emphatic “best U.S. ally” way it did repeatedly at the Republican convention in Cleveland last week, but utterly organically, recounting Hillary Clinton’s role as Arkansas’ First Lady.

“Hillary told me about a preschool program developed in Israel called HIPPY, Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters,” recalled the former president. “The idea was to teach low-income parents, even those that couldn’t read, to be their children’s first teachers.

“She said she thought it would work in Arkansas. I said that’s great, what are we going to do about it? She said, oh, I already did it. I called the woman who started the program in Israel, she’ll be here in about 10 days and help us get started.

“Next thing you know I’m being dragged around to all these little preschool graduations.”

Clinton reference to the Israeli program was so casual that might as well have been referring to a preschool program founded in Illinois. It’s the unforced familiarity that melts pro-Israel activists, and there it was on display Wednesday evening in the pin he wore.

(The button was also a nice contrast to an event from the day before, when activists outside the arena burned an Israeli flag. Some pro-Israel activists spent Wednesday demanding that the DNC send out an official condemnation of the burning, although Hillary Clinton had already denounced the act, through a spokesperson.)

Obama also had a Jewish moment in his speech Wednesday night, but it was telling in that its reference was purely American. It came toward the end, when he spoke of his Kansan grandparents and how they welcomed the stranger:

“They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here, and they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke; a baseball cap or a hijab,” he said.

The reference no doubt resonated with many Jews. But the relief and joy triggered by the button on Bill Clinton’s chest suggests many are still looking for something more.

Can’t or won’t learn Hebrew?


Novelist Dara Horn recently asked, “Why don’t more American Jews learn Hebrew?” Her answer: “The reason American Jews don’t learn Hebrew is because they think they can’t.”

Horn believes that this failure stems from a lack of confidence. Even Horn, who tells us in this recent article that she grew up familiar with Hebrew words and that she was one of those rare, truly engaged students in the supplemental Hebrew schooling of her youth, was convinced that she “could never actually learn Hebrew” as a real language. In her mind, fluent Hebrew was something only Israelis or Orthodox Jews were capable of achieving. And so, even though she spent her teens and 20s reading Hebrew literature, it wasn’t until the age of 32 (a number which, by a lovely coincidence, is rendered in Hebrew by the word for “heart”) that she dared plunge directly, at an international writers conference in Israel, into the world of spoken Hebrew without the perpetual crutch of English translation.

It’s an inspiring story, but I respectfully suggest that she’s wrong about her premise. It’s not that American Jews think they can’t learn Hebrew, but that they actively won’t. After all, American Jews are hardly known for their lack of confidence, certainly when it comes to intellectual pursuits. We are surrounded by American Jews who learn languages and expect their children to learn languages: Spanish, Mandarin, JavaScript. And, as Horn notes, we now live with apps and iPads and streaming video on demand. A language is easier to learn and enjoy than at any time in human history.

The stubborn American-Jewish refusal — even by many Jews who are active in Jewish life, and who mouth Hebrew words as sounds week after week in synagogue — to treat Hebrew as a language that can be learned, spoken and used is nothing short of bizarre.

What we see in this is not an absence, then, of confidence or resources. It is a presence: the active pressure of the American-Jewish psyche. American-Jewish identity is based on feeling outside, on the threshold knocking at the door but never quite entering. Knocking at the door of Jewish identity, knocking at the door of American identity. To enter fully would be to lose one’s identity and become something different, unthinkable for most American Jews. For them, the front stoop has become home.

The reasons for this mainly have to do with the historical and psychological nature of the mass migration from Eastern Europe a century ago, and the new Jewish identity that those immigrants and their children invented for themselves in the United States. Even today, this odd, ironclad commitment to ambivalence — to that eternal door-knocking — takes myriad forms in American Jewish life and behavior. The point here for our purposes, though, is that learning Hebrew for most American Jews is psychologically impossible. (A similar dynamic applies, as it happens, to learning Yiddish.)

Where you do find American Jews who are more emotionally capable of learning Hebrew are among populations that are distant from the Eastern European mass migration and the American Jewish mainstream it produced, for example, Orthodox Jews, converts, Soviet immigrants, Mizrahi Jews, etc.

But for most American Jews, Hebrew must remain somewhat obscure, talismanic, at best liturgical, but never transparent or normal. If those Jews ever stopped knocking and instead opened the door themselves and stepped inside — well, there is no telling what they might find.

Michael Weingrad is associate professor at Portland State University. He is the author of “American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States” (Syracuse University Press, 2011).

This article was originally published at jewishstudies.washington.edu and appears here with permission. 

That time ‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda sang in Hebrew


Raise a glass! The 2016 Tony Award nominations were announced this morning, and the the revolutionary Broadway megahit “Hamilton” collected the lion’s share, with a record-breaking total of 16.

Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda himself received three nods, for best original score, best book and best lead actor.

This makes it official: Whether we’re talking about the 18th or the 21st, “Hamilton” is the show of the century — which is about how long you’ll have to wait to get tickets.

In the meantime, while you suffer through the interminable wait, we’ve got you covered: You can watch what’s probably the greatest wedding toast in the history of wedding toasts.

At his 2010 nuptials, Miranda called on the entire wedding party to serenade his “beshert,” Vanessa Nadal, with a surprise performance of “To Life! (L’Chaim!),” the iconic showstopper from “Fiddler on the Roof” — which, incidentally, was also nominated for three Tony Awards today, including one for best musical revival.

Sweet and spot-on, it’s no shocker that Miranda’s song-and-dance performance was on par with an actual stage number. Several Broadway vets took  part, including music direction by “Hamilton” collaborator Alex Lacamoire (now up for best orchestration). Apparently, Miranda arranged and rehearsed the whole thing secretly in a matter of days.

“Fiddler,” of course, is one of Miranda’s favorite shows — he appeared in his school’s sixth-grade production and identified it as one of the biggest influences for his 2008 Tony-winning musical, “In the Heights.” Not long ago, he plucked the three actresses who play Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava from the current Broadway revival for a special rap-enhanced rendition of “Matchmaker” at Ham4Ham, the free sidewalk performances Miranda coordinates for the crowds lined up for “Hamilton” ticket lotteries.

That Miranda hits the hard “chet” in “l’chaim” just right may be because in elementary school, as he told The New Yorker, “all my friends were Jewish,” and he was also no stranger to singing and dancing at over-the-top Jewish events. As he told The New York Times Vows column, he met his wife — an MIT-trained scientist who is also an attorney — before his first Broadway bonanza, and he was paying the rent by performing at bar mitzvahs.

“‘I was literally one of those guys who shows up in a black satin shirt and tries to get kids and old people to dance,” he said. ‘It was bleak.’”

The future, of course, is bright, and the toasts to “Hamilton” and Miranda — a MacArthur Fellow and winner of last month’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama—are only just beginning.

Yet it’s possible that no performance will top the one he orchestrated at his own wedding.

“That’s what will be my real legacy,” Miranda told Mo Rocca last year on CBS Sunday Morning. “It’s one of the things I’m proudest of in my life.”

Hebrew Word of the Week: savlanut


A very common word in Israeli Hebrew, even if it is not always put into practice; derived from s-b-l “to carry a load; to endure; to suffer.” Likewise, the English (Latin) word “patient” means “one who endures” as well as “a sick, suffering, person (in a hospital).”

Some related words: sabbal “porter, bearer of loads”; sevel “suffering; burden”; svolet “endurance, tolerance”; sovlanut “tolerance”; mesubbalim “pregnant (cattle)” (Psalms 144:14); hu lo sovel otah “He cannot stand her”; nisbal tolerable”; savil “passive (person, verb).”


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Retooling Hebrew school


Hebrew schools today incorporate a lot of hands-on learning, and several innovative models for Hebrew school have been launched in recent years, including the project-based learning Hebrew school model, the learning through the arts Hebrew school model, the aftercare “camp like” Hebrew school model, and the online Hebrew school model.

I applaud the pedagogical improvements as well as the funding and creative innovations to the Hebrew school model.  However, I feel that Hebrew schools today still lack a particular “mindset” about Judaism, approach to learning, and purpose of Jewish education which is essential to their success.

What I propose and will explain in this article is the retooling of Hebrew schools with the proper mindset about Judaism and Jewish education.

For starters, the term Hebrew school is factually inaccurate and outdated, plus, we all know this term conjures up negative connotations.  I say this, in part, because Hebrew schools do not teach Hebrew as a language, and originally the word Hebrew was used to downplay the Jewishness of where Jewish children went after public school.  Therefore, a new name is long overdue.

So what would be a better name to replace the name Hebrew school? I propose the name Mitzvah Center.

Changing the name of Hebrew School to Mitzvah Center, however, is not for semantics, but for the purpose of creating a change in the “mindset” and modus operandi of Jewish education.     

  • A Mitzvah Center is a more accurate description of one of the main purposes of Jewish education, which is to learn how to do Mitzvot.
  • By using the term Mitzvah Center this would be a constant reminder about one of the main functions in being a Jewish, which is doing Mitzvot. 
  • The term Mitzvah Center more actually reflects what should be a significant focus of a Hebrew school’s curriculum content.
  • The term Mitzvah Center relays that Jewish education and Judaism are not just for children but for adults as well.

A Mitzvah Center will still look 80% like a Hebrew school (even if employing an innovative model), however, there are four essential practical differences.

  1.  A Mitzvah Center facilitates the performance of Mitzvot.

Whereas a Hebrew school in teaching about lighting Shabbat candles includes the hands-on activity of the students making Shabbat candlestick holders, a Mitzvah Center would send home candles every week for all the women in the home to light.  This is an entirely different perspective on the role of a school, and from a “Center” Jewish education spreads out.

In keeping with the Shabbat candles example, there are numerous examples where a little girl was given Shabbat candles to light and this sparked a family to grow Jewishly. First the mother also lit Shabbat candles with her daughter, then a few weeks later the mother decided not to have the TV on in the living room while she lit Shabbat candles. Then a few weeks later…

Ditto for giving out little grape juice bottles after teaching the students about the Mitzvah of making Kiddush, as well as giving out Shmura Matzah before Passover, etc.

As one can see, a Mitzvah Center does not just teach about Mitzvot, but takes on the responsibility to do everything it can to help its students concretize the learning into action and with their families.

  1.  The ambiance and climate of a Mitzvah Center is Mitzvot.  

When a parent comes into the Mitzvah Center to drop off or pick up his/her child(ren) s/he would see various Mitzvah stations in the foyer with Mitzvot that can easily be done on the spot.  For example, putting on Tefillin (with the rabbi there to encourage and to help facilitate), saying the Shema, giving Tzedakah, watching a one minute video with a Torah lesson for the week, as well as the opportunity to drop off a can of food for the foodbank, to pick up Shabbat candles, etc.

These have been called “Touch and Go” Mitzvot because they only take a short moment of time to do, and they do not necessitate a lifestyle change.  Never-the-less they are an important aspect of “doing Jewish,” and a Mitzvah Center serves to remind everyone of this by creating a culture of doing Mitzvot.

  1. A Mitzvah Center would have a different Mitzvah Campaign every year.

This is exactly what it sounds like. One year the Mitzvah Center (and synagogue) would promote, for example, the Mitzvah of Mezuzah, the next year perhaps various Mitzvah projects for the poor, then in future years the promotion of the Mitzvah of keeping Kosher, the Mitzvah of helping the environment, the creating of a Jewish library in one’s home, a No Adult Left Behind when it comes to adults being able to read Hebrew, families hosting each other and/or just being hosted for a Shabbat dinner experience in a round-robin format once a month for a year, etc.   There are a lot of Mitzvot to promote!

Part of being Jewish is about spiritually growing, and many of these type of Mitzvot require a significant time commitment, financial commitment, and/or an adjustment to one’s lifestyle. Therefore, one Mitzvah Campaign per year is a practical and steady pace.

Not every Mitzvah Center family is going to participate in every Mitzvah Campaign.  One’s expectations need to be tamed.  But right now no one is participating.  No one just wakes up and says s/he is going to start keeping putting on Tefillin or keeping Kosher, etc. without a significant amount of encouragement and support.  A Mitzvah Center’s yearly Mitzvah Campaign provides a much-needed opportunity and encouragement for people to grow Jewishly.

  1.  A Mitzvah Center instills “Mitzvah Activism” into its students.

Part of being a Jew, which has been lost in the Hebrew school system, is sharing one’s Jewish knowledge with other Jews and helping Jews do Mitzvot.  This teaching would be instilled into the students by them actually teaching and helping others do Mitzvot.  For example, the older kids in the Mitzvah Center would help the younger students with Hebrew reading and they would serve as a “Tephillah Buddy” for younger students at school-wide Tephillah services.

Another example of many possible ones: On the Sunday of Sukkot the students in the B’nai Mitzvah class would go to the houses of the synagogue’s members, former members, the Jewish old-age home, etc. with a Lulav and Etrog to help as many Jews as possible fulfill this Mitzvah.  Parent volunteers would drive and there could even be a contest to see who can get the most people to shake a Luluv and Etrog.  Additionally, when a family decides to start keeping kosher at home, members of the synagogue’s teenage Youth Group would help Kasher the family’s kitchen and dishes. (These later two examples are also one way #1 above is accomplished.)

Of course a Hebrew school can implement any of the above aspects of a Mitzvah Center without a name change, however, changing the name from Hebrew school to Mitzvah Center creates a powerful psychological and philosophical message (see the four bullet points above), and also by implementing all four aspects of a Mitzvah Center, this creates a synergy that results in an effectiveness that is more than the sum of its parts.


Joel E. Hoffman is an ordained rabbi, but he works as a special education teacher at a public high school in Massachusetts.  He also teaches 7th grade Hebrew school and writes on Jewish themes. 

Israel without Hebrew


Israel, like the United States, was a nation founded by immigrants. To this day Jews from around the world (or certain parts of it, more precisely) continue to ‘make aliyah’ (immigrate) to begin a new life in the Holy Land.

A number of challenges await the new immigrant. Brits must be weaned off queuing, Americans learn to eat non-processed food and anybody thinking of getting behind the wheel of a car discovers that compassion is for “freiers” ( ‘suckers.’)

But one mountain that faces all new immigrants and that many choose to scale is the Hebrew language. Arguably not as difficult a language to master as say Mandarin or Binary, achieving fluency in Hebrew is no simple task.

There are several pitfalls for the novice Hebrew-language learner, Ben Fisher, 24, who moved to Israel a year ago, explained to The Media Line. The first is the lack of learning resources available to more widely-spoken languages, such as “Spanish or Chinese,” Fisher said. Naturally, the more people in the world who want to learn a specific language, the more options there are for learning it. Duolingo for example, one of the most popular language learning apps, does not currently support Hebrew (though there are plans in the pipeline).

A second pitfall is the high level of English spoken by the average Israeli. “In cities like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv everybody speaks English so you’re not forced to learn Hebrew, you’re not going to go hungry because you can’t speak the language,” Fisher explained. To make things even more infuriating, even when you do make the effort to speak Hebrew, people respond to you in English, “especially if you look like me,” the blond American said.

Israelis learn English from an early age, a skill that many perfect during their ‘obligatory’ post-army travels. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that on the English as a second language spectrum, Israel as a nation is second only to the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries in terms of proficiency, ahead of Germany and France.

“For the most part, yeah they are really good (in English), it’s impressive,” Natalie Pilsk, 25, a hotel receptionist who has lived in Israel for three years, said. This “absolutely” makes learning the language more difficult, she told The Media Line, but there are flipsides. “Getting started is hard but actually there are patterns and rules that, once learned, make sense and are straight forward.”

As anybody who has tried to teach English will tell you, the idea of a language with rules that actually make sense is a refreshing novelty. But don’t get ahead of yourself and think you’ve got Hebrew sussed. You haven't reckoned with Hebrew slang.

Not content with taking its vocabulary merely from the bible, modern Hebrew also contains an impressive amount of words cannibalized from English, Arabic and Yiddish (previously spoken by many European Jews). Added to this, Israeli street slang incorporates an arsenal of military jargon and national service acronyms.

Meaning that even somebody who has spent years in the country can miss the point at times. This is something Pilsk says she feels most when people are telling jokes, an important cultural connection she often misses out on. “There is so much slang in use in Hebrew that even when I understand what a person is saying, I can't understand if or why it’s a joke,” she lamented.

This is due in part to the historical revival of the language, one of the more fascinating stories surrounding Hebrew. From around the year 400, Hebrew, a language spoken today by over 5 million people, was used only as a religious transcript much like Latin in Catholicism.

Modern Hebrew was revived in the last two decades of the 19th century by the early Zionists, ideologues who aimed to form a state for the Jewish people, Uri Mor, a scholar of Hebrew and Aramaic at Ben Gurion University, told The Media Line. As part of this movement, Hebrew was resurrected by the founding fathers.

However, although that generation were content to base their concept of the revived language on the “holy scriptures and rabbinic literature,” their children were not, Mor said. This led to the development of two strands to the language, one used in literature, the media and official speeches, and the other on the street.

“You actually have to master two languages and if you use the wrong language in a particular circumstance, you stand out,” Mor explained.

The dangers for the semi-fluent Hebrew speaker are everywhere, as summed up by Ben Fisher who described a mishap that occurred while updating his address with the Ministry of Interior. Thinking his Hebrew was good enough (and possibly wishing to avoid Israel’s infamous bureaucracy), Fisher decided to use the self-service option, entering his family details, address and place of birth into a computer. Returning home, happy with his linguistic achievement, Fisher admitted that it was only “the next day I realised I had registered my non-existent son.”

Ben Yehuda’s nightmare


In Israel, every crappy situation can be turned into an opportunity.  A gunman on the loose in central Tel Aviv allows me to spend several extra hours at home with my three kids, only one of whom demands to return immediately to the U.S., where the shootings in our neighborhood are typically of a drug-related nature–and we made sure to stay on good terms with those guys.  When my friend Rafi fell asleep in the middle of a sentence (mine), I could have taken offense or helped myself to the homemade kubeh his Iraqi mother supplied him with for the week.  Instead, I looked forward to the discussion I planned to initiate when he woke up, about the recent advances in neuroscience that have led to the ability to turn off our nightmares like a light switch, but at the cost of simultaneously snuffing out our dreams. 

“Mr. Levy fell asleep,” I said when Rafi’s eyes opened.  A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I knew the word for dream, but not nightmare. 

“Did you fall asleep too?” Rafi asked.

“I didn’t fall asleep,” I said, the conjugation of that tricky Hebrew verb nearly complete. 

So we had a grammar lesson instead of a science one, my thoughts of the day thwarted by the unavailability of a dictionary in the room.  I tried to convince myself that was simply a lateral move, and hoped that Rafi would stop accommodating his other friend Inbal’s Reverse Sleep Disorder schedule–which compelled her to stay awake at night and conk out during the day–and start paying more attention to mine.  But Inbal is a Sabra, and speaks in complete sentences.  On Rafi’s birthday she wrote him a card, while I gave him chocolates.     

When we lived in Virginia and my youngest son was in first grade, his teacher taught the class a poem which, had the gist of it been, We may have different colored skin, but inside we’re all the same, would have been bad enough.  But that wasn’t the gist; those were the actual words.  Until that bright idea, my son had never noticed different colored skin.  Now, suddenly, Adin’s friend Hector’s arms were decidedly brown.  I cursed all bad poetry that day, and when my own words fell short while stuttering something to Adin about the benefits of public school but the superfluity of first grade, I cursed those too.  

Last week I went to Jerusalem to visit an artist friend who is so absorbed by images, he can’t walk two steps without stopping to study something. (For most Jerusalemites, it usually takes three.)  After contemplating a nut that had fallen from a tree next to an ancient tomb on Alfasi Street, Ilan asked if I wanted to see his portfolio of furniture that he designed while studying at Bezalel.  What a question!

A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I was looking forward to sitting in complete silence and letting my eyes feast on what I could not find the language to praise.  Encouraged by the widening of my pupils, Ilan spent the next half hour describing the structural frames of his chairs, the grain patterns on his coffee tables that folded into stools, the steam box he used to create waves in the wood for his kick-ass bookshelves.  Or something along those lines.  I can’t say for sure.  I was having a bad Hebrew day.

And then he grew quiet, and closed the portfolio.

“The last piece I designed was for a friend who replaced me when I was called up for reserve duty and couldn’t come in,” he said.  “It was during the Second Lebanon War.”

“And what did you make?”

“A prosthetic leg.”

It is known that Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, yelled at his wife when he overheard her crooning a Russian lullaby to their infant son.  “The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation,” he wrote in 1881, a statement I couldn’t agree with more.

Lucky for me, a new immigrant to Israel with minimal Hebrew, the people of this land are a restful, resourceful bunch, prone to extralingual communication and improvisation.  Give them a dead language, and they will write a dictionary to resurrect it.  Put them in a pickle, and they will fight their way out of it until they have discovered how to convert a table into a chair, a piece of metal into a leg that can later run marathons, which Ilan’s friend does every year.

There are some situations that require the aid of a dictionary, and some words that can’t be found in one.  Ilan and I went for a walk then, stopping outside a photography store that featured a blown up, black and white portrait of a Jewish family from Poland, where Ilan’s great-grandfather, a rabbi, perished for refusing to vacate his synagogue before it was set on fire.   

“Tistakli,” Ilan said.  Look.

Apple’s Siri technology to be offered in Hebrew


Apple’s voice-activated assistant technology, which is offered in 18 languages, will be offered in Hebrew.

Siri, which stands for Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface, will be able to speak Hebrew next month in the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system, Ynet reported Tuesday.

The beta version of the Hebrew Siri will not allow for searching of restaurants, movie theaters and other local destinations, the Times of Israel reported.

Siri is only currently available in various dialects of English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Turkish, Thai and Portuguese.

The technology, which responds to a variety of vocal requests, is available only on Apple devices.

Honing Hebrew hilariously


Even the most ardent supporters of Israel might wish at times that its inhabitants had chosen an easier language … like, say, English.

However, because the linguistic choice of our common ancestors appears irreversible, two Israeli expats have come up with the idea of applying English phrases as memory cues to make Hebrew words stick in their minds. The result is a slim, richly illustrated and frequently funny pocket book by Yael Breuer and Eyal Shavit titled “Hilarious Hebrew” and billed as “the fun and fast way to learn the language.”

For instance, a cartoon shows a mountain climber and his unhappy dog getting soaked in the rain, with the man exclaiming, “OH, HELL. We forgot the TENT.” Below is the linguistic link: “The Hebrew word for ‘TENT’ is … OHEL.” The final word is spelled out in both English and Hebrew letters.

Another example is a freezing driver in an icicle-encrusted car, who notes, “It’s COLD in my CAR.” This is followed by, “The Hebrew word for ‘COLD’ is … KAR.”

Sometimes, the authors have to stretch for a connection: “The fastest car in the world belongs to BARACK Obama. It goes like lightning,” accompanied by a drawing of the smiling president clutching the wheel of a car. Beneath is the explanation, “The Hebrew word for ‘LIGHTNING’ is BAH’RAK.”

The originator of “Hilarious Hebrew” is Breuer, born in the Israeli university town of Rehovot and a former tank instructor in the country’s army. She now lives in Brighton, the popular seaside resort on the English Channel, and teaches modern Hebrew, coordinates events for youth programs and freelances as a journalist.

She soon shared her bilingual wordplay ideas with her friend Shavit, a pop-rock singer and guitarist, as well as a fellow Brighton-based Israeli, originally from Kibbutz Kfar Szold.

Although Brighton is hardly a major center of Israeli expats, there are about 100 of them, according to Breuer. They meet monthly in a Brighton pub for “Hebrew-only” get-togethers.

Breuer and Shavit started exchanging ideas and sentences and, in a few months, accumulated several hundred examples. They decided to turn their hobby into a book, and enlisted Aubrey Smith (also of Brighton) to do the illustrations, formed their own publishing company and, after two years, put the book on the market.

Describing the authors’ collaborative process, Breuer said, “Both of us come up with ideas, but I think Eyal’s are funnier than mine. Mine tend to be straight and simple, whereas his are quirkier.”

The first to test the efficacy of the authors’ teaching method was Smith, a gentile Brit, who absorbed many Hebrew words while doing the illustrations for the book.

“Hilarious Hebrew” is divided into sections under such rubrics as “Holidays,” “Family & Friends,” “On the Job,” “How Are You Feeling” and so forth. Also included is a listing of Hebrew letters and vowels and their English equivalents.

Breuer said she is perhaps proudest of the comment from a student she had tutored 22 years earlier and had recently met again. “She recited the English phrases I had given her two decades earlier to link them to Hebrew words, and she said they were still completely ingrained in her brain,” Breuer said.

“Hilarious Hebrew” is distributed in the United States by Gefen Publishing House.

The book is available through ” target=”_blank”>www.hilarioushebrew.com

The Jewish Bernie Sanders who only Vermonters know


Bernie Sanders reads from the Passover Haggadah in Hebrew and jokes with his seder hosts about finding hametz, traces of leavening, after they have thoroughly cleaned the house in preparation for the holiday.

The presidential candidate, a socialist competing for the Democratic nomination, also follows Israeli politics close enough to understand the influence of the haredi Orthodox parties in government. And like many Jews of his generation, Sanders, 74, chafes at what he sees as disproportionate critical attention applied to Israel.

But little of this emerges in his public profile.

More has been written about the Judaism of his Brooklyn childhood than his interactions with the faith and community today.

“I know he’s Jewish and I know he has a good heart, but give us something, make us feel proud of you,” said Rabbi James Glazier of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in South Burlington. “I can’t tell him what to do — that’s not my business. He owns his own spiritual journey. But we need a Jewish hug from him every once in a while.”

As a politico, Sanders appears averse to hugs, Jewish or otherwise. Consider his awkward handshake with Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first Democratic presidential debate last week after he said her use of personal emails while in government shouldn’t be a campaign focus.

“It’s not like he’s embarrassed or ashamed of [his faith],” said Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew who is among Sanders’ closest friends and a professor of philosophy. “He continues to be a universalist; he doesn’t focus on those issues.”

The Jewish Vermonters who know Sanders say his reluctance to make his Judaism central to his public persona is a function of his preference for the economic over the esoteric, as well as a libertarianism typical both of the state and its Jewish community – one that embraces expressions of faith and the lack of them.

Sanders, like many Jews who came here in the 1960s and 1970s, migrated to Vermont for reasons having little to do with his Judaism. He once told NPR that travel brochures he saw as a teenager depicting the state’s open spaces attracted him in the mid-’60s. Sanders, his first wife and his older brother bought 85 acres of land for $2,500. (Sanders has been married twice. His first wife is Jewish, his current spouse is not.)

Ben Scotch, a lawyer who for decades worked in the state attorney general’s office and for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he and Sanders were part of a generation of Jews who supplanted the state’s more conventional Jewish community.

“The children of Jewish families that settled here generations ago frequently looked at Vermont and said, ‘What are we doing here, this is no place to identify as Jews, the real Jewish centers are in the cities,’ and they doffed their hats,” said Scotch, who lives in Montpelier, the state capital, and knows Sanders through his dealings with government.

“One generation was heading south on the interstate to New York, and meanwhile heading north on the interstate are children of city-bound Jews, saying ‘enough of my parents’ materialistic values, I don’t want to be in the undershirt business for the rest of my life.'”

Eventually, many of the new Jewish migrants found Jewish community, albeit one that worked with Vermont’s counterculture. Montpelier today is home to four female rabbis, three Reconstructionists and one who identifies as Orthodox, having attended a transdenominational rabbinical school.

The Orthodox-identifying rabbi, Tobie Weisman, said she has encountered an abundance of stories like Scotch’s through her group, Yearning for Learning, which organizes Jewish programming throughout the state.

For example, she asked the owner of a local gelato shop what ingredients he used to ascertain whether the desserts would be suitable for the kosher-observant, only to find out that the man’s mother was Jewish. Several months later, the shop owner was seeking advice on how to make horseradish-flavored gelato for a seder.

“Being a rabbi, I find Jews,” Weisman said, noting that when she speaks to people with children, about one in three times she’ll find a Jewish connection.

Susan Leff, who founded Jewish Communities of Vermont two years ago to coordinate Jewish activities in the state, said counting Jews in Vermont is a challenge, precisely because the Jews who arrived in the ’60s value the state’s nonconformist ethos and resist organization.

Before launching her start-up, Leff asked around at Jewish congregations about setting up an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America, but it was a nonstarter.

“People would say, ‘why send our money to New York?’” she recalled.

Leff said her mailing list suggests that there are more than 20,000 Jews among the state’s 600,000 residents. That’s four times the 5,000 Jews that appear on outdated databases. From three functioning synagogues in 1975, when she arrived in the state to study at Bennington College, there are now 14 with rabbis, along with an array of lay-led prayer communities, or havurot. Of the 10,000 students at the University of Vermont, where Leff  served as Hillel director for a decade, she estimates 2,000 are Jewish. The campus has a kosher kitchen.

David Fried, Weisman’s husband — a New York native who is a farmer and a jam maker — described his own trajectory from secular Jew to observance.

Checking trees ripe with produce on a cool autumn day, he remembered being nervous the first time he shut down his farm, Elmore Roots, on Shabbat. Fried said he discovered quickly that his clients and neighboring farmers respected his observance.

Alan Steinweis, who heads the University of Vermont’s Center for Holocaust Studies, said the state’s libertarian traditions created a convivial environment for diverse Jewish expression.

“It’s a comfortable place for Jews to move to,” he said.

Steinweis noted that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS, had failed in its bids to gain a foothold at the university, despite its reputation for being among the most liberal in the United States.

“It’s traditional Yankee libertarianism,” he said. “It’s OK to criticize, but don’t censor.”

Sanders’ fraught encounter with BDS supporters who challenged his defense of Israel at a town hall meeting in Cabot last year was captured on YouTube. Sugarman said he was not surprised that his friend stood up to the hecklers, telling them to “shut up.”

“Many of us were gratified, not amazed, that Bernard had the ‘beitsim’ to stand up against these nihilists,” said Sugarman, using the Hebrew colloquialism for “balls.” (Most Vermonters call Sanders “Bernie”; Sugarman prefers “Bernard.”)

Sugarman has known Sanders since they met on a slow train home to Vermont in 1976. Sugarman was returning from defending his doctorate at Yale, Sanders from a family reunion in Brooklyn — “events that were traumatic for both of us,” Sugarman said.

They spoke all night, and Sanders moved in with Sugarman for a while following the breakup of Sanders’ first marriage — and kept a kosher kitchen in deference to his friend. (Sugarman, who roomed with former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., at Yale, may be the only person to have lived with both serious Jewish contenders for the U.S. presidency.) Sugarman encouraged Sanders, who had run several hopeless third-party bids for statewide office in the ’70s, to run as an independent for Burlington mayor in 1981; Sanders defeated the Democratic incumbent by just 12 votes.

Sanders went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 and to the Senate in 2006.

He has chosen friends who complement his wonkishness: Sugarman, the philosopher, and Stanley “Huck” Gutman, a professor of poetry at the University of Vermont who has written about the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. In 2010, the Washington Post profiled Gutman, who for four years was Sanders’ chief of staff, because Gutman routinely sent Senate staffers favorite poems. Gutman acknowledged he got nowhere in talking poetry with his old friend and boss.

In his cluttered office Sugarman, whose expertise is Emmanuel Levinas, the Talmudist and philosopher, pulled out from a table tumbling with books on Levinas (and one kids’ book about Hanukkah) a compilation of speeches from a Levinas seminar he organized in 2000. He opened it to the welcome speech by Sanders, who mentioned Levinas only to jokingly wonder whether he was a candidate because his name cropped up on signs around town.

But Sugarman said the candidate’s Jewish identity is principally expressed in his understanding that elections make a difference, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

“He once said that as a child in Brooklyn, he learned there was an election in Germany in 1932,” Sugarman recalled of Sanders, whose father lost family in Holocaust-era Poland and who is on the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. “And although it was not decisive, it was quite important.”

Hebrew word of the week: Tannur


Probably right after discovering how to start a fire, humans invented the clay oven, made to slap their dough onto the interior wall and cook on its top opening, with a bottom opening for kindling (often animal dung) and raking the ashes. Indeed, the word tannur has been around for several thousand years, from Sumerian to Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew (common in the Bible, as in Exodus 7:28 and Leviticus 2:4) to Arabic; and from Arabic to Armenian, Turkish, Persian and Urdu (Northern India, Pakistan): tandoor, as in tandoori chicken (served in Indian restaurants).

The latest uses: Israeli tannur microgal is the name for a “microwave oven”; the Arabic feminine form, tannurah is the name for “(modern) skirt” (which is cut in the same shape as a traditional oven). Some Moroccan Jews used to take their dafina “Sabbath stew, cholent” to a Muslim baker on Friday to keep it slowly baking on a low fire on his oven until needed on Sabbath. 

*Usually shaped as a big pot. Indeed, the English word oven originally meant “cooking pot”; perhaps from “something hollowed out.”


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds


To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting “Die, son of a bitch,” and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same – and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy – and come to totally different conclusions.

 

Posted by د . ناصر اللحام on Monday, October 12, 2015

 

“Both sides are living in different dimensions,” said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. “You can have an incident happen and it's interpreted in two completely different ways instantly.”

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community's outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passersby back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.

OUTRAGE ON BOTH SIDES

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been “executed” by Israel “in cold blood.”

Ahmed's uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday, two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.

CCTV DELAY

All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger – the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece.

“It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable,” he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel's point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

“The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations,” said Nisman. “By then, the damage had already been done. It's too late.”

Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a “martyr”. Asked for comment on Thursday, one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.

Program aims to improve Hebrew education by focusing on teachers


For years, many graduates of Jewish day schools around the world — and their parents — have expressed disappointment in their level of Hebrew proficiency despite years of Jewish education. 

To help solve that problem — and in the process afford Hebrew educators the same respect and status that tends to be given to other educators — Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) in Los Angeles has partnered with Hebrew at the Center (HATC), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit of which I am the founding president. Dedicated to professionalizing Hebrew language instruction, we launched a multi-year program for L.A. day schools known as the Hebrew Language Proficiency Project, which, since 2011, has had an impact on 2,000 students, 65 teachers, and 27 Hebrew coordinators and lead teachers.

“BJE was committed to changing that paradigm and ensuring that Hebrew education in L.A. provided our students with the necessary, measurable skills. HATC was the perfect partner to accomplish this goal,” said Miriam Prum Hess, BJE director of donor and community relations. 

The problem, in many cases, is few Hebrew teachers receive degrees or training in how to actually teach a second language. Most schools employ Israelis or near-fluent Hebrew speakers who, having different careers in the past, found positions teaching Hebrew upon moving to the United States or a new community. 

The goal of this project has been to develop leadership in the day schools, maximize the students’ acquisition of Hebrew and their passion for it, and elevate the status of the language and the teachers in the community. 

Imagine how it feels to be a teacher responsible for teaching Hebrew, not knowing whether what you are doing is in fact succeeding, not knowing how to assess your students or whether the book you are using is right for the class, nor how to help a student who is struggling. Would we want our children’s math teachers to know how to add, subtract and multiply, but not to have studied to become teachers who can help our students?

HATC’s approach is based on years of research and the experience of Vardit Ringvald, director of the School of Hebrew at Middlebury College and co-founder of HATC, who has worked in many different settings where Hebrew was being taught. Through in-service work with educators on assessment-based, second-language teaching and learning strategies, HATC has been partnering with schools, camps, educational networks and agencies to provide systematic, professional development programs throughout North America and in Israel since 2007.

By developing school-based leaders among those already working in the field, there is the potential to create a ripple effect within a school among existing and future staff. The goal is to position schools to maintain a level of excellence even after HATC is no longer working with them. 

Another key aspect of the approach is to understand that language is not taught in a vacuum; language exists within a culture. So helping teachers identify the appropriate authentic materials that are used by native speakers — stories, books and songs, for example — and that will maximize the opportunities for students to use Hebrew in natural ways is all part of the approach. We see learning Hebrew as an opportunity to create a stronger connection to Israel and Jews worldwide and for developing the literacy that makes texts and prayer more accessible.  

One local participant reported in a feedback form that the program helped her better engage students: “I used to be happy when students could repeat the words or sentences they learned in class. Through the skills I’ve learned, I realize the importance of not just repeating, but helping students use the language creatively and apply the words they learned in real-life situations.”

Funding has come from multiple sources, including the Covenant Foundation and the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation. Local supporters are the Los Angeles Unified School District (recognizing the importance of having well-prepared language teachers), The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Israeli-American Council, as well as each of the participating schools (see sidebar below).

These Los Angeles day schools have served as the pilot sites for what is called a “flip-learning” model that incorporates new technology to combine online and in-person workshops and mentoring. The first year introduces a new framework for thinking about Hebrew learning, best practices in language assessment and goal setting, and initiating community conversations about the potential impact of successful Hebrew language acquisition. Building on this theoretical and practical framework, “… the project continues to tailor to the specific needs of our diverse Los Angeles community, adapting to the needs of each cohort school, and developing Hebrew language educators skilled in providing continued expertise for many years to come,” said Janice Tytell, BJE’s director of continuing professional development.

It turns out that schools and teachers are willing to invest a lot of time and resources to ensure that their students maximize their Hebrew proficiency. In fact, as a result of the program, four of the L.A.-based participants decided to take their learning to the next level and enrolled in the Middlebury College master’s program for teaching Hebrew as a second language, which was developed by Ringvald. These educational leaders will provide Los Angeles with local expertise that can benefit all of Jewish education in the region.

Moving into year two of a second cohort of schools, participants say that the partnership already has changed the way they teach Hebrew, particularly by individualizing lessons. A participant reported, “Now I’m constantly thinking about … the child, and how I move this child forward.”

Using research conducted for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), schools can set expectations as to what level of fluency students can achieve in the four language skills: speaking, listening, writing and reading. ACTFL also has provided well-articulated levels of proficiency that help guide teachers in setting student learning goals and can be assessed using tools that are available in the field for evaluating student progress, confidence and accomplishment among students and teachers.

The results are exciting. In the words of Tamar Raff, director of Jewish studies at Valley Beth Shalom’s day school, a Cohort One participant: “We are moving the emphasis from Hebrew knowledge to Hebrew proficiency, from what students know to what students can do.”

Nine local schools are part of the Hebrew Language Proficiency Project:

Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

Adat Ari El Day School

Kadima Day School

Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am

Shalhevet High School

Sinai Akiba Academy

Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School

Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School

YULA Girls High School 


For more information about the L.A. project, contact Janice Tytell at jtytell@bjela.org

Arnee Winshall is president, CEO and co-founder of Hebrew at the Center, Inc. (hebrewatthecenter.org), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit whose goal is to improve the teaching and learning of Hebrew. 

Between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv: missing Israel


It will soon be two years since I moved to the United States. What began as a study-related visit in the cool climate of Washington, D.C., turned into a permanent stay in the warm climate of Los Angeles. I’d always heard about the perfect California weather, but now that I’m here, I love it not just because the sun shines nearly every day and there is little rain; I also love it because the climate reminds me very much of Israel, where I was born and raised.

It’s strange that my first column in an American publication is about missing Israel, of all things. But over the past two years, as I’ve developed my skills in journalism, I’ve also developed a deep, genuine longing for Israel.

Longing is defined as “an emotion one feels when there’s a sense of yearning or passion for a certain person, a certain idea or a certain memory.” It’s not surprising that my memories of many years in Israel easily overshadow my recent experiences in the U.S. But for the past two years, I’ve found myself truly struggling with my desire to succeed and achieve here in the U.S. and my strong, fond memories of back home. I’ve also found that nearly all of the Israelis living in L.A. face this struggle, no matter how successful they are here.

I first met David Blatt, an Israeli basketball coach who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a Euroleague championship, in journalism school in Tel Aviv, where he was giving a lecture about the connections between journalism and sports. Last year, Blatt left Israel and moved to the U.S. in order to coach the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. He had an extremely successful season, and his team advanced to the finals in the best basketball league in the world. Nevertheless, in an interview he gave to a popular Israeli newspaper, he said: “I miss Israel — the friends, the people, the weather; everything really.”

Blatt isn’t the only one. In my time here, I’ve talked to many real-estate professionals, bankers, lawyers and businessmen, all of whom have successful, lucrative careers, and they all expressed a longing for Israel. I’ve noticed that when they talk about Israel, something shifts in their voices — they become softer, more earnest, and their demeanor changes from professional to more human, warmer, almost childish. They admit that living so far from Israel exacts a high price, one they are learning to deal with every single day.

The Jewish connection I have with Israel is very powerful: Show me another country where someone who has never lived in it would decide at the age of 18 to make aliyah in order to volunteer for its army.


This week the Jewish Journal begins a regular column on Israeli life in L.A., in both Hebrew (click here) and English. Please let us know what you think (in either language) at editor@jewishjournal.com.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that our Jewish being is deeply rooted in being Israeli. Every Jew who knows the Bible knows how the people of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is mentioned more than 600 times in the Old Testament, and the history of the Jewish people includes endless stories about the army guarding our Holy Land — the same army that continues today and holds dozens of battle records that long ago became a part of Israeli lore.

A week ago, I talked on the phone with a friend who recently returned to Israel after living in the U.S. for nearly 10 years. He told me: “Listen, Elad, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was only there for the money, because all I wanted was to get my life in order — just like in Israel, only with more money.” 

When he said this, it hit me: This is what most Israelis do here. We gather in the Valley so we can be close to one another; go to kosher restaurants that have Israeli food: hummus, falafel, shwarma; we shop for our beloved Bamba, Bissli and Milky in Israeli grocery stores; spend tens of thousands of dollars sending our children to Jewish schools and making sure they’ll speak Hebrew; subscribe to an Israeli cable TV channel or Mytvil; follow the Israeli TV shows and watch the Channel 2 news with Yonit Levy every night. Ask Israelis which they’d prefer — to watch “Big Brother” or “Big Brother Israel”? I guarantee they’ll go with the latter. We’re basically trying to live like Israelis, even though we’re outside of Israel. Strange, isn’t it?

The U.S. may offer us a great variety of opportunities, and the Israeli who comes here with Middle Eastern chutzpah and a warrior mentality, who is a businessman and full of energy, can make it big here. At the same time, we have a soft spot for Israel, tiny and warm, with a genuine familial feel and tradition. And, as they say, happiness is in the simple things.

A few months ago, I went to a Mimuna event on the last day of Passover, which included music and traditional Moroccan food, lots of sweets — honestly, not my favorite. In Israel, I didn’t usually participate in this event, but here — I couldn’t wait. Why? Because I longed for Israeli culture, for what I used to have there and don’t have here.

With each day, I understand the enormous price I am paying for being here. It’s an endless longing, unequaled by any other; not even the worst romantic breakup is as bad as missing Israel.

I miss getting up on Saturday mornings to the feel of a special and sacred day, an inexplicable peace. I miss going through the weekend newspapers, visiting my parents with the scent of jachnun (a traditional Yemeni food served in the mornings) filling the house; going to the beach and playing paddleball without getting strange looks; going to Jaffa’s Old City and eating genuine Abu Hassan hummus and knowing that if you stumble in the street, dozens of people will jump to your aid. The feeling of never being bored, that there’s a meaning to everything. When we’re good and when we’re bad — we’re together.

So, is it worth it? Living in the U.S. and living with this constant longing for Israel? 

Time will tell.


Elad Massuri is an Israeli-born journalist living and working in Los Angeles.

Why do Jews embrace shame?


Maybe by the time you read this, Israeli authorities will have identified a Jewish suspect in the horrible attack in Duma that left a Palestinian toddler dead and other family members severely injured.

But as of now, all we know is that after several days of investigation by the Israeli police and secret service, the only sign that the attacker is Jewish is the Hebrew graffiti at the crime scene. No suspects have been identified and no leads have been reported.

This hasn’t stopped the Jewish world from emoting in a loud and public display of shame and soul searching. The revulsion at the Duma attack, in fact, has been no less severe than the revulsion expressed a few days earlier when a religious Jew blatantly committed murder at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

In each case, our rush to shame was immediate. We expressed our shock and horror at the depravity shown by one of our own. This is the standard Jewish response. When a Jew kills, the first people who cry out are the Jews. It’s the eternal Jewish instinct — to look inward.

Where does this instinct come from? When did it start?

“It started at the very beginning with Adam and Eve,” my friend Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller said. “They felt shame at being naked and exposed, so when they heard the sound of God, they ran away and hid. When they learned that you can’t hide anything from God, especially not shame, that was the beginning of Jews embracing shame.”

The sober nature of shame is what creates a mindset for solutions. Don’t be fooled by the loudness and the hysterics coming out of Israel. Beneath all the public flogging and recriminations is a quiet engine of self-correction. It’s cumbersome, halting and flawed, but it’s there.

According to Rabbi Berel Wein of Jerusalem, shame is one of the three main character attributes that the Talmud ascribes to Jews. “As long as shame existed,” he writes on his blog, “the possibility for repentance and self-improvement also existed. Therefore the prophets of Israel exhorted the leaders and people to at least ‘be ashamed of your behavior, O House of Israel!’ Only when the sense of shame disappears does hope wane for a change for the better.”

Tova Hartman, a scholar from Jerusalem, goes even deeper. She sees emotions like shame and guilt as rooted in what she calls the “trauma of randomness.” It’s too painful, she said, “to imagine a world where everything is arbitrary, where good or bad things happen at random.”

So we must embrace a certain amount of guilt, of responsibility, to create a semblance of order. “If we can’t connect our actions to our circumstances,” she said, “we feel helpless.”

This instinct for taking responsibility transcends even the facts of history. The Romans may have destroyed the Second Temple, but the Jewish tradition places primary blame for that destruction on the “baseless hatred” among Jews. The Musaf prayer we’ve been reciting for the past 19 centuries during the festivals of Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot picks up on this theme of Jewish guilt with one fateful phrase: “Because of our sins, we were exiled.”

The very act of Jewish prayer is intertwined with self-correction. The root of the Hebrew word for prayer is judgment. “Our daily prayers are an act of self-evaluation,” Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation told me. “We humble ourselves before God so we can self-reflect and work on ourselves.”

Our tradition holds us responsible, even when we’re really not. In the biblical story of a corpse being discovered between two towns, the talmudic lesson is that we accept moral responsibility because we failed to accompany him out of town.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, the former chancellor of Yeshiva University, commented on this unusually high standard of responsibility:

“How wise were our Sages! With their insight into human nature, they realized that this man had not successfully resisted his attacker because he left that town demoralized. The elders of the town failed to walk that man out onto the highway, they failed to encourage him on his way, they failed to make him realize that his presence in their community was important to them, and that his leaving saddened them. They simply did not take any notice of him.”

If there’s one thing Jews have become good at, it’s taking notice of other Jews. Whether regarding high-profile disasters like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scam or more petty issues like an annoying neighbor, we notice. For all the evils of gossip, it does have the redeeming value of serving as a self-correcting mechanism. As professor Adrian Furnham writes in Psychology Today, gossip “sets the limits of the clan, culture and tribe.”

These limits are invariably related to shame. If a rabbi knows that he will drown in shame in front of his family and community if he’s caught in a flagrant ethical or criminal violation, does that not serve as an incentive to behave?

Because I come from the world of “Let’s not air our dirty laundry in public,” it’s sometimes painful for me to see stories of public Jews who mess up. But I’ve come to appreciate how shining a light on our warts and sinners is what helps us grow and improve, both individually and collectively.

I confess that it turns my stomach when I see our adversaries take this wrenching self-criticism and turn it against us, as when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would take Israel to the International Criminal Court because of the attack in Duma. What chutzpah! This is from the same man who names roads and stadiums after terrorists.

“Shame and guilt can be undervalued in our community,” Seidler-Feller said. “That may be the assimilationist impulse. But the positive dimension to shame is that it activates a search for repair.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes a distinction between shame and guilt, noting that guilt is the more productive emotion of the two. As I see it, they both play a role — Jewish shame has fueled the Jewish sense of guilt.

It’s true that self-flagellation can sometimes go too far, but then again, so can over-protectiveness. This is especially true in the case of Israel, when our community is often divided between those who brazenly criticize the Jewish state and those who instinctively defend it.

No Jew on the planet right now is defending Yishai Schlissel, the religious zealot who killed Shira Banki at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, bringing shame not only on himself, but on the very Torah he claims to defend.

The horrific nature of Schlissel’s act has unleashed the full force of collective Jewish emotion, as if that little seed of shame that was planted 5,775 years ago in the Garden of Eden has now come into full bloom.

The cliché is accurate: Jews feel responsible for one another. When a Jew goes horribly bad, we take it personally — all of us.

I confess that it turns my stomach when I see our adversaries take this wrenching self-criticism and turn it against us, as when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would take Israel to the International Criminal Court because of the attack in Duma. What chutzpah! This is from the same man who names roads and stadiums after terrorists.

I know, it’s tempting at this point to suggest that other religious groups ought to emulate the Jewish way. After all, can you imagine the power of a billion Muslims expressing collective shame each time a Muslim committed a violent act? 

The problem is that once we start flaunting shame, it loses its integrity. It’s like being arrogant about the fact that you’re not arrogant. 

The sober nature of shame is what creates a mindset for solutions. Don’t be fooled by the loudness and the hysterics coming out of Israel. Beneath all the public flogging and recriminations is a quiet engine of self-correction. It’s cumbersome, halting and flawed, but it’s there.

I have no doubt that after all the crying and yelling is over, Israeli society will come out ahead, bruised and humbled, but still resilient.

I also have no doubt that plenty of sober minds in Israel right now are working to prevent more shameful episodes of Jewish terror. And they’re not even waiting for the evidence to come in from Duma.

Palestinian baby burned to death, Israel searches for Jewish extremists


After a Palestinian baby was burned to death in a West Bank arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a manhunt to track down the perpetrators.

Netanyahu said in a statement that the arson Thursday night in the Palestinian West Bank village of Duma near Nablus was “a terrorist attack in every respect.” Ali Saad Dawabsha, 18 months old, was killed when flames engulfed one of two homes that the arsonists set ablaze.

His parents and 4-year-old brother were severely injured in the fire, which police suspect was started by Jewish extremists. The Hebrew words “Revenge” and “Long live the king messiah” were spray-painted on walls at the site of the attack, alongside a Star of David, according to Army Radio.

“I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act,” Netanyahu said.

Israel “takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are,” he said. “I have ordered the security forces to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice forthwith.”

Israel Defense Forces troops beefed up their presence in the West Bank in anticipation of disturbances.

B’Tselem, a human rights group, said the fatal attack came after a string of arson attacks in the West Bank and accused Israeli authorities of not doing enough to track down the perpetrators.

“Since August 2012, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank,” B’Tselem said. “Additionally, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi, severely burning the family on board. No one was charged in any of these cases.”

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli government’s support for settlements drove the attack, and urged the international community to respond. The killing will be among issues brought to the International Criminal Court against Israel, said spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

The arson in Duma follows a string of non-lethal attacks on Palestinians and other victims attributed to Jewish extremists. On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Jerusalem gay pride parade by an Orthodox Jew who was released from jail last month after having served his sentence for stabbing three people at the 2005 edition of the same event. One of the victims, a young woman, is in critical condition.

Itzik Shmuli, a relatively new but prominent lawmaker for the opposition Labor party, revealed in an interview for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that he was gay, explaining he “could no longer remain silent after the attack.”

Also on Thursday, Israeli prosecutors charged a third Jewish suspect in connection with an arson attack last month at the Church of Multiplication in the Galilee.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister and an opposition lawmaker for the secularist Yesh Atid party, called on Netanyahu to hold an emergency cabinet meeting to address these and other acts of violence.