What Did Ray Frank Do on September 14, 1890?

Journalist Ray Frank, on September 14, 1890, became the first Jewish woman formally to preach from a pulpit in the U.S. In the mid-1800s, Rebecca Gratz (whom we have mentioned here before) was instrumental in creating a new identity for Jewish women in the public sphere.  Then along came Ray Frank to boost women’s profile Read More…

What Do You Mean Bentshing Is from the Latin? Originally Published September 6-7, 2019.

In Latin class, Publius, Fabius, and Octavia did a lot of Latin verbs – they ate, they read, they travelled, they gave.  And the verb was always at the end of the sentence, so we were always on tenterhooks for what one was doing with or to the road, the chariot, the plate, the hat, Read More…

What Is Negel Vasser? Originally Published August 30-31, 2019.

Similar to the Hebrew netilat yadayim, negel vasser is a Yiddish term referring to ritual hand washing.  Literally “nail water,” negel vasser is a term most often referring to the washing one does upon waking up in the morning, presumably to wash away the impurities which may have attached themselves over night. Hand washing is Read More…

What Does “Archisynagogos” Mean? Originally Published August 23-24, 2019.

Some readers might have caught this word back on February 1, 2019, when it appeared in this column in its Latin form.  Back in the day, the far-back day in the first century of the Common Era, the person in charge of the synagogue, known in Hebrew as the rosh hakeneset – ראש הכנסת, was Read More…

What Is the Night of the Murdered Soviet Jewish Poets? Originally Published August 16-17, 2019.

Last Monday, August 12th, was the anniversary of the murder in 1952 of imprisoned Jewish poets.  They had been kept for two months for regular beatings and an intensive trial in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.  It was only during the Save Soviet Jewry movement that information began to appear.  The New York Times in Read More…

What Is Shabbat Hazon? Originally Published August 9-10, 2019.

You will hear the word “hazon” at the very beginning of this Shabbat’s haftarah.  Sometimes referred to as the Sabbath of Vision, the word “hazon” means “the prophesying,” referring to the foretellings of Isaiah son of Amoz, and it follows the line of the haftarot for these weeks – the people have not paid attention, Read More…

Who Was Raoul Wallenberg? Originally Published August 2-3, 2019.

Sunday, August 4th, is Raoul Wallenberg Day.  Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat.  Born on August 4, 1912, in Lidingö, Sweden, we remember and honor him for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary toward the end of World War II. Raoul Wallenberg was the grandson of Gustav Wallenberg Read More…

Who Makes the Hebrew Calendar, Then? Originally Published July 26-27, 2019.

Last week we talked a bit about the rules that govern the creation of the Hebrew calendar, and someone asked who makes the calendar.  The answer is “We do!” As we mentioned, there are rules that were already being followed and were codified in the sixteenth century in the Shulhan Arukh (Orakh Ḥayyim 428), including Read More…

Why Are The Israelis Reading a Different Parashah This Week? Originally Published July 19-20, 2019.

This week we are reading Parashat Balak, but our friends and relatives in Israel are reading Pineḥas.  What gives? Well!  It was very sharp of you to catch that difference!  It has to do with the celebrations of the various festivals.  When a festival falls on Shabbat, we read the Torah portion associated with that Read More…

Who Is Rob Menes? And Why Are We Saying Goodbye? Originally Published July 12-13, 2019.

Rob Menes, a man of many titles, began as the Executive Director of Congregation Beth Shalom on the same day Rabbi Seth Adelson began here.  Both are also hazzanim (they knew each other in cantorial school), both are also engineers, and both graduated from Cornell.  As Rob heads back to Vancouver after four years at Beth Shalom, Read More…