What Is the New Colossus? Originally Published November 1-2, 2019.

Maybe to understand what the New Colossus is we should have an inkling what the old one was.  The Colossus of Rhodes (in Greek, ὁ Κολοσσὸς Ῥόδιος) is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  A statue of the Greek sun god Helios, it stood looking out to the harbor on the Read More…

Who Are the Mizrahi? Originally Published October 25-26, 2019.

Last week we mentioned the Mizrahi.  Then over the weekend I came upon a copy of a Young People’s Zionist League newsletter from 1919 which carried a story about the Mizrachi Organization.  I took it as a sign. Mizrahi Jews (מִזְרָחִים) (coined in the 1950s, from the term Edot Hammizrah, Communities of the East) derive Read More…

What Is a “Hakafah”? Originally Published October 18, 2019.

We are doing a lot of “hakafoting” recently, as I like to say!  Okay, I made up that verb by smashing the Hebrew into an English construct.  But it may yet catch on…. Hakafah (הקפה) (plural is הקפות) derives from the sense of “surrounding” or “encircling.”  In this case it means “to go around.”  (הקפה Read More…

Why Is It Called a “Fast” When It Goes By So Slowly? Originally Published October 11-12, 2019.

As fasting is so recently on our minds, when we received this question our inquiring mind wanted to know. The word “fast” is interesting.  It can also mean moving quickly or even not moving at all (fixed in place)! Incidentally, when a word has two diametrically opposed meanings, the two word/meanings are called “auto-antonyms”  or Read More…

Why Do People Wear White on Yom Kippur? Originally Published on October 4-5, 2019.

The trend of wearing white on Yom Kippur, at least a bit of white, has been spreading in recent years.  Back in the days of the Temple, the High Priest dressed in white linen on Yom Kippur. In some congregations, a white kittel is worn by congregants.  Some say only married men should wear a Read More…

What Is the Yom Kippur Martyrology? Originally Published September 27-28, 2019

A “martyrology” is a listing and/or history of martyrs of a particular group.  Catholics have the Roman Martyrology, for instance, and local ones such as Martyrologium Hieronymianum.  On Yom Kippur we have Eleh Ezkereh, “These We Remember,” which is often referred to as the Yom Kippur Martyrology.  This is the passage we read on Yom Read More…

Did Your Berit Milah Fall in the Middle of a Paragraph? Originally Published September 20-21, 2019.

Our praying spaces were graced this past Monday by the berit milah ceremony of the son of Carolyn Slayton & Seth Glick, a wonderful, happy occasion. (Mazal tov to the family!) The ceremony took place in the late afternoon, and it was beautiful.  Turns out that most ritual circumcisions are planned for the morning simply Read More…

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…