I've Always Wondered
What Jewish Person in the Labor Movement was Born this Week? Originally Published January 21-22, 2022.New!!

Born on January 27, 1850, in London, Samuel Gompers would go on to become a primary force behind the American labor movement.  The oldest of five boys, Samuel left school at age 10 to apprentice as a shoemaker.  Soon he joined his father making cigars.  In 1863, the family moved to the Lower East Side […]

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I've Always Wondered
Must One Be a Rabbi to Become a Sofer? Originally Published January 14-15, 2022.

One need not be an ordained rabbi to serve as a sofer, but one must nevertheless absorb and deploy a great deal of knowledge and skill.  A sofer (סופר) is a scribe (the female sofer is a soferet) who transcribes onto parchment the words of sifrei Torah and tefillin and mezuzot.  The acronym formed by […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is the Origin of the Name “Katz”? Originally Published December 23-25, 2021.

Katz or Catz is from an abbreviation for Kohen tzedek (כהן צדק), or “priest of righteousness.”  The acronym of those two words - כʺצ - spells “Katz.”  (Remember that the gershayim ʺ indicate an abbreviation - see https://bethshalompgh.org/what-are-those-thingy-dos-in-that-abbreviation-originally-published-march-6-7-2020/ for a reminder.)  And that is nearly always the derivation of the name among Jews of Ashkenazi […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was the “Father of Israeli Art”? Originally Published December 17-18, 2021.

Born on December 23, 1866, in Lithuania, Boris Schatz came to be known as the “father of Israeli art.”  His family sent him to Vilna to study in a yeshivah, but young Boris dreamed of being an artist, and began creating.  He moved to Warsaw to pursue an art career, creating his first sculpture, “Hendel,” […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Were the Hasmoneans? Originally Published December 10-11, 2021.

Some refer only to the Hasmonean Dynasty, but others recall the Hasmoneans as a populist movement over a broader period of time.  Either way, they were Jews who were more or less against Greece and in favor of Persia, and would be conquered by Rome.  The Hasmoneans in their Dynasty ruled Judea and the regions […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Famous Jewish Person Was Born on December 6, 1896? Originally Published December 3-4, 2021.

Ira Gershwin was born in New York on December 6, 1896, to Rose & Morris Gershwin (previously Gershowitz, of St. Petersburg, Russia).  On September 26, 1898, his brother George and future songwriting partner would be born.  They would collaborate until George’s death in 1937. Ira was a book-reading young man, and was involved with school […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is Pirkei Avot? Originally Published November 24, 2021.

Pirkei Avot (פרקי אבות) is translated as Ethics of the Fathers, though technically it means “chapters of the fathers” (or “of the ancestors,” since Hebrew uses the masculine for the plural - though they were all as it happens men).  (The word generally used for “ethics” is mussar, which was also used to name a […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is My Hebrew Name? What Is Yours? Published November 19-20, 2021.

(Reprised from August 10, 2018) A Hebrew name is chosen, generally by parents, as are other names.  A convert to Judaism chooses a Hebrew name, too. Jews have a tradition of naming after someone special who has gone before, as a way of perpetuating that person’s “good name.”  Ashkenazi Jews generally do not name after […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Famous Jewish Inventor Was Born on November 9th? Originally Published November 5-6, 2021.

The famous Jewish inventor we are discussing today was Hedy Lamarr.  Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914, in Vienna, to Gertrud “Trude” Kiesler (a pianist of Hungarian descent) and Emil Kiesler (a bank director of Galician descent), Hedwig was raised as a Christian after her mother converted.  Notwithstanding conversion, Hedy would help her […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is Going on Down the Ohio River in Cincinnati? Originally Published October 29-30, 2021.

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