Here you will find questions that the Rabbi's Assistant asks to help gain a better understanding of Jewish life and culture.

I've Always Wondered
What Should We Know About Samuel David Luzzatto? Originally Published August 20-21, 2021

Last week we discussed a prominent Jewish family in Belfast (Sir Otto Jaffé).  This week we travel to Trieste, which is currently in Italy, to meet Samuel David Luzzatto, born on August 22, 1800 (Rosh Hodesh Elul, 5560). His dad Hezekiah descended from a long line of scholars.  Young Samuel wrote his first poem in […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Should We Know About Sir Otto Moses Jaffé? Originally Published August 13-14, 2021.

Born on August 13, 1846, Sir Otto Moses Jaffé was born in Germany and would go on to be elected Lord Mayor of Belfast twice (the only Jewish Lord Mayor Belfast has had), and to do so much more.  Otto was one of nine children and the fourth son born to Daniel Joseph and Frederiké […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was William Howard Schuman, born August 4, 1910? Originally Published July 30-31, 2021.

Not to be confused with Robert Schumann, who was a German composer born in 1810, William Schuman was a Jewish American composer, born in 1910 and raised in New York City, son of Rachel and Samuel, who named him after President Taft.  The trajectory of his life didn’t seem to lead toward music, until it […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is Tu BeAv? Originally Published July 23-24, 2021.

There is love in Av!  Tu BeAv falls on the 15th of Av (in fact, that is what the name means).  More than one source notes that many holidays fall on the 15th of a month - during the full moon:  Passover, Sukkot, Tu Bishvat. During the days of the Second Temple, Tu BeAv was […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Negative History Reportedly Occurred on Tish’ah BeAv? Originally Published July 16-17, 2021.

We are asked what negative historical events took place (reportedly) on Tish’ah BeAv.  We learn that both the First Temple (Solomon’s Temple - obviously it was not known then as the “First” Temple) and the Second Temple were destroyed on Tish’ah BeAv, by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and by the Romans in 70 CE, […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is the Origin of the Word “Pushke”? Originally Published July 9-10, 2021.

The word pushke is Yiddish, פּושקע, and of course there is controversy about its origin. The Polish word for “tin can” is puszka.  And a Slavic word for “box” is similar. However, the Aramaic word pushka, spelled either פושקא or פושכא, means “palm” or “handsbreadth.”  How does one seek alms?  With an outstretched palm.  And […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Famous Persons Were Born on July 4th? Originally Published July 2-3, 2021.

As long as we are celebrating Independence Day, we might as well also remember a couple of the brilliant individuals who were born on July 4th. Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born on July 4, 1883, in San Francisco.  Rube would become a cartoonist, sculptor, inventor, author, and engineer.  The son of Hannah (Cohn) and […]

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I've Always Wondered
What’s Up with Replacing Haftarot and Not Replacing Haftarot? Originally Published June 25-26, 2021.

This coming week we begin the three-week countdown to Tish’ah BeAv, commemorating the three weeks between when the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem on 17 Tammuz in the year 70 CE (which we believe was the year 3830) and Tish’ah BeAv (the 9th of Av that same year) when they destroyed the Second […]

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I've Always Wondered
What Is a “Casar Torah” Purportedly on Our Façade? Originally Published on June 18-19, 2021.

A while back a congregant who is a member of the Casar family dropped us a note asking about Beth Shalom architect Alexander Sharove’s description of the façade of the building, published in The Jewish Criterion on July 24, 1931.  The architect said this about the design: The exterior is constructed of two-toned, cream colored […]

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I've Always Wondered
Who Was Meyer Myron Katz, Whose Birthday Is June 15th? Originally Published June 11-12, 2021.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 15, 1909, to Menachem and Johanna Katz, Meyer Myron “Mickey” Katz would go on to become a popular musician / comedian.  He heard a clarinet soloist, and wanted to learn.  The sympathetic school bandmaster found him a clarinet dating from the Spanish American War and, working for his uncle […]

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