Text Context

Lighten Up

Leavening, the (really) old-fashioned way.

04/03/2009
One day, millennia ago, next to a fire or hearth, someone found that their flatbread dough — a dough made daily, eaten at every meal — had gone bad. Dough that should have been firm was misshapen. It was puffy and elastic. It would have smelled of something unfamiliar, and, to an inexperienced nose, probably unpleasant. Most likely, they tossed it to the birds or dogs, and started anew. But this “off” dough, had it been baked, would have been one of the first leavened breads.

The Law Won

Hope that love could bend the rules of kosher observance only went so far.

04/03/2009
Aaron and I lingered at the buffet table, enormous bowls of pasta salad and vegetables spread out in front of us. Our minyan was celebrating the purchase of a pre-World War II Torah that had been recently rescued from its hiding spot in the basement of an old synagogue in Romania. “It’s funny, that guy over there just asked if we were dating,” I mentioned, as I reached for some tortellini with pesto. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question. Earlier this week, someone asked me the same thing.”

One God, Many Tongues

The multilingual author believes that Jewish languages help to express Jewishness, and that knowing other languages is essential to understanding the world

05/01/2009
Last month, while in the Brussels airport on my way back from Israel, I found myself behind an elderly bearded Jew. While waiting for our flights, we began chatting and I asked him — in Yiddish — if he spoke Yiddish.

Burying My Mother Tongue

Studying Aramaic often feels like saying Kaddish — which, fittingly, is written in that language. Yet interest remains strong in this dying, yet holy, language.

05/01/2009
Aramaic is my first language. I don’t get to speak it much with fellow native speakers in Los Angeles, where I live now. The number of Jewish Aramaic speakers has dwindled so much that we now quixotically call ourselves “The Worldwide Federation of Aramaic Speakers.” The group would fit in a small room.

Chaos Theory

Giving lessons in Hebrew nuance to a bunch of suits from Hollywood.

05/01/2009
Staff Write
Some time ago, I was invited to a dinner attended by a delegation of film people from Los Angeles. During the meal, one successful documentary director asked me a question: Could I think of any Hebrew words that have no equivalents in English? An excellent question, and even though I was sure there were many such words, the only two I could think of actually do have English equivalents, except that in Hebrew — or maybe it would be more accurate to say “in Israeli” — they carry completely different values. The first is balagan, which came into Hebrew from Yiddish.

Journal Watch

05/01/2009
What’s the Jewish language? Or, more to the point in 2009/5769, what is not? Seventy years ago, Yiddish was the lingua franca of the Jewish people. Today it is not Hebrew, it is not Yiddish, it is not Ladino, it is not Russian (a small flowering of Russian literature in Israel notwithstanding) — it is English.

Ghosts And Giants

Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim is haunted by Christian millenarians, North African immigrants, British polo players – even the grand mufti. Today, you’re more likely to find a yeshiva boy or yuppie

03/06/2009
Among visitors from the Old Country, Emek Refaim in the German Colony is the second-best known street in Jerusalem after Ben-Yehuda. The latter, where you buy mezuzahs and gorge on falafel, is named for a fabled fanatic who helped revive the Hebrew language. Emek Refaim, a three-minute walk from my house, goes back to the Hebrew Bible, and means either “Valley of the Giants” or “Valley of the Ghosts.”  According to the First Book of Chronicles, David fought the Philistines here. I count them, too, as neighbors.

Ghosts And Giants

Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim is haunted by Christian millenarians, North African immigrants, British polo players – even the grand mufti. Today, you’re more likely to find a yeshiva boy or yuppie

03/06/2009
Among visitors from the Old Country, Emek Refaim in the German Colony is the second-best known street in Jerusalem after Ben-Yehuda. The latter, where you buy mezuzahs and gorge on falafel, is named for a fabled fanatic who helped revive the Hebrew language. Emek Refaim, a three-minute walk from my house, goes back to the Hebrew Bible, and means either “Valley of the Giants” or “Valley of the Ghosts.”  According to the First Book of Chronicles, David fought the Philistines here. I count them, too, as neighbors.

Where Aleppo Feels Closer Than Manhattan

Brooklyn’s Syrian-Egyptian Jewish community has prospered even as it has retained its Old World traditions and tight-knit feel.

03/06/2009
I was only 16 when I left my community of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, convinced I was on an upward trajectory. I was, after all, trading the prospect of Brooklyn College for Vassar, abandoning the staid, simple streets of Bensonhurst for the lush opulence of the quad in Poughkeepsie and later Manhattan, leaving behind the little shul where I sat with my mom in the obligatory women’s section for the vast progressive egalitarian temples that were sprouting everywhere in America.

The Question Of Community

While Zionists see a state as the answer, American Jews have proven adept at creating their own communities, relatively free from anti-Semitism.

03/06/2009
What, indeed, is “community”? Are we bound together by common purposes and goals? (This approach is beloved by the community organizers.) Or is there something deeper, more intimate, in the idea of community, something that reaches down to family? In this construct, the community provides the individual much of what the family provides; it’s the idea of kinship.
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