Friday, July 31, 2009


FIRST: This is not "just another" Holocaust film. National Geographic's "Hitler's Hidden Holocaust" actually does reveal untouched secrets of the mass murder of millions of Jews—specifically crimes in the killing fields of eastern Europe.
This is an appropriate time for such a reflection. Wednesday evening, Tisha B'Av (known as "the saddest day in the Jewish calendar") begins. You can read about it briefly in Stephanie Fenton's Seasons column this week. And, you can read a more in-depth look at Tisha B'Av written for us by Jewish novelist Charles S. Weinblatt.
The National Geographic special does not conflict with the actual observance of Tisha B'Av—nor does it conflict with the sabbath this weekend. The film debuts on the evening of Sunday, August 2. Here is National Geographic's home page, presenting more background on "Hitler's Hidden Holocaust."

Babi Yar memorial But, why should we sit through another Holocaust film?
And, how could anything remain a "secret" about this era after more than 60 years? The answer is that serious research into many of these "killing fields" of eastern Europe was almost impossible until recent years. These lands—including regions of the Ukraine, for example—were under the control of Soviets for half a century. The Soviet government always downplayed the unique anti-Jewish nature of the Holocaust in favor of a Soviet version of the story in which the German Fascist threat was more generally directed eastward in Europe. Of course, the Soviets themselves had a long and tragic history of anti-Semitism.
Now that the old Soviet system has fallen, research is unfolding in these regions where Nazi forces murdered 1.5 million Jews—both before the rise of the larger death-camp system and after the camps were in full swing. There's a great urgency to this work because survivors of the late 1930s and early 1940s are dying.
The new film begins with an overview of these actions by firing squads led by the SS and often local police and auxiliary militia in these eastern regions. Experts examine one German film clip, clearly pointing out each group of executioners—as well as big crowds of onlookers.
Most of us who know something about the Holocaust are aware of this record. The film takes us especially to Babi Yar, the infamous "Grandmother's Ravine," where 33,771 men, women and children were killed. As a journalist, I can remember the stunning impact of D.M. Thomas' 1981 novel, "The White Hotel," which took readers through an account of Babi Yar as one of the central horrors of the 20th Century. (Wikipedia also has a helpful overview of the Babi Yar crimes. The memorial shown in the photo at right honors the fallen at Babi Yar.)

2 soldiers sort through clothing after Babi Yar The infamous 1941 photograph (at the top of our story today—and again at left here) is one of many shown in the documentary. It was snapped as a souvenir by a German photographer, a "propaganda commando" on the Eastern Front. It's hard to discern what's happening in the photo—but it shows a vast field covered in heaps of the clothing left behind by the thousands who were forced to disrobe and then were shot in the ravine. If you look closely, you can make out two Germans picking through the piles of clothes.
2 soldiers after Babi Yar From Babi Yar, the National Geographic film shifts to explain that countless other sites of mass murder are left undiscovered and unmarked across the countries of the former Soviet Union. We meet Father Patrick Desbois, a highly respected Catholic priest who has worked since 2004 on a project to find and interview surviving witnesses in the region. So far, he tells us, he has interviewed more than 800 witnesses.
One historian encouraging this priest's work explains that many of the witnesses are dying of old age. "It's one minute to midnight ... if we hope to identify these killing fields" before all knowledge vanishes, the historian says.
The purpose here is not merely to establish a historical record. The research here is important because these were cases of neighbors suddenly rising up and joining the Germans in killing their own neighbors.
Dr. David G. Marwell director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, explains, "They were not witnessing anonymous people being shot. They were witnessing their neighbors, their teachers, pharmacists, physicians—people with whom they had grown up—people they looked up to before this began. This is incredibly unsettling."
In one Nazi film from 1941, children are shown in the crowd of onlookers—brought by their parents to witness the event. There is even an air of boredom as hours of this deadly process roll along. We see a German officer casually stop to light a cigarette—looking weary from the hard work of mass murder. Someone brings a pet dog to romp through the fields in this unexpected day in the open air.
The acceptance of violence was so commonplace that Father Desbois recalls interviewing an old woman who was a little girl when the killers came to her town. A mass grave of 1,000 people was right outside her bedroom window. That memory would haunt her for the rest of her life—and, according to Desbois, she was the sole surviving witness in her town who knew that the beautiful meadow near her home actually was the site of mass murder. (Researchers confirm these sites with methods including metal detectors to find the spent German shells.)
This is the point in the film where it becomes clear why this is not "just another" Holocaust movie. This film is seeking to ask the question: How can ordinary neighbors transform themselves into willing participants and witnesses to horrific violence? This, of course, is the question the world faces now in many areas where terrorist violence explosively arises.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a scholar at American Jewish University, says, "It's hard to look at these things. And that's why we must look at these things." We must continue to ask how such violence can arise among otherwise normal neighbors. "If we ever feel comfortable or easy, then something deep within our moral humanity has been shattered and lost."
We are not only remembering, this film tells us. We also are beginning to ask some of the most important questions raised by the Holocaust.

Stone Vessel with 'Priestly Inscription' Uncovered In Jerusalem

by Hana Levi Julian and Gil Ronen A rare 2,000-year-old ritual vessel made of limestone and inscribed with 10 lines of text has been discovered in an excavation near the Zion Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an unprecedented find, according to Dr. Shimon Gibson, the archaeologist who heads the University of North Carolina team conducting the dig.

Inscription found on Mt. Zion. Israel news photo: UNC

"Such stone vessels were used in connection with maintaining ritual purity related to Temple worship, and they are found in abundance in areas where the priests lived," Gibson reported. "We have found a dozen or more on our site over the past three years. However, to have ten lines of text is unprecedented. One normally might find a single name inscribed, or a line or two, but this is the first text of this length ever found on such a vessel," he said.

Although the letters are clearly visible it will take some time before their meaning can be discerned due to the style of the writing. Gibson estimated in his preliminary report that it could take up to six months to translate the inscription. "It is written in a very informal cursive hand and is quite difficult to read," he explained.

Initially, Gibson thought the inscription was written solely in Aramaic. However, a group of experts consulting on the matter was not convinced; they say there is a possibility that the text contains the sacred name of G-d and is deliberately cryptic.

Ancient mikveh. Israel news photo: UNC

"Stephen Pfann, of the University of the Holy Land, is leaving open the possibility that it is Hebrew. He has also suggested that the text might have had meaning within a closed circle of priests, similar to texts at Qumran," said Dr. James D. Tabor, co-director of the dig.

The excavations, which lasted several months, were carried out under the auspices of the Jerusalem branch of the Nature and Parks Authority.

At least 30 people per week "sacrificed their own money, time, and hard labor to advance this important effort," according to Gibson, who said the results "have been simply astounding, the finds quite spectacular, and the whole area has been transformed."

He added that the excavation site was in ancient times "precisely at the center of Herodian/2nd Temple Jerusalem...we have extraordinarily well preserved ruins from the 2nd Temple period, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE."

It is that terrible holocaust that is commemorated, as well as the destruction of the First Temple, on the Fast of Tisha B'Av.

Room with two ovens. Israel news photo: UNC

Excavations began on June 14, in the same site where previous archaeologists had probed the earth searching for clues to Israel's history in the 1970s.

This time around, structures from the First and Second Temple periods were discovered, including a mikvah (ritual pool) left almost completely intact, a vault, and a room with two ovens. Buildings from the Byzantine and early Islamic periods were also uncovered, as well multiple coins, intact lamps, ceramic and glass vessels, bits of jewelry and similar items.

Tekhelet snails found?
Also uncovered were at least half a dozen Murex snail shells with holes drilled through them. "Prior to our excavation one or two such shells had been found in all of Jerusalem," Gibson said. "That so many would be found at our site further supports our supposition that we are in a priestly residential area."

Murex snail. Israel news photo: UNC

Murex snails were cultivated in ancient times at sites along the Mediterranean Sea, and a royal blue dye was extracted from them. "According to some experts this blue color was used for the priestly garments, as well as the tzitzit or threaded tassels worn by all pious Jews of the period," he explained in his report, referring to the Biblical tekhelet -- the thread of blue that G-d commanded male Jews to include in the ritual fringes on the corners of their garments.

"Speak to the Children of Israel and bid them that they make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue (tekhelet). And it shall be for you as a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them..." (Numbers 15:38-15:39)

Such fringes are worn by observant Jews to this day, although in most of them, the thread of blue is no longer included, since the precise technology for making the dye has been lost. However, in recent times rabbis have overseen a modern recreation of the tekhelet technique and some Jews have begun using tekhelet in their fringes again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why the Arabs fled from Israel in 1948

Keep in mind as you read this that Mahmood Abbas "other" name was Abu Mazen, the mastermind of the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in the 1970s. A leopard never changes his spots.

3. Sarah Honig. Another Tack: Self-exiled by guilt
July 17, 2009

Those little neglected news stories that rarely make front-page headlines and never receive airtime are often the most telling of all. It's through them that deliberately suppressed fundamental truths occasionally surface. It's there that big lies are sometimes, albeit inadvertently, exposed.

Scant attention was paid last week to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's revelations on Al-Palestinia TV. Abbas talked about his youth in Safed, from whence he routinely claims his family was forcibly driven out by Israeli troops in 1948. Abbas revels in his supposed refugee status. It's his stock-in-trade on the Arab scene and the international arena. The pitiable pose of an aggrieved victim confers ostensible moral authority upon his cause.

This pose, moreover, becomes a basic Arab tenet - the crucial claim for justifying terror against Israel and for refusing to relinquish the so-called "right of return" by refugees to what are described as homes robbed from them by violent interloping Jewish conquistadores. Biased world opinion willingly and gladly falls for the Palestinian freedom-fighter fable.

Fatah's cofounder reminisced at length about his Safed origins and haphazardly let the truth slip out.

"Until the nakba" (calamity in Arabic - the loaded synonym for Israeli independence), he recounted, his family "was well-off in Safed." When Abbas was 13, "we left on foot at night to the Jordan River... Eventually we settled in Damascus... My father had money, and he spent his money methodically. After a year, when the money ran out, we began to work.

"People were motivated to run away... They feared retribution from Zionist terrorist organizations - particularly from the Safed ones. Those of us from Safed especially feared that the Jews harbored old desires to avenge what happened during the 1929 uprising. This was in the memory of our families and parents... They realized the balance of forces was shifting and therefore the whole town was abandoned on the basis of this rationale - saving our lives and our belongings."

SO HERE it is from the mouth of the PA's head honcho himself. He and no other verifies that nobody expelled Safed's Arabs. Their exile was voluntary, propelled by their extreme consciousness of guilt and expectation that Jews would be ruled by the same blood-feud conventions that prevail in Arab culture. Unrealistically they anticipated that Jews would do to them precisely what the Arabs had done to Safed's Jews. If that was their premise, they indeed had cause to panic.

The "uprising" Abbas alluded to was one among the serial pogroms instigated by infamous Jerusalem mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who's still revered throughout the Arab world. He was a Berlin-resident avid Nazi collaborator during World War II and a wanted war criminal postwar.

In August 1929 Husseini rallied Arabs to slaughter Jews on trumped-up allegations of Jewish takeover attempts at the Temple Mount. Sixty-seven members of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron were hideously hacked to death. That was the most notorious massacre, but others were perpetrated throughout the country. In the equally ancient Jewish community of Safed, 21 were butchered no less gruesomely (a cat was stuffed into one old woman's disemboweled abdomen). A child and young woman, due to be married the next day, were cold-bloodedly shot dead by Arab constables whom British mandatory officers assigned to watch over the majority of Safed's Jews who sought safety in the police courtyard.

The British proposed that all Safed Jews be evacuated "for their own safety," as was the case in Hebron. The offer was vehemently refused. Thereafter, principally during the 1936-39 mufti-led rampages, the Hagana and Safed's own IZL cells protected the town's 2,000 Jews.

Nevertheless, on the ill-fated evening of August 13, 1936 Arab marauders managed to infiltrate and invade the modest Unger home in the old Jewish Quarter, just as the family ate supper. They murdered the father, Alter, a 36-year-old Torah scribe, his daughters Yaffa and Hava (nine and seven respectively) and the six-year-old son, Avraham.

SUCH WAS the uprising for which Abbas's kinfolk assumed they deserved just reckoning. Ironically, Jews were alarmed by the Arab exodus, figuring it presaged a formidable onslaught by invading Arab armies (which indeed came). In many areas (Haifa, for instance) Jews begged and pleaded with local Arabs to stay. But Arabs in Safed and elsewhere - heeding their leaders' exhortations to pull out and hounded by fears arising from their own vengeful traditions (but not Jewish ones) - did what was prudent in light of their surmise that Jews would behave according to Arab codes.

On the eve of the April 16, 1948 British withdrawal from Safed, the mandatory authorities turned over the town's police facilities and Mount Canaan's military fort to the Arabs. They offered to escort all Jews out of town "for their own safety." As in 1929, the Jews refused unequivocally, though memories of the horrific carnage should have inspired more dread among them than among the fleeing Abasses.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Israeli soldiers

Herodium: Judean Palace where Herod Lived and Died

Herodium: Judean Palace where Herod Lived and Died
Tammuz 26, 5769, 18 July 09 09:08
by Shalom Pollack

Herodium from the top
Israel ( The location of Herod’s tomb remained a mystery until an innovative archaeologist set his sites on an overlooked side of the Judean fortress palace of Herodium. After a 35 year search, Professor Ehud Netzer felt he was able to announce to the world that he finally found what he was looking for – the royal tomb of King Herod the Great (73 BCE – 4 CE). The tyrannical leader who murdered Jewish sages and even his own family members was secretly referred by them as Herod the Wicked.

Prof. Netzer spent over three decades excavating the areas at the base of the partially manmade volcano-like mountain, located nine miles south of Jerusalem in the Judean Desert. There he unearthed magnificent swimming pools, bath houses, palaces, and parade grounds - but no tomb.

Although that area was extensively excavated and revealed very impressive remains, he didn’t find the tomb on top of the fortress palace. Nor did archeologists locate any tomb on the bottom of the mountain. But Josephus Flavius, the prominent historian of Herod, clearly states that he was buried in Herodium. He simply didn’t bother to say where.

The location of Herod’s tomb remained a mystery until Prof. Netzer came aboard. Against all odds, Prof. Netzer remained determined to unravel the mystery. Where else was there left to look? He did not suspect that Josephus was having a laugh with archaeologists of the future so he did not give up on Herodium. Out of desperation, Prof. Netzer began excavating the most unlikely spots – the hidden sides of the mountain, and found Herod’s tomb.

He discovered monumental marble casks, similar to those set in an ornate mausoleum that belonged to Queen Helena (from what is south Russia today) who converted to Judaism in the time of the Maccabees and moved to Jerusalem, where she is buried. Her ornate royal tomb was discovered about a century ago in Jerusalem.

The similarity in architectural motifs helped convince Professor Netzer that he had finally discovered Herod's tomb. In addition to the main reddish marble tomb, he found two smaller white marble sarcophagi which probably belong to family members. Nearby, an entire miniature Roman theater was also unearthed. The theater contains a raised private viewing porch decorated in multi colored frescoes of the finest art. All of these artifacts were cut into the side of the mountain!

Apparently at one point Herod ordered covering up all the magnificent designs with dirt to recreate the perfect volcano form. Did we mention that he was mad?

Herodium is similar to another even more famous structure designed by Herod, Masada along the Dead Sea. Both were built on isolated flat mountains and converted into very powerful fortresses, which were at the same time opulent palaces. Both symbolized Herod's reputation as the greatest builder of the ancient world. The Talmud states, “If you have not seen the Temple that Herod built, you have not seen the most beautiful structure in the world.”

Both wonders were eventually used by Jewish rebels against Rome, in the Great Rebellion which ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, and sixty years later by the followers of Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiva. The synagogues and ritual baths built by the temporary but desperate and determined Jewish occupants attest to the very different agendas of Herod and of these practicing Jews.

Unlike Masada, on Herodium there was no dramatic last stand – just careful preparations for one. When visiting Herodium one can see and feel the stage being set for the battle which apparently never did take place. Professor Yigal Yadin discovered in Judean desert caves during the 1960s letters sent to the Jewish fighters on Herodium by their commander, Simon Bar Cochba. The letter ordered that the fighters be supplied with lulavim and etrogim (palm branches and citrons) for the holiday of Sukkot (Booths). Now that’s a Jewish army! Imagine standing in the synagogue where these men prayed!

Amongst the very impressive phenomenon on Herodium is the vast water system that Herod carved into the belly of the mountain to supply Herod with a constant water supply in the arid desert. He built an aqueduct to bring water to the desert fortress located ten miles away.

Herod was indeed known as the greatest of builders and knew how to live a life of luxury and to be buried in an unmatched way - but he had a difficult personality.. In fact the Roman Emperor said it was safer to be his pig than his friend. Indeed he did kill many of his children, his brother,close friends, and drove one of his wives to suicide. But he didn’t neglect building great edifices named in honor of some of his victims.

He was not accepted by the rabbis as an authentic Jew because his father, Antipater the Edomite, converted under the duress of the Maccabbean king Yochanan Horkonos. Rome appointed both Herod and his father as rulers of Judea.

The Talmud states that when Herod became king, he was very unhappy with what he felt were peculiar Jewish laws that did not recognize kings as gods and that a Jewish king had limited powers granted in the Torah.

Herod summoned the rabbis to him to confirm whether they were teaching the masses that he didn’t have absolute authority. After receiving confirmation, Herod ordered all the rabbis killed. He decided to leave one Sage alive, Rabba Bar Buta, and “merely” blinded him.

The Talmud relates that the paranoid king later approached the blind rabbi to learn if there were plans to topple the king. At first he did not reveal who he was. But when the rabbi convinced him that he was not a potential rebel leader and simply accepted the fate as it is, Herod revealed himself and begged the rabbi to tell him how he might repent for being so rash.
The blind rabbi told him, “You have put out the lights of the world by murdering the rabbis. Try to rekindle the lights by tending to the Temple.”

Herod subsequently embarked upon building the Temple, the greatest construction in the ancient world. Jerusalem’s Western Wall is a tiny bit of only the outer support walls of that wonder.

However, Herod didn’t change his ways. Herod was on his death bed in his winter palace in Jericho, deteriorating from a social disease . Although he knew that he was hated for his tyranny, Herod nonetheless made his wish on his deathbed: “Gather all the rabbis to the adjacent room. Announce that when I die, the rabbis will also be killed. Thus, the day that I die will not be a happy one. In fact, all will pray for my health” This last order was not executed, but such was the man’s evil intentions to the very end.

Herod was a very evil king but the greatest of builders . Herodiom will no doubt be one of the top tourist destinations in the coming years. A new road recently opened from Jerusalem cuts down traveltime to less than twenty-five minutes. With the completed excavations of the tomb and theater areas, along with its swimming pools, palaces and largest bathhouse yet found in the country, Herodium is a “must see.” The breathtaking view from the top of the surrounding Judean desert enhances one’s recalling of the dramatic spirit of the Jewish rebels that hovers in every part of the mountain.

Shalom Pollack is a veteran Israel tour guide. He guides and plans tours for families and groups. He also writes and lectures on Israel and will be on a lecture tour in the US between October and November. Pollack recently produced a DVD, "Israel - Ancient Roots, Modern Miracle." Clips can be seen on his website,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Learn Hebrew!

Learn Hebrew - Animals

Learn Hebrew with Pictures and Audio - In the Kitchen

Learn Hebrew with Pictures and Audio - Clothing and Accessories

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Little Caesar

True Story

Pierre didn't know where it came from, he only knew that it came and it
helped in oh-so-many ways. The money always arrived with a small short note
that simply said, "Keep up the great cause, we will prevail," and was simply
signed, "Manny."

Pierre didn't know who Manny was - nobody did! Not then anyway, we do now.
But this was during World War II when the Black Horror was sweeping Europe .
That's what Manny called it, The Black Horror, & of course he was referring
to the Nazi plague that was taking over most of the continent. Pierre was a
leader of the French Resistance, commonly called the underground. He fought
with groups of French citizens in the best way he could, by living within
main society and leading bands of armed resistance against the Germans in
clandestine activities. They would ambush German patrols, blow up German
installations and sabotage Nazi operations in any way they could.

The Allies were good at providing arms and weapons, but the underground also
needed money. That was a commodity that was very hard to come by during the
war, especially when your country is completely occupied by an invading
military force.

And that's where Manny came in. He sent money, and he sent a lot of it.
Manny was Emmanuel Goldenberg, born a Romanian Jew, who was now living in
America . Manny had done very well in his life and he knew only too well
what kinds of horrors were going on in his native Romania & the rest of
Europe . Jews and others were being gassed and killed by the millions and he
had to do something. One thing he could do was use his good fortune to help
the war effort. He had tried to join the Armed Forces, but he didn't
qualify, so he did what he could. He sent money to where it was needed the
most - to the resistance as I said, Pierre was one of the leaders of the

There were many, but Pierre controlled the action around the area of
Normandy . He and his people were very instrumental in assisting the Allied
invasion on D-Day by sabotaging redirecting many Nazi forces moments before
the actual invasion. Much of this was possible because of the money that
arrived every month. Month after month for two years money arrived for
Pierre and his cause from Manny. It never failed!

It literally saved the day. No, Pierre never knew who Manny was, only that
he sent money for food, clothes, gasoline and many other important things.
But years later, we know who Manny was, that silent guardian angel of the
French underground. So do you! He was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood
, and a fine gentleman. It's a Little Known Fact that a very important part
of the success of the French underground came from a source they never knew:

Emmanuel Goldenberg, or as you knew him, the very fine actor Edward G.

P. S. Not many know that he was a famous actor in the Yiddish theater before
he became a movie star.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yiddish-Yinglish Dictionary of Fools

Legend has it that Eskimos (Inuit) have hundreds of words to describe snow. We Jews have hundreds of words for,"pains in the neck."

Among the many majesties of Yiddish, is its magical ability to turn words into an emotional thesaurus. Both the "good" and the "bad" alike are not merely "said." No. They're felt - in all their subtle nuance and multiple meanings. This is never more true then when we're talking about a "fool" or a "nudnek," a "shliemel," or a "schnook." Face it. We Jews don't bear fools lightly. Who had time?

So is it surprising that we have more words in Yiddish for fools than there are Golden Arches? These words are so delicious, many have become part of American jargon. Do you have the story about these words, and what they truly mean? In case you don't, as a public service, we from Jewlarious are proud to present the first...

Yiddish-Yinglish Dictionary of Fools

Bulvan : An ox, with no class. He'll move your house on his back - without asking.

Chaim Yankel : A mister nobody. His favorite color is beige.

Chaleria : A shrew. If her pastrami sandwich is fatty, she'll make a federal case.

Chazzer : A pig: He'll take home the cheap wine he brought you for Passover.

Draycup : She not only forgot her address, she's in the wrong city.

Eingeshparht : He's got a head like a rock.

Gantseh Macher : He made a few bucks selling whoopie cushions, so suddenly he's Trump. Synonym: K'nocker

Gonif : Unscrupulous, a thief. His partner's sent out an APB.

Grubber yung: Crude. A big mouth who has dirt (from grabbing) under his fingernails.

Klutz: Clumsy. She falls over her own sneakers fastened with Velcro.

Kvetch: A whiner. The food's salty, the place is chilly, eating out - who needs it?

Luftmensch : A dreamer - who never wakes up. He could paint a masterpiece, if only he had an easel - and knew how.

Meshugener : A loony. Whether he thinks his underwear is after him or barrels over Niagara Falls, he's one letter short of an M&M.

Moishe Kapoyer : Today he'd be called "oppositional." The family votes to hold the reunion in Vegas. He votes for Vilna.

Nar : He left his law practice to become a clown.

Nayfish: A doormat. When he's robbed, he apologizes for being short on cash.

Nebuch : A hapless unfortunate. He gets stepped on by accident a lot.

Nuchshlepper : A hanger-on. She shleps the 200 pound camping gear for the group.

Nudnik: A persistent bore. She doesn't stop with the talking, the asking, the annoying till you want to staple her lips together.

Noodge : A pesty badgerer. She tells you twelve times to check the locks. Unlike the nudnik, it could be an occasional occurrence.

Ongeblussen : A self-involved blowhard. If his last name is Moses, he thinks the Bible gave him a mention.

Oysvorf : Unpopular outcast. Think David Duke at a Hadassah meeting.

Paskudnyak : A revolting, corrupt person. For him, there would be a very short funeral.

Shikker : A drunk. He has a little chaser with his Cheerios.

Shlemiel : A pathetic, clumsy loser. Always spills his drink

Shlimazel : An unlucky loser. He's the one the shlemiel spills his drink on.

Shlump : Unkempt, saggy. She shleps, stooped, with her hair in strings.

Shmeggege : An idiotic doofus. Short of a "meshuganah," he's sure he'll make a killing with his musical toilet seat... and acts like a macher about it.

Shmendrik : Nincompoop. A fraternal twin to a shlemiel, he's thinner and weaker.

Shnook : A likeable patsy. You could sell him a time-share in Area 51, and he'll pay top dollar for vacationing on a historical site.

Shnorrer : A beggar. He's forever borrowing, taking advantage. Bad for a potluck party.

Trombenik : A lazy braggart. Not only does he blow his own horn, he doesn't own one.

Yachna : A loud-mouthed, boorish female. In Loehmann's dressing room she'll yell "It would fit if you lost a few pounds!"

Yutz : Socially inept. He takes you to a restaurant with a clown face and spends the evening discussing his train collection.

Zshlub : Lazy slob. He shows up with schmutz on his untucked shirt. To Archie Bunker, "meathead" looked like a zshlub when he met him - although he'd never say it

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Israeli Company Develops 'Billion Dollar' Medical Info Patch

by David Shamah

If the wearer's condition deteriorates to a point where he or she enters the "danger zone," the patch alerts the cell phone to send out an SMS or other message to medical personnel. An Israeli company has sold a one-third interest in a medical device it developed to a British-Taiwanese company for $370 million – making the total value of SafeSky's LifeKeeper Patch over $1 billion.

The deal, between SafeSky and Micro-Star International (MSI), is one of the biggest ever in relative terms for an Israeli hi-tech industry. SafeSky will retain 67% of the ownership of the patch, and MSI has an option to purchase a bigger share later on – at five times the price it paid this week.

The LifeKeeper Patch, not much bigger than a shekel coin, contains a microprocessor which can read information about the wearer's medical state – recording data such as body temperature, heart rate and rhythms, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. When the patch is worn, the information is transmitted via Bluetooth to a cell phone, where an application records the information.

The phone program evaluates the data, and if the information being recorded indicates that that wearer is in danger of a heart attack or stroke, it can send an emergency message out to doctors or emergency services, who can then locate the wearer using the phone's GPS capabilities.

The LifePatch, which was developed by SafeSky co-owner Arik Klein, is considered a revolutionary "teletherapy" device. It contains a number of important advancements, company CEO Dr. Gabi Picker told reporters – among them its ability to determine blood sugar levels without the need for invasive blood tests, a boon for diabetes sufferers. In essence, he says, the patch contains a "mini-lab" where information about the wearer's condition is constantly evaluated.

If the wearer's condition deteriorates to a point where he or she enters the "danger zone," the patch alerts the cell phone to send out an SMS or other message to medical personnel – thus allowing doctors to take full advantage of the "golden hour," the period immediately after a medical event or injury where critical care can do the most good. %ad%

According to Picker, both Klein and his partner, Dr. Amos Bouchnik – all of them dentists – have been working on the patch for eight years, and while SafeSky has developed prototypes, it has not yet produced a commercial version of the product, which is where the partnership with MSI comes in. SafeSky will continue to develop applications to allow the patch to be used in a number of medical scenarios. In addition, he said, the company has not sought venture capital or other investment money, because Klein and Bouchnik were concentrating on developing the algorithms for the software that runs the patch.

SafeSky, headquartered in Tel Aviv's Ramat HaChayal hi-tech area, is not just a medical device company, said Picker; the company has about 20 other patents and is in the process of making deals on as well. Among those patents, he said, is a better solar panel, which can collect 100 times more energy than panels currently in use.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Isaac Bashevis Singer Bashes Barbra Streisand

January 29, 1984
By I.B. Singer

In the 1950's, Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote a story titled ''Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,'' about a rabbi's daughter with ''the soul of a man and the body of a woman.'' The young woman, Yentl, is so hungry for learning that she defies Talmudic law by disguising herself as a man in order to attend a yeshiva, or religious school. The story, set in 19th-century Poland, was adapted for the stage in 1974 and recently became the basis of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood musical produced and directed by Barbra Streisand, who also plays the title role. In the following article, styled as a conversation with himself, Mr. Singer gives his reaction to Miss Streisand's ''Yentl.''


Question: Have you finally seen the Yentl movie?

Answer: Yes, I have seen it.

Q: Did you like it?

A: I am sorry to say I did not. I did not find artistic merit neither in the adaptation, nor in the directing. I did not think that Miss Streisand was at her best in the part of Yentl. I must say that Miss Tovah Feldshuh, who played Yentl on Broadway, was much better. She understood her part perfectly; she was charming and showed instinctive knowledge of how to portray the scholarly Yentl I described in my story. Miss Streisand lacked guidance. She got much, perhaps too much advice and information from various rabbis, but rabbis cannot replace a director. The Talmudic quotations and allusions did not help.

Q: Did you enjoy the singing?

A: Music and singing are not my fields. I did not find anything in her singing which reminded me of the songs in the studyhouses and Hasidic shtibls, which were a part of my youth and environment. As a matter of fact, I never imagined Yentl singing songs. The passion for learning and the passion for singing are not much related in my mind. There is almost no singing in my works. One thing is sure: there was too much singing in this movie, much too much. It came from all sides. As far as I can see the singing did nothing to bring out Yentl's individuality and to enlighten her conduct. The very opposite, I had a feeling that her songs drowned the action. My story, ''Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,'' was in no way material for a musical, certainly not the kind Miss Streisand has given us. Let me say: one cannot cover up with songs the shortcomings of the direction and acting.

Q: Is it true that you wrote a script of the play which Miss Streisand rejected?

A: It is true, and when I read her script and saw the movie I understood that she could not have accepted my version. In my script Yentl does not stay on stage from beginning to end. The leading actress must make room for others to have their say and exhibit their talents. No matter how good you are, you don't take everything for yourself. I don't mean to say that my script was perfect, or even good. But at least I understood that in this case the leading actress cannot monopolize the stage. We all know that actors fight for bigger parts, but a director worth his name will not allow one actor to usurp the entire play. When an actor is also the producer and the director and the writer he would have to be exceedingly wise to curb his appetites. I must say that Miss Streisand was exceedingly kind to herself. The result is that Miss Streisand is always present, while poor Yentl is absent.

Q: How do you feel about the writing?

A: It is not easy to make a film from a story. In most cases it is impossible. The great plays such as Shakespeare's, Moli ere's, Ibsen's, Strindberg's were written as plays. My Aunt Yentl used to say to my Uncle Joseph, ''In a pinch I can make from a chicken soup a borscht, but to make from a borscht a chicken soup, this is beyond any cook.'' Those who adapt novels or stories for the stage or for the screen must be masters of their profession and also have the decency to do the adaptation in the spirit of the writer. You cannot do the adaptation against the essence of the story or the novel, against the character of the protagonist.

Let's imagine a scriptwriter who decides that Mme. Bovary should end up taking a cruise along the Riviera or that Anna Karenina should marry an American millionaire instead of committing suicide, and Dostoyevski's Raskolnikov should become a Wall Street broker instead of going to Siberia. This is what Miss Streisand did by making Yentl, whose greatest passion was the Torah, go on a ship to America, singing at the top of her lungs. Why would she decide to go to America? Weren't there enough yeshivas in Poland or in Lithuania where she could continue to study? Was going to America Miss Streisand's idea of a happy ending for Yentl? What would Yentl have done in America? Worked in a sweatshop 12 hours a day where there is no time for learning? Would she try to marry a salesman in New York, move to the Bronx or to Brooklyn and rent an apartment with an ice box and a dumbwaiter? This kitsch ending summarizes all the faults of the adaptation. It was done without any kinship to Yentl's character, her ideals, her sacrifice, her great passion for spiritual achievement. As it is, the whole splashy production has nothing but a commercial value.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tur-Mohel -- Evil League Of Evil Application

Israeli Grows World's Largest Cucumber

Petah Tikva resident Yitzhak Yazdanpana has set the new world record for growing the longest cucumber. Working out of his home garden, Yazdanpana grew a three-foot, ten-inch long cucumber (about 117 cm). He said he didn't use any chemical fertilizers.

Yazdantana said on Tuesday that he hopes the cucumber will be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.


It is with great stress, emotional and physical fatigue and incredible financial sacrifice beyond comprehension,
that we invite you to join us as our wonderful son

Jacob Adam

is called to
the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah.

Saturday, May 12th - (yes we realize its Mother's Day Weekend)
Temple Israel
14 Coleytown Road
Westport, Connecticut 06880

at the ungodly hour of 9:00 am even though you don't really need to be there until 10:20am to catch the real action.

If you make it through the 3 hour service, please skip the kiddush (its
just cookies and cake) and join us instead for an overly
large an d ostentatious Kosher (my husband's idea) evening meal, which starts at 7:00 PM,
(not 8:00 PM.. or you will miss out on the 2000 canapes).

Birchwood Country Club
25 Kings Hwy S
Westport, CT 06880
(which we had to join just for this event and
you would not believe the initiation fees)

You will be in the presence of lots of
boisterous and expensive entertainment
and 60 to 70 unruly pre-teens wearing expensive dresses, funny hats,
fake bling and brand new white ankle socks...
as well as 80-100 middle aged+ adults, some balding, some with bad toupees, most will be professionally coiffed, designer attire galore, lots of REAL bling, and most "tootsed" to the nines. At least 1/3 will be hormonally challenged and some will act stupid while under the influence. Some will not even know where or who they are. Some will complain about the food. Blah Blah Blah.

Please have the courtesy of showing up if you RSVP that you are attending, or you will be billed for $210.00 a plate if you are a no-show. Please RSVP as soon as you get this and not a day before the cut-off date. I can't take the stress.

The gift of choice is either green, or contains a routing and account number. "Off the top of your head" gifts
and Gift Cards are a waste of your time and ours.

Hope you can make it! Lisa and David Miller

Dress: Black Tie optional
Theme: 007 James Bond

BYO yarmulke. I don't have the strength.

How I survived in war-time Hungary by posing as a non-Jew.

by Esther Waldman (Frankel)

How I survived in war-time Hungary by posing as a non-Jew.

I was born in Berettyoufalu, Hungary, to a family of a rabbinic dynasty. My father's great-grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Frankel, was considered one of the leading rabbis of Hungary in the 19th century. My father was the rabbi in a hamlet called Zsaka.

When my siblings and I grew a bit older, our family moved to the nearby city of Debrecen, which had better schools.

In 1941, I married Shimon Friedman, a scion to a prominent family. He was drafted into the Hungarian army immediately after our wedding, in the midst of our Sheva Brachot celebrations. When he got the draft notice, I begged him to go into hiding. I was willing to hide with him in a cornfield, but he was frightened he refused to do so. He was taken away to a slave labor camp in the Ukraine.

I received a few letters from him, but I sensed that the letters were written under pressure and strict censorship from his captors. Nevertheless, it was a sign of life and a flicker of hope that he would one day return. When days and weeks went by without a letter, I was filled with worry and despair. Then suddenly a letter would arrive, sending me again into the fluctuating cycle between hope and despair.

At the end of 1942, the letters completely stopped. I was totally devastated. Shimon and I had only been together as a married couple for a few days, while I was still a teenager. And as the years past, I nearly went out of my mind, with no proof of him being alive or not.

My father woke me early in the morning and said, "Esther, you have to go into hiding."

On the morning of April 16, 1944, my father woke me early in the morning, and in a voice choked with emotion said, "Esther, you have always listened to me. It is a dark time now for the Jewish people. You have to go into hiding. Take the next train to Szbadka, a small town in Hungary, and try to set yourself up in an apartment as a non-Jew. Later we will send your brother Yidel, and maybe some other family members. Please take care of Yidel so that at least two members of our family should survive. First and foremost, remember that you are a Jew. Remember your heritage! Keep all the mitzvot as best as you can in the given circumstances."

We both cried as I left the house in the predawn hours to catch the train to Szabadka. We knew that this might be the last time we would see each other. Unfortunately, it was.

On the train, I tried to keep my composure and hold back my tears. It was difficult for me as a young woman traveling alone, heading to an unknown town, with no contacts and no real destination. My father had given me money that could sustain me for a while, but not for long.

When I arrived in Szabadka, I checked into a hotel for the night. The next day, I went apartment and job hunting. Being very nimble with my hands, I was able to find a job twining the hair of rabbits. I was also able to find a room to stay.

Sibling Reunion

Months passed, and one day I saw a familiar face on the street. We passed each other and then we both turned around for a second look. It was my brother Yidel! With his unusual attire of an army hat, it was difficult to recognize him. He told me of his difficult experiences, such as hiding in a tree for two days with no food. In Szabadka, he had survived by using a non-Jewish identity document that he'd once found, and was kept by my father "for a rainy day." Yidel had been sent out of the ghetto by my mother through a hole she dug under the fence. He told me the sad news that my father was arrested and sent to a slave labor camp.

(My mother later tried to use the same escape plan for my younger brother Simcha, who was 14 at the time. However, he was caught, beaten, and returned to the ghetto.)

We split up, so that if one was caught, the other could survive.

After giving Yidel some food, and letting him sleep in my apartment, we set out to find him a room to rent. My father had instructed us to do this, so that if one of us was caught, the other would have a chance to survive.

With Divine providence, my manager at work asked if I knew someone who could assist with the twining work since one of the workers had become ill. I immediately suggested Yidel. Besides the additional income, it was important that he not be seen roaming around without work. Yidel did not have working papers, so I went to the police station to get him the appropriate documents. It was always safer for women to be on the streets; male Jews were often stopped and checked for the "physical sign" of being Jewish.

Throughout this period, Yidel did not have a tallit and tefillin, but he would hide in a closet and pray with tears. He was a young teenager, with a maturity far beyond his age. He worried about his parents and siblings, and never stopped praying for them.

Late at night while lying awake, weak and weary from my clandestine lifestyle, I would sometimes hear the trains with human cargo speeding by on the nearby tracks. I could even hear the anguished cries of the children and adults, crammed into the freight cars, with barely any air or water. Rivers of tears flowed in those trains, and in my little room in Szabadke, I would join in their crying and prayers.

Fighting for Survival

Because Yidel was always praying and studying Torah from memory, and never socialized, his landlord suspected he was Jewish. One day, when Yidel came back from work, the landlord asked in astonishment, "What are you still doing here? The police are looking for you." We realized that the landlord was an informer, and decided to leave Szabadka immediately.

In middle of the night, we ran away from the town, and hid in a distant forest. My father's parting words rang loud in my ears: "Take care of Yidel, so that at least two family members will survive."

We were frightened to death in the forest, lest we get caught and sent to our death. We felt like hunted animals fighting for survival. We prayed and cried until we saw the first light of dawn. We walked to a different town, and took trains in a roundabout way to our destination, Budapest. We understood from radio and newspaper reports that the evil decree had spared -- at least temporarily -- the Jews in Budapest.

When we arrived in Budapest, we went to the home of family acquaintances, Mr. and Mrs. Mandel. Without saying a word, they fed us and gave us beds to sleep in. When we woke up, we went out to search for rooms to rent in the non-Jewish section of the city. We found rooms, and settled in.

Saving the Frank Family

Yidel was very daring and often climbed the walls of the Jewish ghetto to provide food for needy families. This entailed risking his life.

One day a decree was announced in the ghetto that all able-bodied Jews from 18 to 40 should report for "relocation." (This typically meant slave labor or the gas chamber.) When Yidel heard this, he climbed into the ghetto, and went to speak with Edith Frank whose family we'd known from before the war. She told him that they were planning to cooperate and be deported. Yidel was shocked: "You are not reporting for deportation! That is a certain death sentence. Tonight, I will come back at midnight and will help you all escape."

Edith was beset by doubts: "Even if we're able to navigate the physical obstacles of escape, where will we find shelter for even one night?" Yet the desire to live made her decision: "We will not go like sheep to the slaughter. We will at least try to escape!"

Yidel bribed the guard with some whiskey, and everyone climbed the fence.

Evening came, darkness set in and Yidel kept his promise and arrived. This would be no easy escape plan, as there were 17 members of the Frank family -- adults, children and babies, too. Yidel bribed the guard with some whiskey. The Franks tore off their yellow stars, and took out the forged Gentile documents they'd prepared.

The real trick was that everyone had to climb over the gate and jump from a great height, without making any noise. Yidel took the baby in his arms and climbed the gate. As he was climbing, the drunken guard started screaming, "Who's there?" Yidel froze in his place, until the guard eventually calmed down and went back inside. The real miracle was that the baby did not make a sound.

Yidel whisked away the Frank family and brought them to my small rented room. Since I was disguised as a non-Jew, and my German landlady had no idea that I was Jewish, this was a tremendous risk to my life. But my landlady had gone away for the night to visit relatives. Except for that crucial night, she rarely left her apartment for an overnight stay elsewhere.

The Frank family -- all 17 of them -- managed to fit into my tiny room, with people sleeping under and on top of the table and the bed. It was very frightening. We were especially concerned that the baby should not alert any neighbors with her crying.

The next morning, the family split up and went apartment hunting. But in spite of the great care we all took to hide their presence, my landlady came home and found a pair of tzitzit fringes left over by one of the children. She confronted me in an accusing tone, "What's this?"

During those trying and dangerous times, I learned how to answer quickly, sharply and without emotion or fear. "I have never seen such a thing," I said. "What is it used for?" She was convinced that it had nothing to do with me.

My landlady was a vicious anti-Semite. She would constantly curse and degrade the Jewish people. I had to listen to all of this and not respond. She even bragged about the parties she threw for the German soldiers in a local restaurant. Every Sunday, I would disappear from the house, pretending to be at church. She made my life miserable, checking my every move. But she was convinced that I was not Jewish.

(After the war was over, I made it my business to visit her. I told her that I am Jewish, and how much I despise her despicable behavior. When she heard this, she nearly fainted, but did not utter a word.)

Safe House

After a while, when it became too difficult for me to hear all the anti-Semitic remarks from my landlady, I moved into a building which served as a safe house for Jews. It was a glass factory that belonged to a wealthy Jew, Arthur Weiss, who sacrificed his life in order to establish this safe house. Mr. Weiss had offered a large ransom, and his own life, in exchange for the thousands of Jews he helped save. He was taken away by the SS, and unfortunately never returned. Blessed be his memory.

Some activists were able to obtain Swiss diplomatic protection for the building and its occupants. The food was distributed very sparingly. The hygiene was atrocious. Everyone was full of lice. There were two makeshift outhouses. Yet Jews from all over were constantly begging entrance into this safe house. When the conditions became unbearable, the next building was rented as well.

We stayed at the "glass safe house" until the liberation of Budapest by the Russians in January 1945.

After the war, Yidel and I decided to go home to Debrecin, to see if other family members had survived. We had no money to travel, so Yidel got us passage on a train by offering to help shovel coal into the engine.

When we arrived home, we realized the magnitude of the tragedy. From our family, there were no other survivors. We found out that my mother and siblings had been transported to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered.

Yidel and I were alone in the world. We set up a household there, and earned our living through buying and selling jewelry.

All those years, I never knew my husband's fate.

Months passed, and my cousin Mendel Waldman came to visit, trying to find relatives. We dated for a short while, and decided to get married. However, in order to get married we needed evidence that our former spouses had been killed. It had been over two years since I'd heard any information about my husband Shimon. It was only then that a witness revealed that in 1943, he had been burned alive in a barn. All those years, I never knew his fate. Now, on the basis of this information, I was able to remarry.

After my marriage to Mendel, we moved to France, where our first child was born. A few months later we finally received our visas to enter the U.S.

Thank God, Mendel and I were able to rebuild our lives, and we have a beautiful family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- all following the footsteps of our parents, in the very spirit of my father's parting words: "Remember your heritage!"

After the war, the Frank family moved to Israel and New York. Many of them are still alive today. The ones in New York remained in contact with me, and we often meet in the neighborhood and at family celebrations.

Last year, when I visited Israel, I had a reunion -- after 63 years -- with some of the younger members of the Frank family. We recalled the events of that crucial and fateful stay at my apartment. They told me how they were forever grateful for saving their lives.

My brother, Rabbi Yidel Frankel, had a fruitful life continuing his ways of self-sacrifice to help others. For many years, he was the right-hand man of the holy Klausenburger Rebbe. Yidel also built the Imrei Shefer shul in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, and established various Torah study institutions. He passed away during Chanukah 2005; may his memory be blessed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yiddish origins

Scholars Debate Roots of Yiddish, Migration of Jews
TRYING to trace the ancient roots of a modern language is always a maddeningly ambiguous and uncertain enterprise. With Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazic Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, the task is even harder because of the horrifying fact that most of the speakers were exterminated in the Holocaust.
As a result, the study of Yiddish origins -- and especially the touchy issue of its relationship to German -- has sometimes been criticized as one in which rational analysis has been overwhelmed by emotion. But a number of recent studies are now being welcomed by linguists as evidence that the field is turning into a solid science.
"There are now signs that the history of Yiddish is becoming a scientific enterprise instead of the mythological exercise it used to be," said Dr. Jerrold Sadock, a linguist at the University of Chicago.
By trying to reconstruct the original Yiddish, linguists hope to explain the origins of this rich language, in which a largely Germanic grammar and vocabulary is mixed with Hebrew and Aramaic, and sprinkled with words from Slavic and ancient Romance languages. The question they hope to answer is whether Yiddish began in Western Europe and spread eastward, as the common wisdom holds -- or whether, as an increasing number of scholars now believe, its origins lie farther east. One linguist has recently argued that Yiddish began as a Slavic language that was "relexified," with most of its vocabulary replaced with German words.
Arching over these questions is the central mystery of just where the Jews of Eastern Europe came from. Many historians believe that there were not nearly enough Jews in Western Europe to account for the huge population that later flourished in Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and nearby areas.
By reconstructing the Yiddish mother tongue, linguists hope to plot the migration of the Jews and their language with a precision never possible before. It has even been suggested, on the basis of linguistic evidence, that the Jews of Eastern Europe were not predominantly part of the diaspora from the Middle East, but were members of another ethnic group that adopted Judaism.
"Yiddish is widely perceived as a very special language," said Dr. Alexis Manaster Ramer, a linguist at Wayne State University in Detroit. "If this is correct, the explanation might lie precisely in the historical uniqueness of the circumstances which produced Yiddish. "
The revival of the field is due, in part, to a mammoth project at Columbia University to map the dialects of Yiddish, plotting precisely where on the European continent the many variations were once spoken. After decades of preparation, "The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry" began appearing in 1992, with volume one. The third installment was recently sent to the printers and is due out next year from the publisher Max Niemeyer in Tubingen, Germany. At least seven more volumes are planned.
This accumulating evidence is being eagerly seized by linguists intent on tracing the roots of Yiddish. "The atlas is a fabulous tool for doing this kind of work," said Dr. Robert D. King, who holds the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Work on the project began in the early 1960's after Dr. Uriel Weinreich of Columbia University and his wife, the folklorist Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, began an effort to interview some 600 Yiddish -speaking immigrants in Israel, the Alsace region of France, the United States, Canada and Mexico. When Dr. Weinreich died in 1967, the project was taken over by Dr. Marvin Herzog.
"The atlas is of monumental importance to the field of Yiddish studies," said Dr. Neil Jacobs, a linguist at Ohio State University in Columbus. The detailed interviews, each lasting some 15 hours and including more than 3,000 questions, provide an usually exact picture of both Yiddish dialects and culture. The atlas is so precise that it can show the line of demarcation separating Eastern European Jews who sugared their gefilte fish from those who did not, or between those who ate tomatoes and those who considered them "tref," or unclean, because of their blood red color. The linguistic information is just as precise -- charting, for example, differences in the pronunciation of the word "flaysh," or flesh.
The emergence of this rich lode of information is expected to provide the kind of hard evidence that linguists need to separate hypothesis from speculation.
For centuries it was widely assumed that Yiddish was just broken German, more of a linguistic mishmash than a true language. Even the language's own speakers called it "Zhargon," meaning jargon. In the early 20th century, linguists found evidence that Yiddish and modern German were of equal stature -- parallel offshoots of the same Germanic mother tongue. The other components of Yiddish were explained as superficial borrowings grafted onto an essentially Germanic language.
After the horrors of World War II, some Jewish scholars set out to distance Yiddish from German and show that it was a unique cultural creation of the Jews. The main champion of this view was Dr. Max Weinreich, the father of Uriel Weinreich and the driving force behind the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which began in Vilna, Lithuania, and is now in Manhattan. Noting that Yiddish includes a few words from Old Italian and Old French, Dr. Weinreich argued that it began as a Romance language that was later Germanized. In this view, Yiddish was invented by Jews who had arrived in Europe with the Roman army as traders, later settling in the Rhineland of western Germany and northern France. Mixing Hebrew, Aramaic and Romance with German, they produced a unique language, not just a dialect of German.
Pushed eastward by the religious zealotry arising from the medieval Crusades and the Black Plague, which fanatical Christians blamed on the Jews, the speakers of Yiddish re-established themselves in Poland and surrounding areas, where the language picked up its Slavic content. According to this now dominant theory, there were very few Jews in Eastern Europe before the great immigration from the west. Yiddish is seen as a largely Western European phenomenon.
As appealing as this theory has been to Jews who wish to divorce the language from that of their Nazi persecutors, corroborating linguistic evidence has been sparse. Even more troublesome are demographic studies indicating that during the Middle Ages there were no more than 25,000 to 35,000 Jews in Western Europe. These figures are hard to reconcile with other studies showing that by the 17th century there were hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe.
"You just can't get those numbers by natural population increase," Dr. King said. In a paper published in 1992, he argued that the origins of Yiddish were not in the Rhineland but eastward along the Danube -- in Bavaria and as far east as Hungary and the Czech and Slovak lands. From there, he argues, the language radiated both westward, into the Rhineland, and eastward into Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and other areas.
Dr. King bases his conclusion on work he began in the 1980's with Dr. Alice Faber, a linguist now at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Conn. Dr. King and Dr. Faber found no significant similarities between the Yiddish of Eastern Europe and the dialects of German spoken in the Rhineland. They uncovered a few similarities between Yiddish and East Central German, spoken as far east as Poland. (For example, German diphthongs like ie and uo were compressed in both languages, so that "knie" (knee) was rendered "kni." But the most striking resemblances were between Yiddish and Bavarian, a dialect of German. " Yiddish resembles nothing more closely than medieval Bavarian," Dr. King said.
For example, both Bavarian and Yiddish differ from German in that they have lost a pronunciation rule called final devoicing. Germans pronounce "Tag" (day) as though it ended in k and "Rad" (wheel) as though it ended in t. But in Yiddish and Bavarian the two words are pronounced "tog" and "rod." Another example: the words "Blume" (flower) and "Gasse" (street) are pronounced with two syllables in German but with one syllable in Bavarian and Yiddish. Bavarian is the only major German dialect that, like Yiddish, has undergone these two kinds of transformations.
Dr. King concedes that a western origin for Yiddish is still possible: Jews migrating from the Rhineland may have lingered in the Danube region long enough for their language to significantly change. But he is skeptical that essentially all traces of Rhineland German could have been so completely erased.
Contrary to the common wisdom, Dr. King believes there must have already been a large population of Jews in Eastern Europe who had lived there since biblical times, coming up from the Middle East as traders speaking Hebrew and Aramaic. The Yiddish language and culture of the Danube region then diffused eastward, he says, influencing this existing population.
Historians scarcely noticed these early pioneers, Dr. King speculates, because they did not have the leisure to develop the strong scholarly tradition that existed farther west. "The legacy of pre-Crusade Jewish life in Western Europe was a tradition of learning, of the rabbinate, of the community," Dr. King said. "The legacy of early Jewish life in the Slavic East was very largely the bones of its dead."
Some scholars believe the roots of Yiddish, and even the Ashkenazic people themselves, lie much farther east. In his 1976 book, "The Thirteenth Tribe," Arthur Koestler made the startling suggestion, never taken seriously by linguists, that the Eastern European Jews were not really Semitic -- that they were largely descended from the Turkic Khazars, who converted en masse to Judaism in medieval times.
More recently, Mr. Koestler's controversial thesis has been revived and expanded in a 1993 book, "The Ashkenazic Jews : A Slavo-Turkic People in Search of a Jewish Identity" (Slavica Publishers), by Dr. Paul Wexler, a Tel Aviv University linguist. Dr. Wexler uses a reconstruction of Yiddish to argue that it began as a Slavic language whose vocabulary was largely replaced with German words. Going even further, he contends that the Ashkenazic Jews are predominantly converted Slavic and Turkic people who merged with a tiny population of Palestinian Jews from the Diaspora.
While few linguists are convinced by this radical hypothesis, the notion of a Slavic origin for Yiddish is being taken as a serious challenge to the field. "Even if he is not absolutely right," said Dr. Jacobs, "we are forced into a discussion of the issues he has raised."
In another reconstruction of proto- Yiddish, Dr. Manaster Ramer at Wayne State has uncovered evidence that some of Yiddish's Slavic words -- like "nebbish," referring to a pathetic individual -- were part of the original language that grew into modern Yiddish. He has also found traces of western German dialects. But his analysis casts doubt on the hypothesis that Yiddish is an offshoot of Bavarian.
Dr. Manaster Ramer said that while traces of Bavarian were found in the Yiddish spoken in Eastern Europe, they did not show up in Western Yiddish, once spoken in western and southern Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Alsace, or in medieval texts. He proposes that the Bavarian influence entered the language after Yiddish speakers had migrated eastward.
Linguists hope that in the next few years data like those gathered for the Columbia University atlas project will help them zero in on the Yiddish homeland.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (RaMBaM)

by Lisa Katz
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), also known as RaMBaM or Maimonides, was one of the most important Jewish philosophers and codifiers in the Middle Ages.

In the 12th century, Moslems tried to forcibly convert Jews. Maimonides was forced to convert. He emigrated from Spain to Morocco and then from Morocco to Palestine. And thus he was able to revert to Judaism. Maimonides encouraged other Jews to stay loyal to Judaism.

After discovering the difficulties of living in Palestine, he emigrated to Egypt. In Egypt, he became a physician to earn a living. In time, he became the personal physician of the Sultan. By the time of his death, he was considered the greatest physician of his day.

In Egypt, Maimonides also worked as a philosopher. His most influential philosophical work was Moreh HaNevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed). This book was a philosophical defense of Judaism. It tried to guide those who were uncertain in their faith due to apparent contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the teachings of the Bible. In this work, Maimonides succeeds, for the first time, to explain the Torah from an Aristotelian viewpoint.

Maimonides was also a codifier, and he compiled Mishne Torah (Review of the Torah). This was also known as Yad Hahazakah (The Strong Hand). Maimonides intended the work to summarize fifteen centuries of work on Jewish Law (Halacha). Mishne Torah, consisting of fourteen books, is unique in its systematic structure and logical presentation.

There was strong opposition to Maimonides' work, mostly from more orthodox Jews. However, there were also those, particularly in France, who supported his work.

The following expression reveals the fame he gained in the Jewish world, "From Moses (Moshe Rabbeinu, in the Bible) to Moses (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimanides), there is none like unto Moses."