The Saint Generator


Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary created a Saint’s Name Generator. You click a button, the another, and then it gives you a random saint. People like to use it for picking a patron saint for the new year. She has a lot of saints and beatified people uploaded, with info on their patronage and feast day, and links to bios on various Catholic sites.

Because I love to learn more about religion and that includes saints, I decided to give it a try, and this is what I got:

Gee, even random result generators know I’m Jewish.




31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 11 – Ashkenazi? Sephardic? Isn’t a Jew a Jew? (Part 2)



So I left it off mentioning Sephardim being from the Iberian peninsula, and spreading around various parts of Europe. They also moved to Latin America, where their communities are still carrying on strongly.

Like Ashkenazim, Sephardim had their own language as well, Ladino. Today it is less widely known than Yiddish, because while until three hundred years ago Sephardi Jews greatly outnumbered Ashkenazim, they are now the minority. Their pronounciation of Hewbrew, has become the standard for modern Hebrew.

Today many times Mizrahi Jews are lumped together with Sephardim, because they follow the same Halacha. Mizrahi Jews are the Jews from the Middle East, with Yemeni Jews often included. Sometimes North African Jews are considered Mizrahi. For sure, Yemeni-Iraqi Harel Skaat is surely a Mizrahi Jew. So is my sister-in-law Maya. Actually, many of Israel’s musicians are Mizrahim, often of Yemeni descent.

A much smaller group is the Cochin Jews, from Kerala, India. They themselves are made up of two groups, the Malabari Jews, who arrived there first, possibly as early as the time of Solomon, but definitely no later than the 12th century, and the Paradesi Jews, who arrived later, in the 16th century. They spoke Judeo-Malayalam, and have nostly resettled in Israel, leaving only around 50 people in Kerala.

Another group of Jews originating from India is the Bene Israel, whose Jewishness was doubted for a long time, till a final ruling by the rabbinate declaring them fully Jewish at last in 1964. Many of them have also immigrated to Israel.

Ethiopian Jews also make up a significant group in Israel. Most of them have moved to Israel, with the last large wave of immigration completed this past year.

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.


31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 10 – Ashkenazi? Sephardic? Isn’t a Jew a Jew?



Yes, a Jew is a Jew. Or not. It depends who you ask. I will get back to this in a later post. For now, let's just talk about the major groups based on geography. Kinda.

So, I'll start with my own group: Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenazim trace their heritage back to Central and Eastern Europe. Ashkenaz means Germany, and not surprisingly, for many of the Ashkenazi Jews the native language was Yiddish. Yiddish is a Jewish language closely related to German, but written in a modified Hebrew script.

Ashkenazi Jews, if Orthodox, follow the Ashkenazi Halakha. It differs greatly from the Sephardi Halakha. Ashkenazim have their own Chief Rabbi of Israel, as do the Sephardim.

As I said, the Ashkenazi population, making up more than 90% of world Jewry before World War II, were mainly native speakers of Yiddish. The Hebrew they speak (or mostly, spoke) also sounds different from the Hebrew spoken by Sephardi Jews and what is spoken in modern day Israel. For example, the word Shabbat became Shabos, Kashrut is Kashrus, and even Lecha Dodi sounds completely different in Ashkenazi Hebrew! I have occasionally heard it spoken in Hungary, but many times the younger generations are using standard Hebrew pronunciation.

As I said I'm Ashkenazi. My ancestry is mostly from Hungary, Poland and former Hungarian territories now belonging to Romania and Ukraine. I, however, have two Sephardi great-grandparents and great-great grandparent. My maternal grandmother's mother was a Sephardi Jew from Amsterdam, and my great-grandfather on my dad's side was the product of a marriage between a Polish Ashkenazi man and a French Sephardi woman.

Sephardic Jews are generally considered to be Jews from the Iberian peninsula. Due to persecution, Sephardim moved to other countries as well. In France, for example, there were two distinct Jewish communities, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi. Sephardim have their own Halakha, followed by most Mizrahi Jews as well, and in Israel they have their own chief rabbi, too, like the late Ovadia Yosef, who, himself, was of Mizrahi background. I'll get to that in a minute.

Sephardi tradition differs from Ashkenazi tradition in many ways. Most commonly known ones might be the naming of a newborn for living relatives that Ashkenazim don't do, and the definition of matzah.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.


Simchat Torah and Other Quick Takes


— 1 —

With Sukkot over we celebrate Simchat Torah. It's celebrated today (Thursday) in Israel and on Friday in the Diaspora. It is because Simchat Torah is part of another holiday, the Eighth Day of Assembly, and it's celebrated over two days in the Diaspora, and only one day in Israel. Simchat Torah is the celebration of the completion and start of the yearly Torah reading cycle.

We went to synagogue in the morning, where the last portion on Deuteronomy and the first portion of Genesis were read. Everyone was called up to read from the Torah, including the kids who can read. Our Ezra was very proud, because he, too, was called up to read a verse! For someone not quite five years old it was a big task! Shiri, his twin sister went up to read with big brother Nirel, so she, too could participate. Then the scrolls were removed from the ark and the dancing began! It was lots of fun, and we are back to reading the fun part of the Torah. Can't wait for this year's discussion on how Noah kept the ark clean….

— 2 —

In the afternoon we took a little trip to the beach and to drop off Itai at his classmate's for a sleepover. The classmate is a new Ethiopian immigrant, and they get along famously. He was invited to stay tonight and he was very excited. It's his first sleepover that's not within his family–present or previous.

The rest of us who went walked around the beach and look out points for a bit, and had a picnic snack. We only needed three picnic baskets! I love this time of the year for activities like that.

— 3 —

The past week two different IDF soldiers were killed by Palestinians: one by a sniper, and one by a man, who wanted to use the soldier's body to negotiate the release of his terrorist brother from prison. I don't know either of them, but my heart breaks for their families and I can't stop worrying about my boys in the IDF.

— 4 —

Adoption advocacy is important, but….

  • Are you absolutely sure what you are posting is true? Can you cite valid references?
  • Do you know the source and definition of the terminology you use?
  • Have you ever thought about the money spent on an adoption or supporting the set up of a new orphanage could be used to prevent a child to become a poverty orphan instead of benefitting adoption agencies and facilitators? Read more at Rage Against the Minivan.
  • Are you sure you are advocating for an ethical organization, that is regularly audited and is transparent in its policies and dealings?
  • Are you sure you post photos of children legally?
  • Details, facts and avoiding generalizations are important in staying credible.

— 5 —

Kevin is going back to work today. Itai is going back to school Sunday. Yonah is now home in Haifa. The house is starting to feel like autumn is here. Of course with highs at 28C that is more of a state of the mind than anything else. We like autumn, and I kind of miss the autumns in Hungary. I can't wait for cooler weather to make pumpkin soup!

— 6 —

Tuesday is the day fir my 6-month check up. While I have nothing to worry about, anxiety is kicking my butt. It will be some two weeks before results are back. Sigh.

— 7 —

Reading update: reading three books at tge same time is fun, but it's also counterproductive. Especially when one starts to confuse storylines. It took me fifteen minutes of wondering about what Rook was doing in Oslo permanently drunk till I realized I was reading the Jo Nesbø book rather than the Richard Castle one! I kind of infected my kids, and we are reading enough crime stories to start a club!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


The Santa Bunny Fairy Problem


xmasbunnyIn the week before Easter I saw several blog posts by Christian parents about the difficulty in addressing the Easter Bunny tradition. These were not unlike the posts before Christmas, when the Santa dilemma was widespread in the blogoshphere. This made me remember that Judaism was exempt from the problem: not only do we not celebrate these holidays, our traditions associated with the holidays we do have lack the imaginary gift giving figures. We have no Father Chanukah, and there is no Purim leporid. We don’t even have a tooth fairy! At least we don’t have a tooth fairy in Israel… and there wasn’t one in Hungary either.

In Jewish traditions gift giving is pretty straight forward: you know who gives the gifts and you thank that person, instead of some overweight senior citizen of the Arctic region, or a small, furry mammal, who really shouldn’t have anything to do with eggs. And when your tooth falls out, you don’t get money for it. It’s not like a first haircut or the great achievement of turning 12 or 13. There are no magic reindeer defying the laws of physics, flying through the night to deliver presents. The elf doesn’t live on Jewish shelves, and there are no mischievous leprechauns. The tags on the gifts are honest: this is frome Mom, that’s from dad, and the neatly wrapped package is from Bubbe.

“But doesn’t it take away from the magic of childhood?” a friend asked over tea a couple months from my rabbi.
“Not at all,” he replied. “The magic of their childhood is not lying in some false image of generosity, but in the knowledge that their parents love and cherish them, and that they provide not only neccessary things, but things that are purely for fun. They can put their trust to have their dreams fulfilled in their parents instead of Santa.” That trust and love is the magic of childhood.

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