Definitions

Sometimes a foreign language or bit of obscure terminology might creep into my blog.  When it does, you’ll find a link to this page, and the definition somewhere here.

Ganse mensch – a really fine human being, who embodies diplomacy, tact, and kindness.

Purim — a holiday that falls anywhere from mid-February to late March, commemorating the near-annihilation of the Jewish people by the wicked Haman. We read the Book of Esther (once in the morning, once at night), have a festive meal, give charity to the poor, and run around all day giving each other little gifts of food. Some people get rip-roaring drunk, too, but I don’t.

Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year; as the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar, the exact date moves from year to year, but always falls somewhere between early September and the first week of October.

Shavuot — literally, “the feast of weeks.” Occurring exactly seven weeks after Passover, so in May or June, it commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai to the nation of Israel. Celebrated by staying up all night studying, reading of the Book of Ruth in synagogue, and eating dairy foods. Especially blintzes and cheesecake. Yum.

Shiva – a seven-day period of mourning following the death of a first-degree relative (spouse, sibling, parent, or child). Those in mourning are said to be “sitting shiva,” as the mourners spend the week indoors (at the home of the deceased or another home designated as the “shiva house”), and friends and family come to visit and (hopefully) provide comfort to the bereaved. The word shiva comes from “sheva,” the Hebrew word for seven.

Shpilkes — a Yiddish word meaning “nervous energy,” akin to having pins and needles in your butt.  What happens to kids on a long car ride, or a dog who doesn’t get enough exercise.

Sukkot — a week-long holiday that occurs three days after Yom Kippur, and 2 weeks after Rosh Hashana.  It culminates with the holiday Simchat Torah, which celebrates the beginning of the annual cycle of Torah reading.

Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement, a 25-hour fast ten days after the Jewish New Year.

Yom Tov — The literal translation of “yom tov” is “good day,” but the proper meaning is “holy day,” when many forms of work and daily activities are proscribed and the day (or days) are entirely subsumed by religious observance. Plural: yomim tovim. Sometimes pronounced “yontif” when the speaker has a more Yiddish-accented Hebrew.

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