Select Section Jewish Culture & Yiddish: 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection videos and feeds in each section

Abie’s Irish Rose And Maurice Schwartz: How Yiddish Theatre Dealt With Issues of Modern Jewish Life


Milly Guberman Kravetz recalls the plays she saw as a child at the Yiddish Theater, and speaks to the differences between Yiddish and English theater.

To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit:….

Live Long and Prosper: The Jewish Story Behind Spock, Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek Character


Leonard Nimoy explains the Jewish story behind the hand-gesture he made famous through his role as Spock on in the Star Trek science fiction series.

To watch the full interview, visit:

See Leonard Nimoy’s photography series inspired by the same event:…

To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit:…

Golda Meir Interview (Reel 1 of 2)


National Archives – Golda Meir Interview – National Security Council. Central Intelligence Agency. (09/18/1947 – 12/04/1981). – This film shows Golda Meir, who was interviewed about Arab – Israeli relations and terrorists. – DVD Copied by IASL Scanner John Williams. – 1973 – ARC 642178 / LI 263.222

Golda Meir Interview (Reel 2 of 2)

Historic Yiddish theater damaged by Snow in 
Historic Yiddish theater damaged by Snow in Romania. Severe snow storms in Romania have

Awarding a Broadway ‘Wonder’
The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
Yet Tevye himself and the musical in which he is showcased can be provocative, too, if only because the character has traveled so far from his authentic Yiddish roots in the writings of his creator, Sholem Aleichem, to reach the stage and the screen.
See all stories on this topic »

Awarding a Broadway ‘Wonder’
The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
“She points out how ‘Fiddler,’ like the earlier incarnations of Tevye on the Yiddish stage, has come to serve as a ‘Jewish signifier’ for both Jews and non-Jews,” I wrote in my review of “Wonder of Wonders” last October. “But she also shows how 
See all stories on this topic »
The Jewish Origins of the Vulcan Salute [VIDEO]
Shalom Life
Speaking to The National Yiddish Book Center for their oral history project, Nimoy talked about his JewishYiddish-speaking childhood in Boston’s West End. In particular, he talked about significant moments that happened to him in his local synagogue.
See all stories on this topic »

Jewish groups facing ‘concerted’ cyber attacks, security network warns
The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
U.S. Jewish groups face “a more concerted and aggressive effort” from Internet hackers, the national community’s security arm said in an alert. “It is imperative that all IT departments understand how to mitigate the threat and are up-to-date on the 
See all stories on this topic »Awarding a Broadway ‘Wonder’
The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
Few figures of popular culture are quite so beloved or beguiling as the character of Tevye, the pious but philosophical dairyman who reached his most celebrated incarnation in the Broadway hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Yet Tevye himself  Her 
See all stories on this topic »Silicon valley girl
The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
The outspoken and animated 32-year-old was visiting Los Angeles to speak to a JewishFederation women’s luncheon for big donors — which was appropriate, since she recently became one. A decade ago, she was just “a poor, entry-level” working girl 
See all stories on this topic »‘Omar’ portrays Israelis in harsh light
Jewish News of Greater Phoenix
Arts & Culture ‘Omar’ portrays Israelis in harsh light. Story · Comments  Israel’s “Bethlehem,” which pits Shin Bet agents against diverse Palestinian factions eager to blow up the Jewish state, was eliminated early by the Academy Awards selection 
See all stories on this topic »Free books _ 10 million of them _ help keep Jewish kids Jewish
Washington Post
And Grinspoon wants to bring the PJ Library to Russia — a country with one of the largestJewish populations in Europe, but where Jews can struggle to find Jewish culture. Worldwide, the PJ Library and its sister libraries have distributed more than 
See all stories on this topic »‘Warsaw Jewish museum will be best in Europe’
Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski (L) and Professor Dariusz Stola (R) signing documents confirming the appointment of the professor as director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Photo: PAP/Jakub Kaminski. Professor Dariusz Stola was 
See all stories on this topic »Seattle Jewish Film Festival
F ounded in 1995, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival brings nine days of Jewish and Israeli life, history, culture, and art to big screens all over town. Produced under the auspices of the Stroum Jewish Community Center, the 2014 SJFF features 25 films 
See all stories on this topic »In Search of Something to Unite the Jews
New Voices
In my post, I discussed how attempting to connect to Jewish identity through Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or Mizrahi culture is mistaken, because these cultures are by nature sectionalized. If not through culture, then in what other ways could we connect to 
See all stories on this topic »Discover the Art of Matrimony at Columbus Museum of Art
The International News Magazine
For more than two thousand years, the ketubbah, or Hebrew marriage contract, has been an integral part of Jewish culture. Found in the homes of married Jews, whether wealthy or poor, scholar or layman, in the West or in the East, ketubbot provide a 
See all stories on this topic »Hebrew in America: A communal responsibility
Jerusalem Post
Nearly a century ago, in 1916, the Histadrut Ivrit of America was founded to spread Hebrewlanguage and culture to strengthen Jewish identity. Among the organization’s many initiatives was Hadoar, a weekly Hebrew-language newspaper which was 
See all stories on this topic »

German-Jewish cultural heritage in South Africa | DW.DE
During the Holocaust, some German-Jews immigrated to South Africa, which was in the middle

Students Travel From Tennessee To Philly To Learn 
Some area Jewish families played host this weekend to a group of school kids from Tennessee
German-Jewish cultural heritage in China | DW.DE
DW presents a look at the development of German-Jewish culturalheritage in China.
Students Travel From Tennessee To Philly To Learn 
Some area Jewish families played host this weekend to a group of school kids from Tennessee

ESSAY: The Golden Tzitz

The Golden Tzitz
Adar I 26, 5774 · February 26, 2014
A mysterious ornament worn on the high priest’s forehead
© Ahuva Klein

The kohen gadol (high priest) wore eight garments and accessories when serving in the Holy Temple. Some, such as the choshen (breastplate), are more familiar, others less so. Let’s explore one of the lesser-known ones: the golden tzitz.

What Is the Tzitz?

The details about the tzitz, like all of the other components of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), were communicated to Moses by G‑d. This is how the Torah describes it:1

Make a plate (tzitz) of pure gold, and engrave on it as on a seal, “Holy to G‑d.” Place it upon a blue thread, so that it will be on the turban; it shall be opposite the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron will absolve the guilt of the holy things which the children of Israel sanctify, all of their holy offerings; it shall be on his forehead constantly, for their acceptance before G‑d.

The tzitz was an ornament2 that the high priest wore on his forehead.

The high priest wore eight garments

It consisted of a gold band with the words Kodesh La-Hashem (“Holy to G‑d”) inscribed on it in relief.3 One or more strings4 of sky-blue wool5 were threaded through holes in the band; these went around the high priest’s turban (mitznefet), and were tied at the back of his head to hold the tzitz in place.

Its Purpose

The verses quoted above state that Aaron used the tzitz to “absolve the guilt of the holy things.” The great commentator Rashi explains:

Offerings in the Holy Temple had to be brought in a state of ritual purity. If either the offering itself or the kohen (priest) performing the service was impure, then the offering would be disqualified and the kohen would be guilty of a transgression. In certain cases where an offering was brought in a state of impurity, the tzitz made it acceptable to G‑d.6

Additionally, our sages state7 that the tzitz, positioned as it was on the kohen gadol’s forehead, brought about

The person was righteous and deserving

divine pardon for the sin of impudence, known in Hebrew as azut panim, “hardness of the face.” (The term “forehead” is used in this sense in Jeremiah 3:3; the Zohar8 makes the association more explicitly, referring to impudence with the Aramaic term tokfa de-mitzcha, “hardness of the forehead.”9 )

The Zohar describes how this worked: the kohen gadol could observe whether the words inscribed on the tzitz, “Holy to G‑d,” were reflected on the face of the person standing before him. If so, that meant that the person was righteous and deserving of a share in the world to come. If not, then the kohen gadol knew that he was impudent, and the high priest would pray for G‑d to have mercy on the wicked person and forgive him.

The Tzitz in History—and in Rome

The tzitz played a key role during the Jews’ war against the Midianites.10 The war was in retaliation for the Midianites’ attempt—instigated by the wicked prophet Balaam—to corrupt the Jewish people by seducing them into immoral behavior and idolatry. During the battle, Balaam attempted to escape by using his magical powers to fly through the air. Pinchas responded by displaying the tzitz with G‑d’s name engraved on it,

A substitute wouldn’t have fooled the Romans

which caused Balaam to fall to the ground, where he was captured and killed.11

In the aftermath of that war, the tzitz was also used to determine which of the captive Midianite women had been involved in the affair and were to be executed.12

After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, all of its treasures and accessories were brought to Rome (hence the persistent legend that the menorah and the other Temple vessels are somewhere in the Vatican library). The Talmud quotes Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabbi Yosei, as saying, “I saw [the tzitz] in Rome, and the words ‘Holy to G‑d’ were inscribed on it on one line”—this was in response to the other sages, who said that the inscription was on two lines.13

The Tzitz and Moshiach

Chassidic sources note that the word tzitz symbolizes Moshiach, who is described as eagerly awaiting G‑d’s call to come and redeem us from exile—“standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering (meitzitz) from the lattices.”14

Now, the tzitz was worn on the kohen gadol’s forehead, and the forehead represents a willpower that is higher than intellect.15 Thus we learn, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that we will bring Moshiach by developing total trust in G‑d, even when the situation is hopeless according to human logic.16

1. Exodus 28:36–38.
2. Ibn Ezra, in his commentary on this verse, notes that similar items were worn in those days by prominent people. Indeed, in Exodus 39:30 and Leviticus 8:9 thetzitz is also referred to as nezer ha-kodesh, the holy diadem or tiara. Compare also Psalms 132:18, referring to a king: “On him his tiara (nezer) will shine(yatzitz).” See also footnote 13 below.
3. This is the meaning of “as on a seal”—the letters protrude from the surface of thetzitz, like the designs on a signet or coin.
4. Anywhere from one to three—see commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Ramban on this verse.
5. Dyed using techelet, whose precise identity is unknown today. See Techelet (Blue Thread).
6. Rashi on this verse, from Talmud, Pesachim 16b. See Mishneh Torah, Hil. Biat Mikdash 4:6–7, for details on when this exemption applies.
7. Talmud, Zevachim 88b; Vayikra Rabbah 10:6.
8. Zohar 2:217b.
9. A deeper reason for this association (see R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah, Shir ha-Shirim 23c–d) is that the forehead, a part of the skull surrounding the brain and above the face where emotions are registered, represents the will(ratzon), which precedes and is higher than the person’s intellectual and emotional faculties. Thus, a person with a “hard forehead” is one who does not subordinate his will to a higher authority.
10. Numbers 31.
11. Yalkut Shimoni, Numbers 785.
12. Talmud, Yevamot 60b.
13. Talmud, Shabbat 63b and Sukkah 5a (see commentaries of Rashi, Tosafot and Rashba there for various opinions as to the exact arrangement of the words).Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hil. Klei ha-Mikdash 9:1) rules in accordance with the majority opinion, but adds that post facto the tzitz is valid if the inscription is on one line, and (based on R. Eliezer’s testimony) that sometimes indeed it was made that way. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (in Likkutei Sichot 26:200–203) discusses why R. Eliezer’s eyewitness description is not accepted as definitive: the other sages had a tradition that the inscription on the tzitz was supposed to be on two lines, and they might therefore have replied to R. Eliezer that the tzitz that he saw was either a piece of jewelry (and thus was deliberately made somewhat differently than the tzitz) or a replica (perhaps made with the intention that it, rather than the real one, would fall into the hands of the Romans). Nevertheless, the Rebbe concludes, such a substitute wouldn’t have fooled the Romans if the real tzitz never was made that way, so that we are forced to say that indeed at some point in history R. Eliezer’s opinion was followed in practice (and that it is that tzitz which the Romans found), thus yielding Maimonides’ point that this arrangement is acceptable.
14. Song of Songs 2:9; see Midrash Rabbah on this verse.
15. See note 9 above.
16. Likkutei Sichot 38:199, based on various chassidic discourses, including Ve-Asita Tzitz by R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi (Torah Ohr, Shemot 83a ff).

Words for snow

Words for snowPosted: 26 Feb 2014 11:13 AM PST

12640726084_14f7c4fa30_nCarved cornices
perch at
roof’s edge.

Plows heap
mountains in
every driveway.

Finger drifts
skitter across
cracked asphalt.

Penitents, thin
snow spikes
reach skyward

marking off
these hills,
feather beds

for giants
drowsing beneath
cold eiderdown.

Warm days:
icicles crash
and shatter.

Sun cups
cradle spindly
tree trunks.

Next storm
always on
its way.

This poem was sparked by that old chestnut about the Inuit having 100 words for snow. Thinking of that led me to researching different English words for snow. I was particularly charmed by cornices (those wind-carved glaciers on rooftops), finger drifts (like tiny snow dust devils), penitents (spikes of hardened snow), and sun cups (the places around trees where the darkness of the bark creates just enough warmth to melt the snow.)

Photo source: my flickr photostream. This was taken last week, before a few days of rain tamped down these fluffy drifts, but the world outside my window is still almost entirely white. Now it’s just ice-hard instead of cloud-soft. This may be the shortest month on the calendar, but the wait for March can feel eternal! Of course, March up here means snow, too. But at least it will mean that the snow is on its way toward eventually ending.

Select Section Jewish Culture & Yiddish: 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection videos and feeds in each section

jewish music Fiddler on the Roof + Mi Ha Ish klezmer music yiddish music jewish music ZOHAR \YUSTUS


jewish music jewish music jewish music klezmer music klezmer music yiddish music music yiddish music yiddish music ISRAEL

Yiddish vs. German: an experiment.


A comparison between Yiddish and German. I made up a bunch of sentences to highlight some of the differences between German and Yiddish with respect to vocabulary, grammar (especially word order), phonology (sounds) and vowels. The sentences were read aloud in English and my friend Frank, a native German speaker from Bavaria (but speaking Hochdeutsch/standard German) translated them into German and I translated them into my non-native Ukrainian Yiddish. Even if you don’t speak either language you can hear where the two are different and perhaps pick up a bit of either one or both. German speakers should note that other Yiddish dialects (Litvak, northern Ukrainian) pronounce “u” the same way as in German so “und” (and) is “und” but in my dialect it becomes “in”. Otherwise all of the differences in the vowels between the two languages are pretty normal. You may also notice that there are words in Yiddish that exist in German dialects but not Hochdeutsch (“epes” for “etvas”, “do” for “hier”) and there are words in German that Frank uses that are also used in Yiddish (Geschaft, Stunde) but which I don’t use. Of all the German dialects Yiddish is probably closest to some forms of Badisch and Swiss German. Yiddish was the language of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews until the Holocaust and is now primarily spoken in Hasidic communities in Israel, the USA, England, Australia, Canada and Belgium. It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.

, דײַטש, ייִדיש, אידיש, שפּראַך, דיִאַלעקט, דײַטשיש , גרמנית, ידיש, דיאלקט, שפה, מדגישה, בלשנות

Jewish Life – Yiddish Show


In this Jewish Life Show, we interviewed Arthur Schwartz (head of the SB Yiddish Club,) heard a Yiddish song by Lorraine Klein, and saw a Yiddish Play based on a famous Jewish Story. Join us for a Yiddish Night!

The Yiddish Book Center’s Great Jewish Books Summer Program



Rediscovering Sepharad, last segment In this colorful neighborhood of narrow streets and grand buildings, we find remnants of a Jewish culture that once characterized the district.

Haredi: The Ultra orthodox society in Israel


This is a documentary  that follows a variety of people in the Ultra orthodox community in Israel, and tells different stories. First of is the Israeli election, in a feud between the sides in the community whether they should vote or not vote, second issue is the issue regarding education and poverty, where two women try to change the enviroment regarding haredi education and family planning, and the third part is about the controversy surrounding the internet in the Haredi world. Should internet be allowed or not?


Adar I 25, 5774 · February 25, 2014

They brought the Sanctuary to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings . . . Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it as G‑d had commanded . . . and Moses blessed them.

Exodus 39:33–43

Moses blessed them: He said, “May it be the will of G‑d that His presence dwell within the work of your hands.”

—Rashi’s commentary

Often, a person may feel inadequate in the face of a spiritual challenge, and contend that he is simply not equipped to reach for “lofty” attainments. For example, one may argue that while the perfection of his behavior is a matter of choice, he lacks the mental and emotional fortitude to transform his character. This, he maintains, is best left to individuals of a greater spiritual stature than himself.

Says the Torah: You do yours. Apply yourself to constructing the external edifice, and the Almighty will provide the “soul” to dwell therein. Do your utmost to make yourself a fitting vessel, and G‑d will fill it with the sublime resources which seem so elusive to you now.1

—Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

Once, a certain individual was condemned to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi as a hypocrite. “He considers himself a chassid (‘pious one’),” the rebbe was told, “and has assumed all sorts of pious customs and practices. He acts like a real holy fellow. But it’s all superficial: internally, his mind and heart are as coarse and unrefined as ever.”

“Well,” said the rebbe, “in that case, may he meet the end that the Talmud predicts for such people.”

The “informers” were taken aback. They had merely desired to “warn” the rebbe about this individual. But now, what sort of calamity had the rebbe called down upon him?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained: In the final mishnah of Tractate Pe’ah, the Talmud discusses the criteria for a pauper to be eligible to receive charity. The section concludes with the warning: “One who is not in need, but takes . . . one who is not lame or blind, but makes himself as such—will not die of old age until he is indeed as such.”

“In the same vein,” concluded the rebbe, “one who makes of himself more than he is in matters of righteousness and piety, will eventually find that these traits have become ingrained in his character and very being.”

1. In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman applies this to the beinoni (“ordinary man”) who feels that he lacks the spiritual credentials to aspire to the level of tzaddik, the perfectly righteous individual, who has utterly transformed himself both “inside” and “out.” In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “Habit reigns supreme in any sphere, and becomes second nature. So, if one accustoms himself to despise evil, it will to some extent become despicable in truth; likewise, if one accustoms himself to gladden his heart in G‑d through reflection upon His greatness, his self-impulsion will bring on inspiration from on high. If he pursues this path, perhaps a spirit from above will descend upon him and imbue him with the soul of a tzaddik.

VOICES: It’s a Dark World

It’s a Dark World
Adar I 25, 5774 · February 25, 2014
Unless we open the shutters

I don’t know what I expected from an around-the-world flight . . . but it wasn’t this. On my flight from California to Australia, it has been dark for more than 16 hours. I remember the sun setting. It was around 5 PM. Since that moment, it has remained the darkest of nights.

Well, fine, I’ll be honest. I know that the plane is not surrounded by a coal-black sky. But here inside the plane, it is dark. All windowshades are sealed shut, and the stewardesses are desperate to convince us that it’s time to sleep. For all intents and purposes, it is nighttime.

At this very moment the sun is shining, but we don’t see even a hint of its glow.

And why would we want to? We, the people of the plane, are content. Our eyes have adjusted; we have acclimated to the darkness. Some of us are dozing, and the alert among us are happily entertained by their self-powered devices.


It has been dark for more than 16 hours

down,” the stewardesses smile, as they lure us with boxed meals and orange juice. “Relax, and you won’t even miss the sun.”

And we almost don’t. It is peaceful up here, 50,000 feet above the earth. We could almost forget that this is not the way that things are meant to be.

We are trapped in a cage of blackness, while the sun begs to warm our skin and light our lives. If only we would look outside.

It happens on the ground, too, you know? Just in a different way. We go about our lives. We get used to the rush. The darkness. The deceit that we so often encounter. We grow accustomed to the necessity of stretching truth and limiting kindness for our own protection.

We don’t even realize that this is not the way things are meant to be. That we must fight the darkness, not get used to it. That we must strive to pry open the shutters and reveal the light. And that every tiny bit of light chases away an abundance of blackness.

It is akin to an allegory of old, in which a few families are thrown into a pit due to their inability to pay rent. They construct beds and chairs from mud and straw, and pray for freedom. They make do, but pine to see their homes once more. They whisper memories of a better life into the ears of their sons and daughters.


We must fight the darkness, not get used to it

children grow up having never seen trees. Having never felt grass beneath their feet. They grow older thinking that this is life. That the color scheme of the world is brown, black and gray. That the most comfortable bed in the world is one of straw. As these kids grow, they smile pityingly at the delusions of their parents.

And that? That is true exile. When the prisoner does not even know that he is incarcerated.

But there is life beyond the pit, and there is a sun shining outside this plane, and there is a utopian world waiting for us to reveal it.

There awaits a light and a life that is more vibrant than anything we can imagine. We need not get used to the dark realities of the world. We must fight them with light. One action at a time. One more dollar for charity. One more smile for the downhearted. One more visit to a sick friend.

I just peeked outside my window.

It’s brilliant.

By Rochel Spangenthal    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Rochel Spangenthal recently acquired a BA in psychology and biology from Yeshiva University. A native North Carolinian, Rochel is now a freelance writer, photographer and world traveler. Her topics of writing include chassidic philosophy, Judaism, psychology, and the tiny details of life. You can read more of her writing on her blog or Facebook page, and can view her photography here.

Harold Ramis; Oldest Holocaust Survivor Dies; Yelling at Delta Rep – February 25, 2014

To the Ticket Agent at the Delta Counter

by Josh Misner, Ph.D.
A powerful lesson in forgiveness: and being a role model for your kids.

Harold Ramis’ Search for Meaning

by Yvette Alt Miller
The writer and director of Groundhog Day passes away, leaving behind a legacy of funny, thoughtful films.

Video: The Truth about the UN

by Danny Ayalon
Welcome to the theater of the absurd where hypocrisy and cynicism reign.

Looking Good for Your Husband

by Emuna Braverman
It tells him: you’re the most important person in the world to me.

6 Tips on Encouraging Your Kids to Help Out

by Adina Soclof
Make your kids feel appreciated and valued at home.

Editor’s Pick:

Video: Everything Is a Present

by Anthony Robbins
The inspiration behind an Oscar-nominated documentary, Alice Herz-Sommer passed away a week before the Academy Awards at age 110.


On havdalah

On havdalahPosted: 24 Feb 2014 07:59 AM PST

Image002On a recent Saturday at my shul, we paused in an evening program to make havdalah. Afterwards, someone emailed me asking to learn more, pointing out that havdalah was entirely new to them, and perhaps to others as well.

Probably you know we begin Shabbat with a simple ritual: we light candles, bless the fruit of the vine (a symbol of joy and holiness), bless bread (which for most Ashkenazi Jews means challah, though in other parts of the world Jews bless other forms of bread, from tortillas to naan) and in many households also bless our children. Before this ritual, it’s still work-week; after the blessings are spoken and the candles are lit, we’ve entered into the time-apart-from-time which we call Shabbat. Havdalah is the mirror reflection of that; as those blessings began Shabbat, havdalah is how Shabbat ends. The word havdalah means “separation.”

At havdalah, we light a braided candle with many wicks, and hold it aloft for all to see. In the most traditional paradigm no fire is kindled during Shabbat, so the striking of the match to light the havdalah candle is a powerful first sign that Shabbat is ending. We bless the fruit of the vine once more. We bless fragrant spices, and pass them around to inhale their heady scent. We bless God who separates one thing from another: separates light from dark, one community from another, the rest day of Shabbat from the six days of work. And then we extinguish the candle in the wine. With that sputter and hiss, Shabbat comes to its end.

After the candle is extinguished, many of us have the custom of singing “Eliahu HaNavi” and/or its twin song “Miriam HaNeviah” — songs expressing hope for redemption. Then we might sing “Shavua Tov” — “A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase!” And with that, the new week begins.

I love havdalah. It’s one of my favorite rituals in Jewish practice. And it is very much a ritual, not a ceremony. What’s the difference? A ceremony, such as a graduation, celebrates and makes official something which has already occurred — in the case of a graduation, it marks the fact that a student has completed a course of study. (But the course of study is complete already, whether or not the student walks across the stage to receive the diploma.) A ritual, such as havdalah,creates a spiritual change while it is taking place.

I love havdalah because it’s the second bookend, the close-parenthesis, which balances the ritual of making Shabbat in the first place. On Friday night we light candles and bless wine; on Saturday night we bless wine and extinguish a candle. On Friday night we begin something special and sacred, and on Saturday night we bring it to its close. On Friday night we open a door, and on Saturday night we close it. We both start and finish Shabbat with mindfulness, taking a few minutes to be aware of a moment in time when something changes. Havdalah is a hinge, a fulcrum-point, balancing between the Shabbat which is ending and the new week which is beginning. We teeter at the top of the hill for a moment and then tumble down the other side.

Orion-Jupiter-and-clouds-Nov16_2012S-1024x682I love havdalah because it’s so poignant. Usually the ritual is done in semi-darkness; we’re supposed to be able to see three stars in the sky, so night is really falling. The day of Shabbat is coming to its end. And we gather together, sometimes standing in a circle with our arms around each other, and sing these last songs and gaze at this candle and smell the sweet spices which are meant to revive us from the impending departure of that second Shabbat soul. It feels as though we’re coming together to savor the last moments of Shabbat sweetness before they’re gone for the week.

I love havdalah because there are so many beautiful teachings about its additional layers of meaning. For instance: when the braided candle is held aloft, there is a custom of holding up one’s hands to see the light illuminating our fingernails and our skin. The Hebrew word for light (אור) and the Hebrew word for skin (עור) are homonyms: they are both pronounced or. When we hold up our hands before the havdalah flame, we remember the teaching (from the Zohar) that in the world to come we will wear skins made out of light, garments woven out of the brightly shining mitzvot we performed in this life.

But most of all I love havdalah because even without all of the extra teachings and interpretations we can lay on top of it, it works. It makes a difference. Spending five minutes in a darkened room holding that braided candle aloft, making these blessings, breathing in the sweet spices, and then plunging the candle into the wine — it does something. You can feel the change in the energy of the room. Something has ended and something else has begun.