For the Love of Being Jewish: An A-to-Z Primer for Bubbies, Menschs, Meshugies, Tzaddiks, and Yentas!

For the Love of Being Jewish: An A-to-Z Primer for Bubbies, Menschs, Meshugies, Tzaddiks, and Yentas!

by Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein, Mark Anderson

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Using all 26 letters of the alphabet accompanied by rhymes, colorful illustrations, and informative text, this tribute to Jewish religion and heritage explores key concepts in a humorous way. Readers will enjoy fun facts, inspiring quotes, important terminology, and clever caricatures.


Using all 26 letters of the alphabet accompanied by rhymes, colorful illustrations, and informative text, this tribute to Jewish religion and heritage explores key concepts in a humorous way. Readers will enjoy fun facts, inspiring quotes, important terminology, and clever caricatures.

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Triumph Books
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For the Love of Being Jewish

An A-to-Z Primer for Bubbies, Mensches, Meshugas, Tzaddiks, and Yentas!

By Steven Stark Lowenstein

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2010 Steven Stark Lowenstein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60078-403-3


Abba = Father Aliyah = To ascend, to go up Alter Kahker = An old man; someone who sits around all day Aufruf = Wedding blessing

"A" IS FOR Abraham, The father of us all. He left his father's business When he heard the famous call.

THE THREE MAIN RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD all trace their roots back to Abraham, who is considered the first Jew. Like a good son, he worked in his father's business for as long as he could. In Chapter 12 of Genesis he was told, "Lech Lecha" — go forth. He was the very first individual to believe in monotheism, the belief in one God. He had no past and no bubbly personality. He began at age 75 to cross over into a new land with his wife and nephew. He circumcised himself at age 99. He was the first to make a deal with God. Blessed with two children, he almost sacrificed his son, Isaac, and then died at the ripe old age of 175.

"I don't believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear." — Woody Allen

"More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel." — Ahad Ha'am

Bracha = Blessing Bubkis = Nothing Ba'al Tashchit = Do not destroy (protect the environment)

Bar/Bat Mitzvah = Rite of passage for 13-year-old to be called to the Torah Bashert = Predestined

"B" IS FOR Bubala and Boychick, Guests at the brunch table. Mel Brooks and Ben Gurion say the bracha Over the bagels, lox, and sable.

A BLESSING OR BRACHA is the way that we praise, thank, and/or petition God. Tradition teaches that we should try to recite at least 100 blessings per day. The recitation of blessings is a constant reminder — for every human being — of who we are and what we can hope to become. There are blessings for everything and everyone.

"Look at Jewish history. Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So, for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast-beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one." — Mel Brooks

"In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles." — David Ben Gurion

Challah = Braided egg bread Chesed = Kindnes s Chuppah = Wedding canopy

Chutzpah = Audacity, nerve Covenant = Agreement/brit

"C" IS FOR Covenant, Making God crystal clear. They called us the "Chosen" Giving us nothing to fear.

CHOSEN PEOPLE? According to the Bible, God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants to be God's partner and emissary in the world. This concept has been distorted through the ages to mean that Jews regard themselves as God's chosen people, thus superior to other people.

In truth, this "chosenness" puts a heavy burden on the Jewish people rather than endowing them with special privileges. It requires the Jewish people to be a "Light unto the Nations." Being chosen does not mean being better than others, but rather having a special mission that requires a high moral code of conduct and responsibility. This covenant requires unshakable faith between God and the Jewish people.

"Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." — Benjamin Cardozo

From the first time I saw Sid Caesar be funny, I knew that's what I had to do." — Billy Crystal

Daven = To pray Derech Eretz = Do the right thing If you want to make peace Dreidel = Spinning top for Chanukah

"D" IS FOR David, The mightiest of kings. It also stands for Dylan, The Bobby Zimmerman who sings.

DIASPORA AND DAVID: Since the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE, the Jewish people have spread all over the world. Today, with 12 to 14 million Jews scattered around the world making up less than one half of 1 percent of the world's population, there are Jews everywhere from D.C. to Damascus. Yet from that exile, the Jewish people have remained a single family overcoming obstacles.

Kind David (1010–970 BCE) is the second King of Israel who arose from a young shepherd to unite the tribes of Israel and become one of its most powerful figures. With a pebble from a small slingshot, he slew the great Goliath. He defeated the Philistines so soundly that they were quiet for centuries. He is remembered as a great warrior and a loyal and trusted friend. The author of Psalms, David has been called the "Sweet Singer of Israel."

"May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. May you stay forever young." — Bob Dylan

Ein Sof = Without end Emet = Truth Emunah = Faith

"E" IS FOR Exodus, The escape from cruel oppression. And for E=mc2 Albert Einstein's brilliant expression.

THE SINGLE GREATEST EVEN in the history of the Jewish people is the Exodus from Egypt. From the Greek meaning "going out," in this second book of the Bible we learn the story of the Egyptian oppression, the selection of Moses, the ten plagues, the early morning departure from Egypt, God's revelation at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Torah. It was on this journey that the Jewish people went from slavery to freedom — a freedom we continuously celebrate in every generation.

"Life is a gift, and if we agree to accept it, we must contribute in return.

When we fail to contribute, we fail to adequately answer why we are here." — Albert Einstein

"For the Jews there was great light and joy, happiness, and honor." — Esther 8:16

Farklempt = Emotionally distraught or choked up Freilich = Joy

"F" IS FOR Frankfurter and Fortas, Who, through hard work, realized their dreams. With Justices Breyer, Brandeis, Goldberg, and Ginsburg They've become THE JEWISH SUPREMES.

IN 1916, LOUIS DEMBITZ BRANDEIS became the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, but only after a tumultuous confirmation process. The 1932 appointment of Benjamin Cardozo raised mild controversy for placing two Jewish justices on the court at the same time. Cardozo was succeeded by Felix Frankfurter in 1939, Arthur Goldberg in 1962, and Abe Fortas in 1965 — each of whom filled what became known as the "Jewish Seat." In 1993 Ruth Bader Ginsburg and in 1994 Stephen Breyer were added; both highly respected Jewish justices were still serving on the highest court in the land as of 2010.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." — Anne Frank

"Why the people of Israel adhered to their God all the more devotedly the worse they were treated by him, that is a question we must leave open." — Sigmund Freud

Gevalt = Expression of surprise or cry for help G'milut Chasadim = Acts of loving kindness

"G" IS FOR God Enough said!

"God was in this place and I, I didn't know it." –Genesis 28:16

"The inability to hear a new revelation is one of the signs of death of the soul." — Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

Halacha = Jewish law, literally "the way" Havdalah = The ceremony to end Shabbat

Hannukah = festival of lights (also spelled Chanukah, Hannuka, or Chanuka)

"H" IS FOR Herzl, Who dreamt of a Jewish State, And for Hillel and Rabbi Heschel, Philosophers, first-rate.

AT LEAST THREE DIFFERENT TIMES IN HISTORY, individuals with the initial "H" harnessed hope for great change. Hillel lived from 110 BCE TO 10 CE and is considered one of the most important figures in Jewish history. He is popularly known as the author of two sayings: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" And "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is explanation; go and learn." The odore Herzl lived from 1860–1904 and is considered the visionary of the Jewish State and the father of modern Zionism. He said, "If you will it, it is no dream." Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Europe in 1907 and died in the United States in 1972. He was the leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20 century. A prominent leader in civil rights, he once wrote, "When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying."

"In a place where people do not behave with humanity, strive to be human." — Hillel

Ima = Mother Israel = One who wrestles with God Ivree = Hebrew

"I" IS FOR Israel, A place like no other. It also stands for Isaac and Ishmael, Who luckily didn't have another brother.

THE LAND OF ISRAEL, has been central to Judaism since its very beginnings. The covenant that God made with Abraham included the promise of land — which would eventually come to be known as Israel. It is a physical and spiritual homeland for the Jewish people forever. Wherever Jews live, they pray facing east — toward the holy city of Jerusalem. For almost 1,900 years, at the end of every Passover Seder, the hope and prayer, "Next Year in Jerusalem," has been uttered.

"Arise, shine, for your light has dawned and the presence of God has shone upon you." — Isaiah 60:1

Jerusalem = City of peace Josepheus = First - century Jewish historian Judah Macabee = The hero of the Chanukah story

"J" IS FOR Billy Joel And Al Jolson, whose voices never fail, And for Jesus, Jacob, Jeremiah, And, of course, Jonah and the whale.

FROM A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE, Jesus was a great prophet and teacher from Galilee who lived at the beginning of the Common Era. The teachings and parables of Jesus and those attributed to him were so compelling they gave rise to a worldwide religion called Christianity. Jesus lived and died at a time and in a place when there was great turmoil and messianic fervor, and the stories about him can be understood against the background of an entire people yearning for salvation and redemption.

"The question is not whether we will survive, but who and how many will survive. And this will depend on the degree to which we can try and recapture the masses of our young people to the thrills of Jewish learning and Jewish living." — Immanuel Jakobovits

Kavanah = Intention Kavod = Honor Kibitz = Talk playfully Kiddush = Blessing over the wine

Klutz = Especially clumsy person Kvell = Overfl owing with pride Kvetch = Complain

"K" IS FOR Kol Nidre, The fast that goes slow. But for Koufax on Yom Kippur It was to synagogue he did go.

THE TASK OF LIVING JEWISH is to seek holiness in everything we say and do. The Hebrew word for holiness is kadosh (meaning "separate" or "unique") — chosen and designated from among all other similar things for special purpose or use. Kol Nidre (meaning "all vows") on the eve of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is considered by many the holiest religious observance of the Jewish year. Speaking of Kol Nidre, left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax was the first Major League Baseball player to throw four no-hitters. In Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, Koufax chose not to pitch on Yom Kippur out of respect for his Jewish tradition. Now that is kadosh!

"To take the old and make it new and take the new and make it holy." — Abraham Isaac Kook

Labriut = "To your health" Lashon Hara = Wicked speech; gossip Latke = Potato pancake L'chaim = "To life"

"L" IS FOR Emma Lazarus, Her poem inscribed on Liberty's "Golden Door," And also for Polo's Ralph Lauren, His fancy threads in every store.

LAMED VAV TZADDIKIM — literally, 36 righteous human beings — these secret saints are the center of many stories and mystical legends. All of the tales are based on the teachings of Abbaye, a great first-century rabbi mentioned in the Talmud, a book of Jewish law. It explains there are at least 36 righteous people in the world at all times. Their identities are never known by them or anyone else. They are so pious and modest that they hide their learning and their good deeds. According to this legend, before one of the 36 dies, another is always born, saving our cruel world from destruction. Maybe you are one of them?

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" — Emma Lazarus

Macher = Big shot Mazal Tov = Congratulations Mentch = Truly good person Meshugah = Crazy Mikvah = Ritual bath Mitzvah = Commandment/good deed Motzi = Blessing over the bread

"M" IS FOR Moses, Who climbed a mountain quite rocky. Another M is for Golda Meir, The greatest export from Milwaukee.

THE TORAH CONTAINS 613 MITZVOT OR COMMANDMENTS. The most famous of the mitzvot are the Ten Commandments brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Engraved on two stone tablets, these famous laws address the central issues of ethical human behavior — between humans and God and between us and our fellow human beings. According to legend, Moses climbed Mount Sinai multiple times to discuss, argue, and comprehend God's covenant, a process that continues every time we study and learn.

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." — Groucho Marx

Naches = Pride Nes = Miracle Nosh = Eat something light Nu = So

"N" IS FOR Ner Tamid, The Eternal Light so bright. It also stands for Never Forget As the Holocaust darkened our light.

"NEVER FORGET" is our obligation to both remember the victims of the Holocaust and work to ensure that no such genocide can ever take place in any corner of our world. From 1939–1945, 6 million Jews and 12 million people in all lost their lives throughout Europe during the Shoah, the Holocaust. Ner Tamid is the eternal light, representing God's presence, that burns continually in synagogues around the world. We must never forget in order to keep this light burning and never allow darkness to again overtake our world.

"The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid." — Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Olam Ha-ba = World to come Oneg Shabbat = Enjoyment/celebration of the Shabbat Oy Vey! = Oh, no!

"O" IS OR Orthodox, Oy gevalt, and Oy vey And whether Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform, It's the "Hear O Israel" we all say.

THERE IS A PLACE FOR EVERYONE ALONG THE SPECTRUM OF JEWISH LIFE. There are three major movements — Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox — with no monolithic approach to Jewish life. Orthodox is the oldest and believes that the Torah was given by God to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai and every law should be followed precisely. Reform Judaism came along in the mid-19 century as a response to modernity and enlightenment. It believes that laws are for "guidance not governance" and the Torah was written by divinely inspired human beings. Conservative Judaism was founded as a response to Reform and sought to conserve some of the rituals that Reform rejected. Add Humanist and Reconstructionist to the mix, and we hope that each branch can strive to achieve a collective oneness that makes us, no matter what we are labeled, Klal Israel — unified Jewish people.

"After a certain number of years, our faces become our biographies." — Cynthia Ozick

Parasha = Weekly Torah portion Passover = Holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt Pikuach Nefesh = To save a life Punim = Face Pushke = Container used to collect money to donate

"P" IS FOR Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, Two of the best fiddlers on Earth. And for Proverbs, Psalms, and Prophets — Profound wisdom in every verse.

PSALMS ARE A COLLECTION OF 150 SACRED PRAYERS/POEMS — many attributed to King David — expressing a full range of Jewish faith and emotion. The book of Proverbs contains short, pithy statements that give advice on how to live ethically and morally. Many proverbs are attributed to King Solomon, one of the wisest people in history (even though he had 700 wives!). Prophets were spokespeople and messengers for God who challenged and admonished the Jewish people from the conquest of Canaan in 1200 BCE to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The role of the biblical prophet was to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The prophets demanded social justice for all and reminded people to repent from their evil ways and return to following God's commandments. The weekly reading of the prophets is called the haftarah.


Excerpted from For the Love of Being Jewish by Steven Stark Lowenstein. Copyright © 2010 Steven Stark Lowenstein. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein was ordained in 1995 from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, and he serves Congregation Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois. Mark Anderson is an illustrator whose work has appeared on the back cover of National Geographic, the New Yorker, and Time and inside the Atlantic Monthly, BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, Outside, and many other periodicals. He is the illustrator and designer of Triumph Books' popular For the Love of . . . series. He lives in Chicago.

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