Chava Berman Borowsky

Jewish Literacy

I’ll commemorate this year’s 76th Independence Day with something a little bit different from the usual. The inspiration for this post is a culmination of more than a few casual encounters where I was genuinely surprised by the lack of basic Jewish and also Hebrew literacy. The latest episode was when I said to a woman in Israel who had lost her octogenarian mother, “המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים.” I assumed she was familiar with the phrase until she answered me, “Oh, I don’t speak any Hebrew.”

Jewish Life Cycle Literacy

Bris and baby naming: וייקרא שמו בישראל

Bar Mitzvah: ברוך שפטרני מעונשו של זה

Wedding: הנה את מקודשת לי בטבעת זו כדת משה וישראל

Death: ברוך דיין האמת

Funeral: המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

Jewish Dates Literacy

Gen Z never ceases to amaze me with their profound knowledge of the world yet their complete lack of basic facts. When I moved to Israel fifteen years ago it was only the Haredim who didn’t know the Gregorian names for months and instead just used the chronological order of the months. This past week I was bewildered to discover that my kids didn’t know both the Gregorian or the Jewish months and when I did my own independent research it turns out that it’s not only the Haredim anymore who only use numbers for months and not names.

October: תשרי

November: חשון

December: כסלו

January: טבת

February: שבט

March: אדר

April: ניסן

May: אייר

June: סיון

July: תמוז

August: אב

September: אלול

In Israel you can write the Jewish date on a check and it will be accepted by all banks. (The banker will just walk outside and ask the first Breslover he sees to translate the date for him into Gregorian terms – true story)

Jewish Holidays Literacy

The New Year: ראש השנה 

Commemorating our wandering in the desert: סוכות

Finishing to read all of Tanach: שמחת תורה

Day of Atonement: יום כיפור

Miracle of Oil / Winter Solstice: חנוכה

Birthday of the Trees: ט”ו בשבט

Salvation from annihilation by the Persian Empire: פורים

Salvation from slavery by the Egyptian Empire: פסח

Israel’s Memorial Day: יום הזיכרון

Israel’s Independence Day: יום העצמאות

Celebrating Receiving the Tablets / Torah: שבועות

Mourning the Destruction of the Temple: תשעה באב

Jewish History Through Defeated Empires Literacy

The Egyptian Empire – פסח

The Persian Empire – פורים

The Greek Empire – חנוכה

The Roman Empire – תשעה באב

These lists are the elementary fundamental essential building blocks of everything else. I’ll end with a few word-plays from my favorite language in the world which is of course Hebrew. May we soon celebrate a future where כדור means a ball (or pill or ice-cream scoop) instead of a bullet, where רימון means a pomegranate and not a grenade, and where מבצע means a sale and not a military operation.

About the Author
Chava Berman Borowsky grew up in Los Angeles, CA in an Orthodox community in the La Brea Fairfax neighborhood. She moved to Israel in 2008 and has since lived in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Holon, and Ashdod. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, painting, and writing.
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