Archive for 'Cultural Awareness'

Celebration – Shavuot

Posted on 03. Jun, 2014 by in Celebrations and Holidays, Cultural Awareness, Food, Judaism, Torah

When is Shavuot celebrated?

2014 Sunset, June 3 – nightfall, June 5

2015 Sunset, May 23 – nightfall, May 25

2016 Sunset, June 11 – nightfall, June 13

שָׁבוּעוֹת (Shavuot), known as the Feast of Weeks in English and as Πεντηκοστή (Pentecost) in Ancient Greek, is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan.

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. The holiday marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer, making the date directly linked to that of Passover. The word Shavuot means weeks, and the festival of Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period from Passover.

In the Torah

In the Bible, Shavuot is known under other names. The three main ones are:

FESTIVAL OF WEEKS (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot)

כב וְחַג שָׁבֻעֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ, בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים; וְחַג, הָאָסִיף–תְּקוּפַת, הַשָּׁנָה.

“And you will celebrate your Festival of Weeks with the first ripe fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. – Exodus 34:22

FESTIVAL OF HARVEST (Hebrew: חג הקציר, Ḥag ha-Katsir)

טז וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה; וְחַג הָאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה, בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶת-מַעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן-הַשָּׂדֶה.

Also, you are to observe the Festival of Harvest of the first ripe fruits of your labors, of what you sow in the field; and the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the results of your labors. – Exodus 23:16

DAY OF THE FIRST (RIPE) FRUITS (Hebrew יום הבכורים, Yom ha-Bikkurim)

כו וּבְיוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים, בְּהַקְרִיבְכֶם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַיהוָה–בְּשָׁבֻעֹתֵיכֶם: מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ.

“‘On the day of the first ripe fruits, when you present a new grain offering to Jehovah, you should hold a holy convention in your feast of weeks. You must not do any hard work – Numbers 28:26.

In the Talmud

The Talmud refers to Shavuot as עצרת‎ (literally meaning “refraining” or “holding back”). This refers to the prohibition against hard work on this holiday and to the conclusion of the holiday and season of Passover. Because Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Greek Jews gave it the name “Pentecost” (πεντηκοστή, “fiftieth day”) (Do not confuse with the Christian observance of Pentecost).

Grain harvest

Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. In ancient times, at the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot.

Modern observances

Shavuot has no prescribed mitzvot (Torah commandments) other than traditional festival observances of meals and merriment; and the observances of special prayer services and no working. However, it is characterized by the following מִנְהָגִים (customs).

1. אקדמות – Akdamut, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavuot morning synagogue services

2. חלב – Chalav (milk), the consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese

3. רות – Ruth, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services (outside Israel: on the second day)

4. ירק – Yerek, the decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery

5. תורה – Torah, engaging in all-night Torah study.


Akdamut (Aramaic: אקדמות) is a poem extolling the greatness of God, the Torah and Israel that is read publicly in the synagogue right before the morning reading of the Torah on the first day of Shavuot. The poem is written in a double acrostic pattern according to the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Sephardim do not read Akdamut, but before the evening service they sing a poem called Azharot which sets out the 613 Biblical commandments. The positive commandments are recited on the first day and the negative commandments on the second day. The liturgical poem of Yatziv Pitgam (Aramaic: יציב פתגם) is recited by some synagogues in the Diaspora on the second day of Shavuot.

Dairy foods


Dairy foods such as cheesecake, cheese blintzes, cheese kreplach, cheese sambusak, kelsonnes, atayef, kahee, a seven-layer cake called siete cielos (Spanish for seven heavens) are traditionally consumed on the Shavuot holiday. Yemenite Jews do not eat dairy foods on Shavuot. In keeping with the observance of other Yom Tovs, there is both a night meal and a day meal on Shavuot. Meat is usually served at night and dairy is served either for the day meal or for a morning kiddush.

The Book of Ruth (מְגִלַּת רוּת)

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot because, according to tradition

  1. King David, Ruth’s descendant, was born and died on Shavuot.
  2. Shavuot is harvest time [Exodus 23:16], and the events of Book of Ruth occur at harvest time
  3. Ruth was a convert, and all Jews also entered the covenant on Shavuot, when the Torah was given
  4. The central theme of the book is loving-kindness, and the Torah is about loving-kindness
  5. Ruth was allowed to marry Boaz on the basis of the Oral Law’s interpretation of Deut. 23:4 (ד לֹא-יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי, בִּקְהַל יְהוָה: גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי, לֹא-יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל יְהוָה עַד-עוֹלָם. – No Am′mon·ite or Mo′ab·ite may come into the congregation of Jehovah) pointing to the unity of the Written and Oral Torahs.



According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit. Greenery also figures in the story of the baby Moses being found among the bulrushes in a watertight cradle when he was three months old. For these reasons, many Jewish families traditionally decorate their homes and synagogues with plants, flowers and leafy branches in honor of Shavuot.

All-night Torah study

The practice of staying up all night to study Torah is known as תקון ליל שבועות‎ (Tikkun Leil Shavuot). The custom of all-night Torah study goes back to 1533 when Rabbi Joseph Caro invited Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz and other Kabbalistic colleagues to hold Shavuot-night study vigils for which they prepared for three days in advance. Although Talmud, Mishnah, and Torah are at the top the list, any subject may be studied on Shavuot night. People may learn alone or with a study partner, or attend late-night lectures and study groups. Both men and women participate in this tradition.

In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of people finish off the nighttime study session by walking to the Western Wall before dawn and joining the sunrise minyan. This practice began in 1967 and since then, over 200,000 Jews came to pray at the site.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot

The Tikkun Leil Shavuot (חג שבועות ליל תיקון) consists of excerpts from the beginning and end of each of the 24 books of Tanakh (with the exceptions of the account of the days of creation, The Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Shema are all read in full) and the 63 books of Mishnah. This is followed by the reading of Sefer Yetzirah, the 613 commandments as enumerated by Maimonides, and excerpts from the Zohar, with opening and concluding prayers. The whole reading is divided into thirteen parts printed in a special book, and is widely used in Eastern Sephardic, some German and Hasidic communities. There are similar books for the vigils before the seventh day of Pesach and Hosha’ana Rabbah.Spanish and Portuguese Jews do not observe this custom.

Today’s Israel: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

Posted on 29. Apr, 2014 by in Cultural Awareness, Exploring Israel, Learning Hebrew, Phrases, Today's Israel, Vocabulary


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF; Hebrew: צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל – Arabic: جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي‎) were founded following the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948 and the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the army, air force, and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces. The IDF is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Defense Minister of Israel; Rav Aluf Benny Gantz has served as Chief of Staff since 2011.

The IDF differs from most armed forces in the world in many ways. These differences include the mandatory conscription of women, and the institution’s structure emphasizes close relations between the army, navy, and air force. Since its founding, the IDF has been one of the country’s influencing the country’s economy, culture and political scene. But it doesn’t stop there, the IDF was also awarded the Israel Prize for its contribution to education.

Serving in the IDF


National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, although Arab (but not Druze) citizens are exempted if they so please, and other exceptions may be made on religious, physical or psychological grounds. The Tal law, which exempts ultra-orthodox Jews from service, has been the subject of several court cases as well as considerable legislative controversy.

Men serve three years in the IDF, while women serve two. The IDF women who volunteer for several combat positions often serve for three years, due to the longer period of training. Women in other positions, such as programmers, who also require lengthy training time, may also serve three years. Women in most combat positions are also required to serve in the reserve for several years after they leave regular service.

Permanent service is designed for soldiers who choose to continue serving in the army after their regular service, for a short or long period, and in many cases making the military their career. Permanent service usually begins immediately after the mandatory Regular service period, but there are also soldiers who get released from military at the end of the mandatory Regular service period and who get recruited back to the military as Permanent service soldiers in a later period.

Vocabulary and Phrases

he served – שרת

military services – צָבָא

branch of service – חַיִל

draft notice – צַו גִּיּוּס

soldier (masc) – חַיָּל

soldier (fem) – חַיָּלֶת

I’ve been serving in the army a year already – אני משרת בצבא כור שנה.

In which branch are you serving? – באיזה חיל אתה משרת?

She’s waiting for her draft notice – היא מחכה לצו גיוס.

He’s a soldier – הוא חייל

She’s a soldier – היא חייל

He’s serving in the navy – הוא משרת בחיל הים

He’s serving in the army – הוא משרת בחיל היבשה

IDF Homepage:

When in Israel, eat like an Israeli

Posted on 18. Feb, 2014 by in Cultural Awareness, Exploring Israel, Food, Travel

When it comes to food, Israelis are spoiled. They are accustomed to strong flavors and fresh ingredients. How spoiled are they? Well, McDonald’s was forced to change their burger recipe (and create a kosher Big Mac) to be accepted by the Israeli palate. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t quite make it….

In Israel, as in many other Middle Eastern countries, “street food” is a kind of fast food that is sometimes literally eaten while standing in the street, while in some cases there are places to sit down. The following are some foods that are usually eaten in this way: But what I want to talk about here is the different types of street food that you should try. Most of them can be found pretty much anywhere in Israel. But if you want to get the best foods, ask the locals for their favorites.

סביח Sabich: This is an Iraqi-Jewish breakfast of fried eggplant, overnight cooked egg, tahini and pickled mango sauce (called amba) – usually eaten on Shabbat. The street version includes all the above stuffed into pita bread. If you’re really hungry, you can also ask to add in some chopped vegetable salad, cooked potatoes or sliced onions and hot sauce.

ה”סנדויץ’ התוניסאי” Tunisian sandwich: A large fried bun (yes, fried) with hard-boiled egg, tuna, potatoes, olives, pickled lemon and harrisa. Be warned, though, that it can be quite spicy for those who can’t handle spicy foods. The Tunisian sandwich is a bit harder to find at your typical street food stand.

Jerusalem bagels, bagels are not always the the round, boiled and baked breads. These ones are long and oblong-shaped, made from bread dough, covered in za’atar or sesame seeds, and are soft, chewy and sweet.

בורקס Burekas: Large pastries made of phyllo filled with either cheese, potatoes, spinach or roasted eggplant. You may ask for it sliced into smaller slices. it can also be served with an overnight cooked egg, pickles and even tahini.

שווארמה Shawarma: Similar to the Greek gyro, the Israeli version of Shawarma uses turkey layered with lamb fat (some places serve lamb meat, but since the Israeli lamb has a stronger flavor and aroma, some people will eat the turkey version instead). It is served in a pita to which you can add hummus, tahini sauce, chopped vegetable salad, cabbage salad, pickles, french fries – pretty much what you find pleasing to the palate.

פלאפל Falafel: This is the ultimate fast food or street food you can find in Israel. There are many places you can find serving falafel so your best bet would be asking the locals where to find the closest best place. Make sure you eat it is when it’s fried during the last few minutes or just in front of you and served hot and fresh.

מלבי Malabi: If you want something sweet, this creamy pudding is prepared with milk (or cream) and cornstarch. It is sold as a street food from carts or stalls, in disposable cups with thick sweet syrup and various toppings such as chopped pistachios or coconut. It’s so popular that supermarkets sell it in plastic packages, and restaurants serving richer and more sophisticated versions using various toppings and garnishes such as berries and fruit.


Video courtesy of: goisraelofficial – The official YouTube channel of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Hebrew vs. Yiddish: What’s the Difference?

Posted on 30. Dec, 2013 by in Cultural Awareness, Judaism, Yiddish

כל בני האדם נולדו בני חורין ושווים בערכם ובזכויותיהם. כולם חוננו בתבונה ובמצפון, לפיכך חובה עליהם לנהוג איש ברעהו ברוח של אחווה.

יעדער מענטש װערט געבױרן פֿרײַ און גלײַך אין כּבֿוד און רעכט. יעדער װערט באַשאָנקן מיט פֿאַרשטאַנד און געװיסן; יעדער זאָל זיך פֿירן מיט אַ צװײטן אין אַ געמיט פֿון ברודערשאַפֿט.

Looking at the two paragraphs above, what do you see? Two paragraphs of Hebrew writing, but the second paragraph is not actually Hebrew. It’s actually Yiddish. What’s the difference between the two langauges? Why is Yiddish written with the Hebrew alphabet?

Yiddish Origins

From a linguistic point of view, Yiddish is a mix of languages. It first started as Biblical Hebrew. And after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, speaking Biblical Hebrew was considered too holy for daily use. Around the 11th century, Ashkenazi Jews living in or around the areas now known as Germany and Poland started speaking a language that was a mix of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, German and Polish called לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashknez = “language of Ashkenaz”) and טײַטש (taytsh, the name for the German spoken in the region of origin). The term ייִדיש (Yiddish) did not become the name of the language until the 18th century. In the late 19th and early 20th century the language was more commonly called “Jewish”, but now “Yiddish” is again in use.

What are the differences?

Due to their Biblical Hebrew roots there are many similarities betwen the two languages. The most obvious is the fact that they use the same written letters. One difference is the niqqud (vowels) used in Hebrew are omitted for the most part in Yiddish. The consonants ע (ayin) and א (aleph) as well as variations of י (yud) to represent different vowel sounds.

Because Yiddish is a mix of various languages, it takes on the grammar rules of the other languages it picked up – making the grammar rules a little bit difficult to pin down. For example, there are two basic ways to form a plural in Hebrew—by adding ים (im) or ות (ot) to the end of the word. In Yiddish, however, there are several ways to form a plural depending on the source of the word (is it of German origin? Polish? Aramaic?). For example, the plural of “chaver,” (friend) a Hebrew word, would be “chaverim” in Yiddish. However, the plural of “bubbe” (grandmother) would be “bubbles” in Yiddish.

Yiddish is a very interesting language. And for all our readers who are Yiddish speakers, גוט טאָג פריינט. באַגריסונג צו דעם בלאָג!


Listen…do you want to know a secret?

Posted on 28. Dec, 2013 by in Conversation, Cultural Awareness, Grammar, Learning Hebrew, Phrases, Real World, Vocabulary


Can you keep a secret? You will not believe what I heard. Well, it’s really no secret, but if you did have one, how would you express that? Let’s start with a rumor that has been going around and you want to know if it’s true…

שְׁמוּעוֹת אוֹמְרוֹת שְׁאתה לומד עברית – Rumor has it that you’re learning Hebrew
שְׁמוּעָה – rumor (literally “rumors”)
אוֹמְרוֹת – says
שְׁ – that (used as a conjunction)

Yes, it’s true, you are learning Hebrew. So …

כן, אני לומד עברית, אַל תְּסַפֵּר לְאַף אֶחָד.Yes, I’m learning Hebrew, don’t tell anyone.
אַל – Don’t; at, to
תְּסַפֵּר – tell (masculine form from the verb לְסַפֵּר)
תְּסַפֵּרִי – tell (feminine form from the verb לְסַפֵּר)
לְאַף אֶחָד – no one

זֶה לְגַמְרֵי בֵּינִי לְבֵינְךָ – This is strictly between you and me.
לְגַמְרֵי – completely, totally
בֵּינִי – between ; amongst
בֵּינִי לְבֵינְךָ – between you and me (you may also hear בֵּינֵינוּ)

Other ways to talk about rumors and secrets

אַתָּה לְעוֹלָם לוֹא תַּאֲמִין מַה… – You’ll never believe what…
אַתְּ לְעוֹלָם לוֹא תַּאֲמִינִי מַה… – You’ll never believe what…

שָׁמַעְתָּ על…? – Did you hear about…?
שָׁמַעְתְּ על…? – Did you hear about…?

צִיפּוֹר קְטַנָּה לָחֲשָׁה לִי שֽׁ… – A little bird told me that….

Maybe a rumor is not true?

מַה אַתָּה אוֹמֵר! – I don’t believe it!
אֲנִי לֹא מַאֲמִין! – I don’t believe it!

There’s a shorter way to say you don’t believe what is being told to you:
בְּחַיֶּיךָ – You don’t say! / I don’t believe it! (to a male)
בְּחַיַּיִךְ – You don’t say! / I don’t believe it! (to a female)

But if you still swear it’s true:
בְּחַיַיִ – I swear to you!, on my life!