Jewish Albums – Glossary


A brief guide to Hebrew-Yiddish orthography

a     “a” as in “father”
ay   “i” as in “bite”
e     “e” as in “met”
ey   “a” as in “plate”
i      “ee” as in “peer”
kh  “ch” as in “Bach” (German)
o     “o” as in “pour”
u     “u” as in “put”
’      represents a glottal break between vowels, or a pronounced  break between abutting consonants, thus ha-ba’a is pronounced “ha-ba-AH.”

However, some words remain as they are usually transliterated into English:

  • Chanukah
  • Chassid / Chassidim
  • Chrayn
  • menorah
  • Pesach
  • Yom Kippur


a mazeldikeh yor: a lucky year (see: Rosh Hashana)
Afikoman – see Pesach/Passover
agada: legend
Akhehr: “other”, “different,” “another” in Hebrew (אחר). In Jewish history and tradition, the name “Akhehr” refers to Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya (or Avuya), a revered sage of the Hellenistic era who lived and taught in Jerusalem. Rabbi Elisha developed an interest in the new philosophy coming out of Greece, became obsessed with it, and gave up his students, then Judaism itself, to study in Alexandria. As he left Jerusalem, his student, Rabbi Me’ir, ran after him, begging him to return; Rabbi Elisha answered that he could not, because “Ani [akhshav–now] akhehr” (I’m different /I’ve changed/I’m someone else). Rabbi Elisha never went back. His opinions were later quoted in four places in the Talmud.  But where the normal practice was to cite the opinion holder by name–Rabbi X says Y, Rabbi Z says Q, etc.; in his case, the Talmud gives his name not as “Rabbi Elisha”, but as “Akhehr.” Akhehr is considered an apostate by Orthodox Jews, a kind of Jewish Faust. Others  regard him as an intellectual hero who is not afraid to pursue knowledge, wherever it may lead and whatever consequences it may have for his standing in his community.
alte kakers: old farts
Antiocus: see Chanukah
And leave a little pebble on each stone: A visitor to a Jewish grave customarily leaves a pebble on the top edge or the base of the gravestone, as a sign one has been there.
Arba kosot – see Pesach/Passover
Avadim Hayinu – see Pesach/Passover
azey geyn di yoren: so go the years; that’s how time passes


bar, bar mitzva: a ceremony and celebration marking the ritual coming-of-age of a boy at 13 years old
bashehrt: meant to be
Besht: Many of the great rabbis are known by the acronyms of their names—Rashi, Rambam. So too with the Bal Shem Tov—Besht.
Beyn or l’khoshekh / Yisrael l’amim – see Havdala
beys midrash: “house of study,” usually attached to a synagogue
bikurim: fruits (Heb.)
bimheyra b’yameynu: “with speed, in our time” – a line from the Passover song “Eliyahu ha-Navi.” See Pesach/Passover
bisl: a little (bit of)
blintzes: a blintz is a crèpe folded like an envelope around a sweet cottage cheese or fruit filling
bobeh / boba: grandmother
bobelakh: the affectionate plural diminutive of bobeh, grandmother – see also zeydelakh.
bobie: familiar form of bobeh, grandmother
borukh atah adoshem: Blessed art Thou, O God. The word adoshem is a substitute form of the Hebrew word for God used in actual prayer (it wouldn’t do to pronounce it in a non-sacred context, such as this song). It would rhyme with “sky.”
borshtch: classic Russian beet soup, served cold with a drizzle of sour cream
brokhes: blessings
borukh hashem: praise God
breyshit: Genesis (first of the Five Books of Moses)
B’yom tzom kipur yeykhateymun / Kamah ya’av’run / Mi yikhyeh u’mi yamut / V’ye’ba’rey’un; / Mi ba’esh u’mi bamayim / Mi ba’khanika /
Mi bara’av, mi bakhehrev / Mi bamageyfa: On the fast day of Yom Kippur [their destiny] is sealed / How many shall pass away / Who will live and who will die / Who will be born / Who [shall perish] by fire and who by water / Who by strangulation / Who by famine, who by the sword / Who by pestilence” [Machzor–see Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur]


Chanukah: Pronounced “KHA-nu-ka.” This 8-day winter holiday, sometimes referred to the Festival of Lights, commemorates the victory of a small band of Judean fighters, led by Judah Maccabee (“The Hammer”) and his brothers, over the forces of Syrian King Antiocus. According to the Chanukah story, Antiocus’s army invaded and defiled the Temple of Solomon, and imposed a program of Hellenization on the people of Judah. The Macabees took to the hills with their followers and defeated the conquerors after a long guerilla war. They triumphantly cleansed and rededicated the Temple, re-lighting the great 7-branched menorah using consecrated oil from a tiny container whose seal hadn’t been broken by the Syrians. The small amount of oil burned for 8 days—the “miracle” of Chanukah—until a new batch could be prepared.
The traditional celebration of Chanukah involves lighting the number candles each night as the number of the night in the 8-day holiday (the Chanukah menorah has 8 branches plus one—for the shamash, the candle used to light the others).
There is also a game associated with the festival, gambling with a 4-sided top called a dreydl. Each side is inscribed with a Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, and shin, together forming an acronym for the phrase, “Nes gadol haya sham”—“A great miracle happened there”—referring to the miracle of the Chanukah oil. But these letters also serve as indicators for the gambling game: “nit” (nothing—give the dreydl to the next player); “gantz” (all—take the pot), “halb” (half—take half the pot), “schit” (throw—put one piece into the pot).
charoset, maror, karpas, zroah, matzah: five ritual foods eaten at the Passover seder
Chassid: (plural: Chassidim) Literally, “righteous person,” but used to refer to a member of orthodox sects that have their origin in the teachings of the Bal Shem Tov, (“Master of the Good Name”), a legendary 18th century Polish Jewish mystic, healer, and teacher.
cholent: (tsholnt) A stew of meat and beans, customarily prepared the day before the Sabbath and baked overnight in a low oven or slow cooker with an auto timer, to be ready in time for dinner after Sabbath morning services. Perfect for shomer shabis households that do not cook on the Sabbath. Some prefer a cholent made sweet with carrots or dried fruit. There are also lighter versions made with barley or without meat.
chrayn: (khreyn) Grated horseradish, a condiment for gefilte fish. Sometimes tinted red with beet juice.
Crown Royal: Seagram’s premier brand of rye was an essential in Jewish liquor cabinets when I was growing up in Toronto. If our house was any indication, one bottle lasted a good while.


daven: pray
daveners: those who pray
Diaspora: the dispersal of a people from their traditional homeland—in this context, the Jewish Diaspora in the wake of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 136 C.E. Usually pronounced with the emphasis on the first ‘a.’
dreydls: Chanukah spinning tops. See Chanukah
dvarim: Deuteronomy (last of the Five Books of Moses)


ekht: genuine.
Eliyahu and Eliyahu ha-navi – see Pesach/Passover
ess gezunt: “eat in good health,” bon appétit!
erev Rosh Hashana: Rosh HaShana eve
erev shabis: Sabbath eve
Everything in its place / It’s that old Jewish theme: a reference to one of the principles of Judaism, categorizing the world and then organizing everyday life so that the categories are kept separate and in place. See havdala

⇑ Back to Top ⇑


farfel kugelakh: Little kugels made out of small pieces of broken matza (farfel). See kugel and matza
flanken: short ribs cut across the rib bone
fleyshig: The “meat” category of kashrut—denoting foods made with meat or meat products. See kosher/kashrut
fressed: In Yiddish, a human being esses (eats), an animal—or by extension, someone gobbling greedily—fresses (feeds).


gefilte fish: A mixture of freshwater fish—carp, whitefish, pike—ground with onions and carrots, seasoned with sugar, salt, and pepper, then formed into balls and simmered in a shallow broth of fish bones, water, carrots, onions, and celery. A holiday and Sabbath dish.
gelt – see Chanukah
Gemara/Gemora: The Talmud consists of the Mishnah, an assembling of the laws in the Torah (Five Books of Moses) into a systematic code by subject; and the Gemara, compiled some three centuries later, containing the discussion and commentary of rabbis on the Mishnah. “Gemara” is often used interchangeably with “Talmud.” “Gemora” is an alternate pronunciation.
gleyzele vayn: a little glass of wine
goy gamur: an utter non-Jew, a complete Gentile—usually used by Orthodox Jews of non-observant Jews
greggar or gragger: traditionally, a tongue-and-ratchet noisemaker—see Purim
gribines: A byproduct of making shmaltz: chopped chicken skins are fried until rendered of their fat, then chopped onions are added and the frying continues until all components are golden and crispy. The fat is poured off as shmaltz, and the cracklings and onions that remain are gribines or gribn, eaten as an artery-hardening, irrestistable snack or used as a flavouring for chopped liver.
gut mazel: good luck
guten shabis: Good Sabbath, said in greeting


Ha Lakhma Anya – see Pesach/Passover
Hagadah – see Pesach/Passover
haks me a tchaynik: “bangs me a teapot” or “bangs on a teapot at me.” In other words, nags me.
Halel – see Pesach/Passover
Ha-mavdil beyn kodesh l’khol” – see Havdala
Ha-motzi: Who brings forth – the first word, after the basic invocation, of the grace before meals
Havdala: “Separation” or “distinction.” It refers to the ceremony held on Saturday evening (Shabis banakht), when three stars are visible in the sky, to mark the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the rest of the week.
The ceremony of Havdala includes three blessings—on a cup of wine, on sweet smelling spices, and on the flame of a braided candle with multiple wicks. There is also a short prayer that blesses God who separates sacred from secular (“hamavdil beyn kodesh l’khol”), light from darkness (“beyn or l’khoshekh”) and—part of the principle of categories—Israel from other nations (“Yisrael l’amim”).
helzl: Same as kishka, but using the skin of the chicken neck as the casing.
Here’s to the ring on her forefinger: During the wedding ceremony under the khupa, the groom places the wedding ring on the bride’s forefinger, where it stays for the duration of the ceremony. Thereafter, she wears it on the fourth/ring finger of her left hand.
homentashn: Plural of homentash, “Haman’s purse,” more commonly (and bafflingly) construed as “Haman’s hat.” This traditional food of the feast of Purim commemorates the defeated villain of the apocryphal biblical story of Queen Esther.
To form homentashn: roll out cookie or sweet yeast dough and cut into thin, large biscuit-sized rounds. In the centre of each, drop a dollop of filling—ground prunes and nuts, or ground poppy seed sweetened with honey. Fold three sides almost to the centre, then pinch along the seams to form a triangular little volcano with the dark filling just visible at the “peak.”
hora’d: danced the hora , an Israeli circle dance—standard at Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs.
horim: parents (Hebrew)


If your Mom is Jewish: Traditionally, Jewishness is inherited through the mother.
Im mashiyakh ben david – see Pesach/Passover
Im yirtza shem, ba dir: God willing, may the same happen to you


Jacob and Laban: Jacob’s early life was marked by striving and struggle. One of his adversaries was his unscrupulous uncle Laban in far off Aram, for whom he worked as a shepherd. Their first deal was that after seven years, Jacob would wed Laban’s beautiful daughter Rebecca; too late he discovered that Laban had substituted her older sister, Leah, behind the wedding veil. Jacob worked another seven years for the wife he really wanted, then another six to start his own flock. The agreement this time was that he could keep all the striped and spotted lambs born to Laban’s ewes. You don’t work 14 years as a shepherd without learning a thing or two about selective breeding: Jacob left Laban’s service with a good sized flock, plus two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter. He wasn’t finished fighting. One night, Jacob was challenged by an angel with whom he wrestled. He prevailed and the angel gave him a new name, “Israel,” meaning “one who has struggled with God.”
jars of prunes that always get results: In my father’s day, prunes were customarily eaten as a remedy for a traditional north European Jewish diet rich in everything but ruffage—Jewish Ex-Lax. See also matza.

⇑ Back to Top ⇑


Kabala: the mystical realm of Jewish thought whose practitioners delve into the ultimate nature of God and the universe. During the Middle Ages, teachings of the Kabbala were compiled into a book called the Zohar—thought by many to contain details of magical, arcane practices.
Kadesh – see Pesach/Passover
kalah (kale, kaleh): bride [Yid.]
karpas – see Pesach/Passover
kashering – see kashrut
kashes – see Pesach/Passover
kashrut: The system of Jewish dietary laws and customs. It covers categories (e.g., what kinds of creatures one may eat), components (the parts of the creatures one may eat), and combinations [the mixing of categories, e.g. meat (in Yiddish, fleyshig) and dairy (in Yiddish, milkhig)]. Among the prohibitions: eating meat and milk foods at the same meal, eating certain creatures (shellfish, land animals that do not chew the cud or have a cloven hoof, birds of prey) and eating the hind parts (e.g., the loin) of even a kosher animal. Food, tableware, and other food-related items that meet ritual dietary standards are said to be kosher. Prohibited foods are non kosher or treyf.
khosn: groom [Yid.]
khupa: canopy under which the wedding ceremony is performed.
khutzpa: nerve, audacity (also spelled: chutzpah)
A kosher household has two sets of pots and dishes, one for meat (fleyshig), one for dairy (milkhig). It is a minhag (custom) that, if one uses uses the wrong utensil—eats meat with a milkhige fork, say, instead of one that is fleyshig—one may kasher it by burying it for three days to “cleanse” in the earth.
katchke: sweetheart (“duckling”)
K’dosh Borukh Hu: Holy One Blessed Be He—God.
ken ayn horah: No evil eye, a phrase uttered to ward off bad luck
Khad Gadya – see Pesach/Passover
khalaptches: ground beef encased in cabbage leaves and stewed in a sweet tomato sauce, i.e. cabbage rolls
khalishing: Sweating, panting, fainting.
khazeray: a khazer is a pig; khazeray is food fit for pigs, junk food, crap
khokhem: sage, scholar
khol hamo’ed: An intermediate or nonholy day within a festival period (such as Pesach) when workaday activities are permitted, but other festival obligations (such as eating matza) apply.
khosn: bridegroom
khupa: wedding canopy
kibitz: the verb means “to fool around;” the noun, “joke” or “lark”
kiddish: a snack of cookies or cake, and wine or soft drinks, served in synagogue after a prayer service
kinder: children
kishke: beef intestine stuffed with flour, onions, garlic, and shmaltz (rendered chicken fat). A poor person’s savoury dish designed to stretch meager meat resources, now one of the icons of northern European Jewish cuisine.
kitl: robe worn by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding
knakers: giant hot dogs
kneydl – see kneydlakh.
kneydelakh: Diminutive plural of “kneydl,” dumpling. Usually made with matza meal, eggs, shmaltz, salt, and seltzer. Known in English as matza balls.
knishes: pastry-covered spheres of ground beef or seasoned mashed potatoes, baked till golden brown.
Kol dikhfin yeytey v’yeykhol – see Pesach/Passover
Kol ditzrikh yeytey v’yifsakh – see Pesach/Passover
Kol marbeh l’saper, harey ze m’shubakh – see Pesach/Passover
Kol Nidre: main prayer said on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
kos of Eyliyahu: Or kos Eyliyahu. The cup of Elijah, set out at the centre of the seder table after the meal, in preparation for the visit of the prophet to the seder. See also Pesach.
kosher – see kashrut
k’tuba: traditional Jewish marriage contract
kugel: A sweet or savoury baked pudding in northern European Jewish cuisine—so ubiquitous that to recognize someone as Jewish is, according to the aphorism, to ‘see the kugel in their face.’ A little kugel is a kugele; several of them, kugelakh.


lantsman: fellow Jew (“countryman”)
latkas/latkes: potato pancakes made from grated raw potato, eggs, a bit of flour or matza meal, and baking powder, then formed into oval cakes and fried. Traditionally eaten at Chanukah.
L’kovid shabis, l’kovid gott – see Sabbath
Like Joseph loved his dream: The biblical story of Joseph hinges on dreams—his own and others—and his interpretations of them.
l’khayim: The Yiddish word proclaimed when drinking a toast, meaning (as anyone knows who’s heard Fiddler on the Roof), “To life!”
l’mala: up, upwards
l’Shana haba’a – see Pesach/Passover
lox: salted, sometimes lightly smoked salmon, usually eaten thinly sliced with bagels and cream cheese
lulav: see Sukkis
lung: Northern European Jewish cooking was replete with recipes for beef offal: lung, heart, tongue, udder, sweetbreads, spleen (see miltz). Lung was stewed like fricasee.


Ma otzur yeshuati: the first three words of one of the great traditional Chanukah songs
Maccabees and miracles – see Chanukah
makhatonim: in-laws
machzor: the prayerbook for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
Marev: evening prayer service
matza brei: (bray) A savoury dish originally eaten during Passover, but now enjoyed any time of the year. It consists of broken matza softened in eggs, then the whole mixture scrambled together, often with onions. See also matza and Pesach/Passover.
matza: The precipitous flight of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt meant that their bread, prepared nightly, had to be baked before it had time to rise. The resulting hard, unleavened loaves are commemorated by Jews during the 8 days of Passover by the eating of matza, a bland, hard, ridged flatbread whose only ingredients are flour and water. For this same period, other baked foods normally made from flour—cakes, pancakes, cookies—are made from ground matza meal or crumbled matza farfel. See also Pesach/Passover.
mayim: “water” in Hebrew, as the Bal Shem’s wife says
mayn meydl: my girl
mazel: luck
mazeldik / mazeldikeh: lucky
Mazel tov, mazel / Shalom u’brakha / M’sameyakh ha-khosn / Im ha-kala: Luck and good luck / Peace and blessing / [To those who] make joyful the bridegroom / And the bride.
megillathe scroll of Esther, read on Purim.
menorah: candelabrum. See shabat and Chanukah
mentsh: a decent human being
meydelakh: affectionate plural diminutive of meydl—“little girl” or “maid”
milkhig: The “dairy” category of kashrut—denoting foods made with milk or milk products. See also kashrut.
Milkhig for fleyshig and fleyshig for milkhig—see kashrut
miltz: veal or beef spleen, stuffed and fried
Minkha: afternoon prayer service
minyan: Though a Jew may daven alone, for public worship or reading the Torah a quorum of ten Jews—a minyan—is required.
mishpokhe: family
mitzva: “sacred duty” or “good deed”
mogen dovid: star of David
moror: bitter herbs. See Pesach/Passover

⇑ Back to Top ⇑


Nirtza – see Pesach/Passover
nun, gimel, hey and shin – see Chanukah


old kaker: Old fart. Same as alte kaker.
ovtzolokhes: in spite of everything, nonetheless
oy: an interjection used in both pleasurable and distressing circumstances.
“oy, a lebn an dayn kep’”: An endearment, literally, “Ah, a love on your little head” (Kep’ is short for kepele—“little head.”). In other words, bless your little heart.


parev: A “neutral” category in kashrut—identifying foods containing neither dairy nor meat products. All fruit and vegetables are “parev,” as are bakery goods made with nondairy margarine and no milk.
Passover cups: wine goblets used during the seder. See Pesach/Passover
patchke: fuss, bother

Pesach/Passover: Spring festival commemorating the liberation of the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt. It is arguably the major Jewish family festival. The central ritual is the seder, performed at home by family members around their dining table. It consists of an order of prayers, blessings, songs, narrative passages, and activities through which the participants, led by a senior family member, tell or symbolically re-enact the story of the redemption. Beginning at twilight, it takes several hours to accomplish and calls for the eating of a festive meal at its midway point.

Though every family shapes the seder its own way, there are traditional features that are standard from household to household. One is a special plate on which are arrayed certain ceremonial foods including karpas (greens) for spring and rebirth, and moror (bitter herbs) to recall the suffering of the Hebrew slaves. There is also the blessing and drinking of four cups of wine. The seder story is read and sung from a book called the Hagadah (“telling”) that dates back to mediaeval times. The Hagadah itself endorses the custom, saying: “Kol marbeh l’saper, harey ze m’shubakh” (“Everyone who retells it is indeed blessed”). The texts and songs are in Hebrew or Aramaic. They include:

  • Kadesh, the blessing over wine that begins the seder;
  • Ha Lakhma Anya, “This is the bread of affliction,” a passage that explains matza; it includes the lines “Kol dikhfin yeytey v’yeykhol”(“All who are hungry, come and eat”) and “Kol ditzrikh yeytey v’yifsakh”( “All who are in need, come and share the Passover meal”);
  • A passage about the different reactions to the Seder (and by extension, degrees of participation in Jewish life) by Four Sons: Intellectual, Self-Excluding, Easygoing, and Apathetic;
  • Halel, a song of praise after the meal;
  • Khad Gadya, a joyful cumulative song that ties everything together to end the seder.

During the second half of the seder the children open the front door and welcome Eliyahu ha-navi—the prophet Elijah, an invisible guest who visits every seder, for whom a special cup of winekos Eyliyahu—is reserved at the centre of the table. While the door is open, the children sing a song for the prophet that includes the words: “Bimheyra b’yameynu yavo eyleynu / Im mashiyakh ben david”—“With speed and in our time he will come to us / With the Messiah, son of David.”
peyis: sidecurls traditionally worn by male Chassidim
Peysakh iz g’kumen nokh a mol: Passover has come once again
ptcha: A jelly made from boiling a calf’s foot, highly flavoured with pepper, in which is embedded odd bits of meat. Similar to English brawn or head cheese. One of my father’s favourite dishes.
Purim: A holiday that celebrates the rescue of the Jews of the ancient Persian empire from destruction at the hands of the villain Haman. His plans were thwarted by Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordecai. Their adventures are read during Purim from the Megila (scroll) of Esther; every time Haman’s name is read, it is drowned out by children twirling tongue-and-ratchet noisemakers called greggars.


rabeynu: Moses is commonly referred to in Jewish literature, and even conversation, as “Moshe rabeynu”—Moses, Our Teacher.
rabunim: rabbis, teachers
rebitzn: rabbi’s wife
reclining like a king: It is customary for seder participants to maintain a sense of relaxation and physical ease amid the formal order of the seder itself—recalling the fact that in ancient times, it was royalty and free persons who could banquet while lying on divans.
Reform or Conservative: Two of the three mainstream divisions of modern Judaism. Chassidism is closer to the third—Orthodox—than to these.
Ribono shel olam: Master of the Universe
rogelakh: Sour cream pastry crescents flavoured with cinnamon, chopped nuts, and sugar, or various kinds of jam, or chocolate. The singular is rogele. Some would write/pronounce these words rugelakh and rugele. The difference has to do with where your ancestors came from in Europe.
Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur: The High Holidays/Holy Days consist of Rosh Hashana (New Year’s) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). They and the ten autumn days between them are referred to as The Days of Awe (ha-yamim nora’im) because of their frightening solemnity: one’s destiny in the coming year—whether one will live or die—is determined by God (ribono shel olam—Master of the Universe) on that day. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and physical self denial, spent in the synagogue at prayer (from the makhzor—High  Holiday prayer book) begging forgiveness for the sins committed over the previous year, and beseeching God to inscribe one’s name (tikateyvu) and seal it (tikhateymu) in the Book of Life.

It is customary on the eve of Rosh Hashana to dip challah and slices of apple in honey, and at sweet desserts such as teyglakh (honey-soaked fried pastries) and lekakh (honey cake), reflecting the new year’s greeting that wishes a shana tova u’metuka (A sweet and good year!) or l’shana tova tikateyvu v’tikhateymu (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!).

One of the most moving and powerful prayers in the makhzor is uN’taneh Tokef which lists how one might die in the coming year: “B’yom tzom kipur yikhateymun kamah ya’av’run, mi yikhyeh u’mi yamut v’ye’ba’rey’un; mi ba’esh u’mi bamayim, mi ba’khanika, mi bara’av, mi bakhehrev, mi bamageyfa”(“On the fast day of atonement it is sealed how many shall pass away, who shall live and who shall die, who shall come into being; who by fire, who by water, who by strangulation, who by famine, who by the sword, who by pestilence.”

At various times during High Holiday prayer services, the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded. There are various calls—t’kiya (a blast); shvarim (series of short toots); tru’ah (three quick rising notes); and t’kiya g’dola (one loud, long blast).

⇑ Back to Top ⇑


Sabbath Queen – see Shabat
seder – see Pesach/Passover
sefer torah: the book of the Torah
seltzer (“two cents plain”): Seltzer is soda water. The late Jewish humourist Sam Levinson used to tell of how when he grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, soda fountains offered a glass of seltzer flavoured with syrup for three cents, or unflavoured, for two. In hard times, the order heard most often was for a “two cents plain.”
shabat or shabis: Sabbath. In a traditional household, husband and wife respectively usher in the Sabbath on Friday evening in public and private spheres: the husband attends synagogue while at sundown the woman at home blesses the Sabbath candles: she lights two or more, “gathers the light” towards her face three times with cupped hands, then covers her eyes with her finger tips and says a blessing (my mother said the standard Hebrew blessing, then a much longer one in Yiddish—a t’khineh—that she had learned from her Russian-born mother.) When the husband returns home, the family sits down to shabis dinner—often consisting of chicken dishes: soup, chopped liver rich in shmaltz (chicken fat), and roast chicken. The rabbis teach that the Sabbath is to be welcomed as a regal Sabbath Queen and a beloved bride.

The Day of Rest ends Saturday night (shabis banakht)—in religious households, with the Havdala service (see Havdala).

shabat shalom: Sabbath peace, the traditional greeting exchanged on the Sabbath – see Shabat
shabis – see Shabat
shabis banakht – see Havdala
Shalom aleykhem, malakhey ha-sharet: Welcome to you, ministering angels.
Shana tova tikateyvu tikhateymu: traditional Jewish new year’s wish in Aramaic: “May you be inscribed and sealed [in God’s Book of Life] for a good year.”
shana tova u’metuka: “A good year and a sweet one” [new year’s greeting] (see Rosh Hashana)
Sheh’khyanu v’kiymanu v’higianu – omeyn!: [end of a traditional prayer thanking God for having] kept us alive, preserved us, and caused us to arrive [at this joyful day]—amen!
shepping nakhes: taking pleasure
shivveh: Seven. When a Jew dies, it is the custom for family members to “sit shivveh”—mourn at home for seven days, receiving friends and relatives during the day who keep company with the bereaved, telling stories about the departed, participating in morning and evening prayers, and just being around, lest the family feel lonely despair.
shlogged kaporis: Has deeply regretted. From the custom during prayers on Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement, of ritually hitting (shlogn) one’s chest as one recites one’s sins (kaporis).
shlosh regalim: the three ancient Jewish festivals requiring a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot
shmaltz: any kind of fat, but usually referring to rendered chicken fat
shnaps: whisky
shofar: ram’s horn blown on the High Holy Days
shomer shabis: Sabbath-keeping. Refers to Orthodox Jews who adhere strictly to the customs of the Sabbath—in particular, not riding or driving, turning on electric lights, or cooking.
shvakh: pale, weak
shul: synagogue
simkha: A joyous event or occasion, such as a wedding or bar mitzva. It is the custom of some Jews to visit the grave of a parent or other loved one to invite the departed soul to an upcoming simkha.
smoked meat: the Montreal version of pastrami
Sukkis: The Feast of Tabernacles (Yiddish pronunciation; Hebrew: sukkot q.v.). One of its major rituals involves a lulav—a palm branch to which sprigs of myrtle and willow are bound—and an esrog (or etrog), a citron. One holds the lulav in one hand and the esrog in the other so that they touch. Then one says a blessing and waves them to the six directions, indicating God’s presence everywhere. In Northern Europe, after Sukkis, the custom was to keep the esrog on hand for its fragrance—or for eating.
sukkah – sukkot: (Hebrew pronunciation), on the Feast of Tabernacles, a temporary hut or huts with a roof of laths and greens, open to the elements. For family dining and receiving of guests (ushpizin / orkhim)—spiritual and actual.
smikha: rabbinical ordination


takeh: A biblical adverb usually translated as “really” or “surely,” but used in Yiddish as an interjection to evoke pathos, often in conjunction with an immediately preceding “oy” (the latter can also imply, “Hey, c’mon!”).
talis / taleysim in bags of blue velvet: A talis (plural: taleysim) is a striped shawl with long fringes (tzitzit) worn by adult men (and in some denominations, women as well) during prayer services. The talis is usually carried to and from shul, and stored in the home, in an embroidered navy- or scarlet-coloured velvet bag.
talmud torah: Hebrew school
tchatchke: plaything, bauble
tcholent: see cholent
three stars in the sky – see Havdala
Tisha b’Av: the Ninth of Av, the most mournful holiday of the Jewish year, commemorating the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
T’kiya, shvarim, tru’ah: the names of the three shofar call patterns
treyf: Non kosher food – see kashrut
tsimmes: a sweet stew of vegetables (often including prunes or carrots) or fruit. Used idiomatically to denote a potpourri, a mixture, a hodgepodge.
traded scepter for a shepherd’s crook: Moses, brought up as a prince in Egypt, killed an overseer he found beating a Hebrew slave. He was forced to flee to the land of Midian, where he married the daughter of Yitro (Jethro) and served his father-in-law as a shepherd.
“two cents plain” – see seltzer (“two cents plain”)
tzoris: problems


vursht-and-eggs: Vursht, Yiddish for “sausage” (from the German), is what our family called Jewish salami—a word we never used: to us, it denoted an Italian sausage, nothing to do with the Jewish article at all. I left Toronto thinking vursht was used universally by Jews, but my Chicago-born wife says she’d never heard it till she met me. She used “salami,” as they do in delis in New York (Katz’s famous World War II campaign slogan, “Send a salami to your boy in the army” worked only if you had a New York accent and didn’t use the term vursht). But vursht can’t be a term that just my family used, because there’s a ditty called “Vursht-and-Eggs” that we sang at a Jewish summer camp I attended as a child. So maybe it’s Toronto or Canadian Jewish usage. More research needs to be done!


Which of the Four Sons are you? – see Pesach/Passover


yamim nora’im: “days of awe” – The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur)
yikhes: lineage, pedigree
yingl / yingelakh: affectionate diminutive of boy / boys
Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and prayer when Jews contemplate their mortality and ask forgiveness of God for their sins.
Yom, layla, shavua, shavua, shanim / Yom tovim, khagim uzmanim: Day, night, week, week, years / Holy days, holidays, and festivals
yomtov / yontif: holy day, holiday
yortzayt candles in fireproof glasses: candles, guaranteed to burn 24 hours, lit in honour of a deceased relation on the eve of one of the major holidays or the anniversary of their passing. When I was growing up, they came in handsome Pyrex glasses we cleaned and used as unbreakable kitchen tumblers.
You may only go to shul on Yom Kippur: “You may only go to synagogue on the Day of Atonement.” If a not particularly observant Jew is going to attend, it will likely be on the eve of Yom Kippur. See also Yom Kippur


zeyda: grandfather
zeydelakh: affectionate plural diminutive of zeyda. See also “bobelakh
zmires: songs—usually songs sung by family and friends around the Orthodox or Chassidic dinner table after the Friday evening Sabbath meal
Zohar: – see Kabbala

Well Done Music