“Code”: Read


As a member of the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Big Tent Judaism, we recently received JOI’s newest outreach tool, a business-card sized glossary to common Jewish terms. This little pamphlet, called “Cracking the Code,” defines words familiar to insiders–like Shabbat, minyan, Reform Judaism, Hillel–but often bewildering to outsiders.

It’s a great little resource; I gave one to a non-Jewish woman who has been working for a Jewish organization for more than a year. “This is fantastic,” she practically squealed. She’s had to pick up the terminology as she’s gone, but never knew what Kabbalah was (“Something to do with Madonna?”) and had no clear idea about the differences between the major movements. She plans to put it up in her cubicle.

We had the same idea with our automated glossary, which defines the first reference of commonly used Jewish terms in all our articles. (See yesterday’s article for an example.)

It takes a concerted effort of mental displacement to try to see the Jewish community as a newcomer would see it. Whenever we put together resource guides to holidays and life cycles, we comb over it for any references or terms that would be unfamiliar to the Jewish newbie (Jewbie?). It’s amazing how intimidating jargon can be, and how much you can make people feel welcome by speaking in a common language.

One thought on ““Code”: Read”

  • I’ve written glossaries for non-Jewish friends and families attending my conversion ceremony, my daughter’s brit bat, and our synagogue purim shpiels. Often it isn’t the ritual, or “official” words that trip people up as much as the casual yiddishisms and unique turns of phrase. A couple of examples: “daven” (as in “where do you daven?”), “kvell” (our newsletter has a “Kvell Corner” listing interesting achievements of members; my mother-in-law thought it was an actual place), “hondle” “schnorrer” “oneg” “make aliya” (in both the “going up to the bimah” and “moving to Israel” senses), “shul” (most non-Jews only know the words “temple” and “synagogue”),”bentch” (my brother-in-law thought this meant moving the benches back in place after a synagogue meal), “mitzva” “tzedakah”, “trayf”, “kina hora” “yassur koach”, “aleynu”, “gonif”. Much confusion over “kiddish” and “kaddish”.

    An excellent resource is Arthur Naiman’s very funny _Every Goy’s Guide to Common Jewish Expressions_, now sadly out of print but available through Amazon and many libraries.

    And none of those Jewish words was recognized by my spell-checker!

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