When fifth year rabbinical students learned of a new student headed for Jerusalem for their Hebrew Ulpan, they would spare no effort to play a prank on them. To wit, they would tell their junior and naive future rabbis that the Hebrew toast L’chaim –“To life!” needed to be altered to L’chayot when in the presence of ladies. (This they insisted was proper grammar as the Feminine plural in Hebrew was ot as in boat and the Masculine plural was im as in ice cream. The only problem with this false instruction was that the word L’chayot actually meant “To wild beasts!” Many an Israeli hearing that toast would respond with a perplexed look on their countenance. I have made by share of Hebrew faux pas and so I have tended to collect a few that colleagues have made from time to time.
A very funny colleague Bob Alper who sidelines as a comedian has shared a few: one he witnessed at a mixed marriage wedding officiated by a non-Jewish Judge. His honor was well meaning and so after the Jewish groom broke a glass, he smiled warmly, spread his arms, and called out, “Molotov.” The hilarity that followed was no doubt explosive.
Similarly, Rabbi Alper was caught in a sudden downpour in Haifa and raced into a nearby
store. He wanted to purchase an umbrella, “mitriah,” (in Hebrew) but mistakenly asked for “itriah.” The owner couldn’t understand why he would come into his luggage shop in search of a noodle.
Recently, a student from my Comparative Religion class answered a question about Jewish life cycle events by naming a Bar Matzah. Fortunately, he responded well to the other parts of the essay. My student rose to the occasion and got a passing grade.
Which leads me to Passover and how difficult it is to “rise to the occasion” at this time of Covid. Like many, Passover is my favorite holiday, its mix of mirth and meaning is something I treasure. By the time this message is communicated my scheduled first shot will have been administered. Not so, for many millions in our nation. Our home Seders, much to the chagrin of my wife tend to be unmanageable assemblies. Such cannot and should not be the reality this year. A more modest gathering will be shared by way of Facebook as we do on Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat. Our Haggadah speaks of the four sons, one of whom is wise. I think common sense and wisdom at this time of the pandemic should prevail. Be safe not sorry!
Wishing you a sweet and kosher Pesach
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.