Book of Words: Please Say Kaddish for Me by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short review, are a few particularly interesting words I found in Please Say Kaddish for Me. The definitions are followed by quotes from the story.

A particularly talented writer, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is also an artist who creates her own cover art.

Please Say Kaddish for Me is the story of a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl who escapes an attack on her home in Russia in 1899. Czarist marauders kill her entire family. Young Havah Cohen barely survives the frigid cold as she runs away in just a nightgown. She fortunately ends up in the arms of another loving Jewish family. But her struggles don’t end as more persecution of the people of her faith reigns down. The story unfolds as Havah builds her physical and emotional strength, learns to adapt to new situations, and changes her life with brave decisions. Please Say Kaddish for Me is very well-written and draws the reader in with excellent characterization of the Jewish people and the love and tragedy Havah encounters. It’s filled with layers of fascinating information of historical Jewish culture and sprinkled with just the right amount of Yiddish words, set off in italics and enough explanation the meaning is obvious. I truly enjoyed this book and plan to read Wisoff-Fields two additional books that follow Havah’s story as her new family escapes Russia and settles in America, From Silt and Ashes and As One Must, One Can.

Words from Please Say Kaddish for Me:

Kaddish: n. an ancient Jewish prayer sequence regularly recited in the synagogue service, including thanksgiving and praise and concluding with a prayer for universal peace. a form of this prayer sequence recited for the dead.  She forced her heavy mouth to shape the Hebrew prayer—Kaddish—prayer for the dead and prayer for the bereft.”

Shul: n. a synagogue.  The core of the Jewish community, the synagogue or shul was the linchpin that held them together.”

Bema: n. the altar part or sanctuary in ancient and Orthodox churches. (JUDAISM) the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read.  Tables had been arranged side by side like stalwart soldiers, around the bema. They stood ready for the men to study, discuss and argue points of law.”

Mitzvah: n. (JUDAISM) a precept or commandment. a good deed done from religious duty.  Ari, my boy, it’s a mitzvah, a good deed,’ said Hershel.”

Shabbes: n. the Yiddish term for the Jewish Sabbath.  “This, on Shabbes, is allowed.”

Cholent: n. a Jewish Sabbath dish of slowly baked meat and vegetables, prepared on a Friday and cooked overnight.  “Savory cholent simmered in a pot on the hot stove.”

Goyim or Goy: n. (INFORMAL, OFTEN OFFENSIVE) a Jewish name for a non-Jew.  “In America women study Torah and even appear in public with their heads uncovered like the goyim.”

Schmootz: n. dirt.  “Of course, we need to clean the schmootz off you.”

Shokhet: n. a ritual slaughterer, a kosher slaughterer, kosher butcher.  “Behind that, was a large pen where the shokhet slaughtered livestock to be prepared according to dietary law.”

Hornbeam: n. a deciduous tree of north temperate regions, with oval serrated leaves, inconspicuous drooping flowers, and tough winged nuts. It yields hard pale timber.  “Shayndel pointed to a lush hornbeam tree growing beside the blacksmith’s shop.”

Mishegoss: n. craziness, senseless behavior or activity.  “On top of everything else, she needs his mishegoss like a hole in the head.”

Minyan: n. a quorum of ten men (or in some synagogues, men and women) over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship.  “You know you’re not supposed to sing Kaddish without a minyan.”

Dummkopf: n. a stupid person, blockhead.  “Ach! What a dumkopf.”

Mien: n. a person’s look or manner, esp. one of a particular kind indicating their character or mood: he has a cautious, academic mien.  “He sauntered to the piano and with aristocratic mien, sat on the bench.”

Dreidel: n. a small four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side, used by the Jews.  “Sitting cross-legged on the floor with Tuli and Zelig, he spun a clay top called a dreidel between his fingers. He read off the Hebrew letters inscribed on each of its four sides. ‘Noon, gimmel, hey, sheen. Did I pronounce them right, Teacher?’”… “The quintessential rabbi, Zelig pointed to each letter on the dreidel, ‘Nes gadol hayah sham. That means ‘A great miracle happened here.’”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia. For this particular blog, online Yiddish dictionaries also came in handy.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?