From the Editor | Learning to Honor Words

A photograph of Nadine Epstein, Editor in Chief

I never cease to be amazed by words. Each is a creation following its own trajectory—some older than others, some more evolved, some freshly minted or reminted, others unused and forgotten. There are more than 7,000 human languages, and nearly every word in every one of them has its own staggering history, of which only short stretches are visible from our vantage point in time. It’s so easy to forget this as we unconsciously dip into our well of words and arrange them in sentences to think, speak and write.

Over time, I’ve learned to honor words. To choose them carefully. To consider their journeys and stories. To harness their power. To savor their meanings. To acknowledge their sacredness.

And so, in this summer issue, we celebrate Jewish words with a special edition of Moment’s popular “Jewish Word” feature, which we launched shortly after I took over the magazine in 2004. There were simply so many Jewish words and expressions I used with only the slightest understanding. While the section may have originated as an excuse for me and other Moment editors to delve into the meaning and etymology of words, it caught on with readers. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to regularly reflect on Jewish words, be they Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Aramaic or any other language. Language does not define a Jewish word; meaning does, and that meaning must be understood in context. And sometimes a word isn’t “Jewish” at all, but simply relevant to Jews. The true fun is always in the journey, how something that meant X came to mean Y, then transformed into Z, and now is used in an entirely new way.

It was hard for Moment’s crew of opinionated editors to choose a few favorites from among nearly 20 years of words and expressions, but somehow we did. Given all the weighty matters consuming the world today, we erred on the side of lightheartedness, selecting tasty morsels such as “glitch” (did you know it was Yiddish?), “Jewish geography” and “abracadabra.” But there are serious words as well—such as the ubiquitous Hebrew expression “tikkun olam.”

Along with unique words, this issue has stories you won’t find anywhere else. Moment’s Europe editor Liam Hoare writes about Malmö, a Swedish city with a small Jewish community and a large immigrant Muslim population. It’s been the site of violent anti-Israel riots, and Jews, even schoolchildren, regularly face antisemitic comments and threats. In 2010, the situation for Jews was so bad that the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a travel warning for the city.

Yet this is not a depressing story! Rather it recounts how government officials and Jewish leaders came together to do highly innovative work, including creating a Jewish-Muslim interfaith program and developing educational programs in schools. The city also lobbied to bring in a special Holocaust exhibition and is making it possible for 25,000 children to attend. (Though the article is not explicitly focused on the role of women,
I must point out that the creative instigators are mostly female.) There’s still a daunting amount of work ahead, which will take years, but what is being done in Malmö deserves our attention.

Back in the United States, there’s another mostly untold story unfolding right under our feet. Jewish farms are popping up all over the country. Whether they are owned by individuals or nonprofit organizations, they serve as a meaningful way for American Jews, young and old, to engage in Jewish life and reconnect with the land. Digital editor Noah Phillips introduces us to some of the farmers and explains how the new Jewish
back-to-the-land movement differs from previous ones.

As usual, you’ll find an array of insightful columns: Marshall Breger on what he learned during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia; Naomi Ragen on a schism in the wealthy and politically powerful Gur Hasidic dynasty in Israel; Gershom Gorenberg on coming to terms with Ukraine’s complicated Jewish history; and Letty Cottin Pogrebin on Jewish settlers in the West Bank who terrorize their Palestinian neighbors. “Moment Debate” pits legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick and historian Tevi Troy against each other on the topic of whether we are losing our democracy. “Ask the Rabbis” ponders the question: Does Jewish law offer guidance on how to fight a war? And this issue’s expanded “Visual Moment” provides a rare glimpse into the innocence of Europe in 1934.

Never-before-seen streetscapes shot by an American high school student reveal what Jewish life was like in what would become the Warsaw Ghetto.

Just in time for vacation, opinion and books editor Amy E. Schwartz serves up some delicious summer novels, and Erika Dreifus corrals some of her favorite new children’s books. Special literary contributor Robert Siegel writes a probing exposition about modern strongmen and the evolution of tyranny. Fania Oz-Salzberger movingly remembers the late A.B. Yehoshua. And “Talk of the Table” veers into new territory, taking you on culinary adventures with kosher cannabis.

We had hoped to pack even more into our summer issue, but paper shortages and other supply-chain issues forced us to print a smaller magazine than intended. So please visit momentmag.com to read more stories and register for upcoming MomentLive! programs.

Most of us are now back out in the world, visiting friends and family, traveling, wearing masks or not, and getting COVID or not. Please stay mindful of the risks and have a wonderful summer!

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.