Weekly Quiz

FBI Investigations

The FBI is in the headlines regarding their investigation of Hillary Clinton and her e-mails. The FBI has a long history of being involved in investigations that may not make any sense. The FBI file on Albert Einstein was over 1400 pages in length. Why did the FBI conduct an investigation of Albert Einstein?

AIn 1932, an organization known as the Woman Patriot Corporation wrote a letter to the State Department arguing that “not even Stalin himself” was connected to as many “anarchic-Communist” organizations as Einstein.

BEinstein helped singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson organize a rally against lynching in 1946.

C. In the 1950’s, Einstein appealed for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been sentenced to death for espionage.

DIn 1953, Einstein encouraged a number of individuals not to testify at hearings before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

E. In the early 1950’s, there was fear that Einstein was involved in passing nuclear secrets to the Russians (and we all know that anyone with crazy hair who is connected to the Russians should not be trusted around nuclear weapons).

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Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, just announced that he is endorsing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president in the upcoming election. Colin Powell has some knowledge of Yiddish. Where did he learn to speak this language?

Gen. Colin Powell by Charles Haynes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

APowell grew up in the South Bronx, directly across the street from the Intervale Jewish Center. When he was a teenager in the early 1950’s, Powell was hired as the synagogues “Shabbos Goy,” responsible for turning on and off the buildings lights and heat on Friday night and Saturday. In Powells autobiography, My American Journey, published in 1995, Powell wrote, “I was very lucky to get that job, and to get to know the Jewish people at that synagogue. Many were Holocaust survivors, and hearing of their experiences greatly influenced my decision to join the military and fight for freedom. Of course, I had no idea at that time that the Yiddish words I learned would come in handy years later as I met with many of Israel’s leaders.”

BPowells mother worked as a maid/housekeeper for a Jewish family in the South Bronx. When Colin was young, his mother would often bring him with her to her employers house, where he became friendly with the children his mother was caring for. The Jewish family, who had immigrated from Poland, often spoke Yiddish, and Colins mother and Colin both learned many words and phrases from this family. Powell often told the story of attending the bar mitzvah of one of the children, and joining in as everyone yelled “Mazel Tov” at the end of the ceremony.

CWhen Powell was a teenager, he worked part-time at Sicksers, a baby equipment store in the South Bronx, where Powell lived. The Sickser family was Jewish, as were many of their customers, immigrants from Eastern Europe whose native language was Yiddish. As a result, Powell picked up some basics of the language and was able to communicate with the Jewish customers.

D. When Powell was Secretary of State, he briefly studied Yiddish with Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Chabad rabbi who was founder of TheSHUL in Washington, DC and who organized the annual Chanukkah Menorah lighting across from the White House. Rabbi Shemtov, known as the rabbi of Capitol Hill, worked and studied together with many politicians and Washington bureaucrats, and he had suggested that Powell learn some Yiddish as it might provide a bit of an “in” for Powell in working with Israeli politicians.

EBefore he was born, Colin Powells mother Maud worked as a custodian at Congregation Hope of Israel near Yankee Stadium. Because many of the members were immigrants from Eastern Europe, she picked up a smattering of Yiddish, which she later taught her son. Part of her responsibility at the synagogue was to ready the building for the Yom Kippur services every year. She would then listen to the service and was moved by the beautiful sounds of the cantors voice. As a result (and with some slight misunderstanding of the words), when she gave birth to a son a few years later, she named him Colin Idray Powell.

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan just received the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” as noted by the Swedish Academy which chooses the winners. In 1975, Dylan appeared at a congregational seder at Hollywood’s Temple Israel. What song did he perform at the seder?

Bob Dylan by nico7martin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

ABlowin’ In the Wind.

BChimes of Freedom.

CTalkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues.

DThe Times They Are A-Changin’.

EA Hard Chrains A-Gonna Fall.

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Hurricane Names

A committee of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization chooses the list of names that will be given to hurricanes and cyclones around the world. One name that was selected by this group turned out to be controversial, and eventually was removed from the list. What was that name?

Hurricane Watch in Effect for Bermuda by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AIn 2005, the designated name for the letter Y in the Pacific Ocean was Yasser. Given that Yasser Arafat had died the year before, many Jewish and Israeli groups objected, saying that Yasser Arafat should not be honored in this way. At the same time, Arab countries objected, saying that naming a killer storm after Yasser Arafat would be insulting to his memory. The World Meteorological Organization said they had chosen that name only because it is a common Arabic name, however, they decided to change the Y name to Yusef.

B. In 2001, the designated name for the letter I in the Pacific Ocean was Israel, and Jewish groups protested that this was not appropriate. There was concern that there might be headlines reading “Israel Wipes Out Thousands in Manila.” The World Meteorological Organization said that the name was chosen because it is a common Spanish name, however, they did decide not to use the name Israel.

CIn 1979, the designated name for the letter G in the Atlantic Ocean was Golda. Given that Golda Meir had died the year before, many Muslim and Arab groups objected, saying that Golda Meir should not be honored in this way. At the same time, Israel objected, saying that naming a killer storm after Golda Meir would be insulting to her memory. The World Meteorological Organization said they had chosen that name only because it is a common Jewish name, however, they decided to change the G name to Gilda.

DIn 1983, the name list for the coming year was announced, and it included the name Hymie for the H storm in the Atlantic. At that time, there was no conversation at all about this choice. However, in early 1984, Jesse Jackson had begun his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, and news stories came out about his disparaging use of the term Hymies for Jews, and Hymietown for New York City. Jackson at first denied saying this, and then tried to downplay it as an insignificant private conversation, but it became part of the national conversation surrounding his candidacy. At some point the name Hymie on the hurricane list was noticed by mainstream Jewish organizations, who pressured the World Meteorological Organization to remove it from the list, which they did.

E. In 2003, the designated name for the letter A in the Atlantic Ocean was Abram. Because of complaints from the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the World Meteorological Organization agreed to change the name, issuing a statement saying “And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of storms.”

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Sephardic Rosh Hashanah

L’shana Tova Tikatevu



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In many Sephardic communities, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with a seder meal, a custom which dates to the Talmud (Horayot 12a), when Abaye, a Babylonian rabbi, listed a variety of foods that should be eaten at the New Year. The foods are placed on a “Yehi Ratzon platter,” and each is eaten following a “Yehi Ratzon” blessing, which is a blessing that begins, “May it be God’s will…” A different prayer is invoked for each food. For example, we say “May it be God’s will that our enemies be decimated” when eating leeks, and “...that our merits increase” over fenugreek or carrots. What is the Yehi Ratzon blessing when eating a fish head, which is also traditionally included on the platter?

Fish head by hiroo yamagata is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AThat our enemies go the way of the Amalekites.

BThat we always look not only forward, but to the side as does the fish, so that we may stay safe.

CThat we be fruitful and multiply.

DThat we be as the head and not as the tail.

EThat this tray of fish heads inspires us to sing unto the Lord.

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