Browsing Tag


Uncategorized December 15, 2011

Best Jewish Apps

What’s on my phone right now?  I always love the coolness of combining technology with religiosity.  So fun.  So I decided to share with y’all which Jewish apps are currently hanging out on my phone:

1. Zmanim

This literally means “times.”  In Judaism, the exact minute of sunrise and sunset are very important, as well as many points in between (like their midpoint).  Why?  There are certain times of day designated for certain prayers.  When Shabbat and holidays start and end.  When ANY day starts and ends.  Like if you need to figure out which is the 8th day for a bris.  So this app detects your location and offers you all the important times:  sunrise, till when you can do the morning prayers, midday, the earliest time you can do the afternoon prayers, sunset, nightfall, and mid-night (not to be confused with 12:00 am).

You can also change the date or location, like if you want to know when Shabbat will begin in four months (like for people who plan Shabbatons, ahem) or if you’ll be traveling and want to know if you can still catch a minyan at your destination.

2. Siddur

This is a prayerbook app.  The free one is Hebrew only (yup, that’s what I’ve got – I’m cheap, but for a small fee you can download one with English) and has bookmarks for the morning blessings, the Shema, the Amidah, the afternoon prayers (mincha), the evening prayers (maariv), “bentching” – Grace After Meals, the travelers’ prayer, and more.  It’s perfect for when I’m on the go, but, like many anti-Kindle peeps, I feel it’s just not the same.  Also quite distracting when an email or call comes in while I’m supposed to be concentrating on the Lord.  But there’s a concept in Judaism of looking at the words while you pray – even if you know it by heart.  Or maybe especially if you do.  Because it helps you concentrate, while you might be tempted to rattle it off by rote.  So this is great in a pinch.

3. Tehillim

This is the Book of Psalms.  Yeah, in an app.  Oxymoron?  Nah.  Jewish tradition has us turning to this book to pray for assistance or gratitude in any circumstance.  I confess, I’ve never used it.  I always revert to whispering the ones I know by heart.  But it’s very cool and has fun bookmarks.  Also, it makes me feel good just by being on my phone.

4. Calendar converter

This is a totally fun app that gives you the Hebrew dates for English and vice versa.  Very handy for choosing bar and bat mitzvah dates for our Sunday school kids.

5. Google calendar: Jewish holidays

This isn’t really an app, but did you know you could download the Jewish calendar into your google calendar?  Then all the Jewish holidays appear instantly, including Rosh Chodesh (first day of  the new Jewish month), and, if you’d like, the various Torah portions each week.  You can even choose your dialect for Hebrew (like Shabbos or Shabbat).  Very useful for making sure you don’t schedule an event on the first night of Passover or something like that.

6.  Avot

This is all six chapters of Pirkei Avot – the Ethics of the Fathers.  I’m teaching it in a class, and it’s perfect for checking quickly what we’re up to or reviewing before class.

7. Kol Halashon

Just downloaded this last week and I’ve already used it a bunch of times.  It’s for the more experienced learner, and basically it takes what is already a telephone learning service and offers it in app form.  It’s an extensive and organized collection of Torah lectures by today’s most popular lecturers.  You can choose parsha, mishna, Talmud, Jewish law, character improvement.  You can choose Hebrew, English, Yiddish and other languages.  I’ve bookmarked my four favorite lecturers.  You can either download the lectures or just play them, so it’s great for travel.  Eats up quite a bit of memory, but for me, totally worth it.

Which Jewish apps are hanging out on your phone?

Uncategorized November 28, 2011

How I Learned Yiddish

“Yiddish is written and spoken in a number of Orthodox Jewish
communities around the world, although there are also many Orthodox
Jews who do not know Yiddish. It is a home language in most Hasidic
communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood, used
in schools and in many social settings. Yiddish is also the academic
language of the study of the Talmud according to the tradition of the
great Lithuanian Yeshivohs.”

Thus opines the Great Wikipedia.

Well, I was one of those Orthodox Jews who didn’t know Yiddish.  And boy, did it bother me.  Firstly, when the adults used it as their “secret language.”  Secondly, when they laughed uproariously at a joke that was “funnier in Yiddish” (this was perhaps my first introduction to FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, that still afflicts me today). Thirdly, when my Hungarian grandmother expressed her disappointment at my Yiddish ignorance.

Back to the GW:

Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally “Jewish“) is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages.[2][3] It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.”

Nice, GW, but you don’t address the burning question: why perpetuate Yiddish at all?

Well, many feel that one shouldn’t.  That it’s the language of the ghetto, of the past, the opposite of progress.  Others perpetuate it for those very reasons – it clings to our past, our Ashkenazi history, the faith of the past.  Yet others reject it as a culture but consider it to be valuable history.  This, my friends, highlights quite the fault line among Jews today – to cling to the past, or to shake it off and move forward?  And then there are those that have one foot on each tectonic plate: move forward, but hang onto the past.  (An interesting exercise: see if you can determine where you stand, then ask someone with different ideologies from yours where you stand.)

In any event, my brothers, being members of the “great Lithuanian Yishevohs (sic),” did understand that elusive, funny, secret language.  Fortunately, so did my husband.  So we made a pact: each night at dinner, we’d spend 5 minutes conversing exclusively in Yiddish.

Lesson #1:
Q. How do you say “how do you say” in Yiddish?
A. Vi zugt men…
[This was the critical lesson that enabled all future lessons.]

Lesson #2:
Q. Vi zugt men potatoes?
A. Kartuffluch.


Fortunately, two things were working in my favor.  Firstly, I had heard enough Yiddish swirling around my head as a child to have some rudimentary familiarity with the basics.  Also, my husband spoke Yiddish with a decided, um, American accent and dialect (ich vill essen broit mit peanut butter – I think I’ll have some bread with peanut butter) that assisted my linguistic skills considerably, and wasn’t I pleasantly surprised to discover that peanut butter was a Yiddish term.

And wasn’t my lovely grandmother delighted to learn that her second-generation American granddaughter had kept the chain of Yiddish proficiency alive.

And now we can laugh at the same jokes.  Success.