Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Rosh Hashanah 2018

First day Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Ari Sunshine’s sermon. I quite liked it and will try to share some parts of it, though, of course, I cannot and should not try to summarize all of it.
It was about our conception of ‘time’. The creation story was a product of its era. It is one of a few such creation stories from that region at that time. But there is at least one significant difference. It shifts the perspective from cyclical to linear time. The prevailing view was of a world sequentially and cyclical created, developed and destroyed, only to be recreated again. In the Hebrew bible God creates the world, almost destroys it, but then vows to Noah never to do so again. Time unfolds linearly, relentlessly. Each moment is unique, the past is gone forever, there are no do-overs, but there is also the opportunity to create something completely new in the future.
Rabbi Sunshine quotes the Psalmist who talks of how we fail to appreciate the gift of each day and, that most amazingly insightful of all biblical works, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). There is a time for all things good and bad, a time to grieve and a time for joy – and if you do not grieve in the appropriate time you will not feel the joy.
Whereas our ancestors experienced an abundance of time, however, we with all our conveniences are always short of time. With the rapid explosion of technology, we now face a myriad of options with only so much time to experience them. And sometimes we lose track of the value of the important uses of time. We are so tethered to our cell phones that we forget to put them down during meals – a time to connect with friends and family. We rush from one experience to another with hardly any time for reflection.
In this wonderful but harried world we should deliberately slow down and turn to the sanctuary of Shabbat, once a week. He repeats Rabbi Joshua Heschel’s famous characterization of the Shabbat as “an island in time” and Sunshine embellishes and talks of 'islands of familiarity'.
I liked the way he connected aspects of the Jewish religious experience, at this time of Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur, when we are so emotionally conscious of the passage of time, to the truly exceptional conditions of our everyday world.
One little bit of humorous irony. This sermon about our experience of time, as apparently is true of all rabbinic sermons, was about one-third too long.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Afrikaans is such an expressive language

If you grew up Jewish in South Africa, you had access to untranslatable words from both Yiddish and Afrikaans, delightful, expressive words that one simply cannot fully translate with all the nuance and emotion. Here are some from Afrikaans – sit down with your biltong and enjoy.
AFRIKAANS is without a doubt the most expressive language ever
How do you explain the word "sommer" to someone who is not South African? It's not only a foreign word, it's a foreign concept. Perhaps the English never do anything "just sommer". There really is no equivalent.... "Why are you laughing? Just sommer."
"Bakkie" is another one, very useful around this house for all sizes and shapes of containers and dishes. Also used for what they call "utes" in OZ or "pickup" in England. I find it an indispensable word.
We all know "voetstoots" of course. It's been officially adopted into South African English. There's no concise, one-word equivalent in English. "As is" just doesn't hack it. And it's such a humorous word, conjuring up images of pushing that brand new car home...
There's no good English word for "dwaal". It doesn't mean dream, or daze. It's close to absent-mindedness, but that's not quite it. Being in one so often myself, I'm not likely to stop using it.
I think "gogga" is the most delightful word for insect I've ever heard. Children all over the world should use it. "Insect" just doesn't stand a chance.
And then there's "gatvol". OK, I know it's very rude. But it's so very expressive, nĂȘ? "Fed up" doesn't have half the impact. "Gatvol" is a word used more frequently than ever in the workplace and the media these days, with increasing intensity.
While we're on the subject, another phrase which outstrips any English attempt is "Hy sal sy gat sien". "He'll get his come-uppance" definitely lacks the relish in comparison.
"Donder" is another very useful word, used as an all-purpose swearword, which again has no good English translation. Thunder does not even come a good second. Used as a verb, it can express any degree of roughing up. As a noun, it is a pejorative, as they politely say in dictionaries, to mean whatever you want it to mean. And there's no good translation for "skiet-en-donder" either.
It says something about the English that they have no word for "jol". Probably the dictionary compilers regard it as slang, but it's widely used for "Going out on the town, kicking up your heels, enjoying yourself.
Although curiously, the word "Yule" in Yuletide is related to "jol" and derived from Old English. So somewhere along the line, the English forgot how to "jol".
How do you explain the passion of "lekker!"? "Wow last night was a "lekker jol".
I've yet to meet a South African over the age of two who doesn't use the word "muti". Translation is impossible - "witches potion" is about the nearest I can get. It needs a long cultural historical explanation. Between "muti" and the pedantic "medication", there's simply no contest.  [Still use it today!]
And of course, my personal favourite "Kak en betaal" , which just says it all, doesn't it? A bland English translation would be "Cough and pay", or "Breathe and pay". But it just doesn't cut it, does it? Not by a long drop.
Other words that come to mind: "jou bliksem", "wag 'n bietjie", "nie so haastig nie", "just now", "sakkie-sakkie music", "ou swaer", "Ya, nee", and one of my personal favourites, "Poephol".
"Dudu". Telling your infant to "go to bed" is just not the same as, "Go dudu now, my baby!"
How about "bliksem"? "I'm going to bliksem you!". Wonderful Afrikaans expression with nothing to compare in the English language, at least nothing that gives the same satisfaction.
"Mielie pap" - there is no word like "pap", here. They have porridge, and when they say porridge, they mean oats. There's no Maltabela, no Tasty Wheat, No Creemy Meal... In other words, there's no "pap"!
"Mislik" - such a 'lekker' word. "Why are you so mislik, you little skelm?"
Which brings us to "skelm" - here you just get "baddies", but that doesn't have the same sneaky connotation of a proper skelm, does it?!
"Loskop" is another favourite. The English just don't understand when I say, "Sorry, I forgot - I'm such a loskop!"
And finally..... "moer". There simply isn't a word here that denotes the feeling of dread behind the phrase "If you don't clean your room, I'll moer you!"