I can see myself getting addicted to the Jewish English Lexicon, what creator Sarah Bunin Benor calls “a wikipedia-style database of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in Jewish English.”
I’ve written about Benor before, and her survey, with Steven M. Cohen, of “American Jewish Language and Identity.” She’s interested in the “Jewish” words that have become part of English vocabulary, but even more so in what our choice of such words says about our Jewish identities.
As she explains in the introduction to the lexicon:
When Jews use words from this list within their English speech or writing, they indicate not only that they are Jewish but also that they are a certain type of Jew. Some are Yiddish lovers, some are engaged in religious life and learning, some have a strong connection to Israel, some have Sephardi heritage, and some are all of the above. Because Jewish and non-Jewish social networks overlap, these words are not used exclusively by Jews. Some are English words that certain Jews use in distinctive ways, and some are Yiddish-origin words that have become part of the English language.
The lexicon includes words you’d expect (chutzpah, plotz, yahrzeit, mishegoss); the more esoteric vocabularly of religous Jews (chumrah, tsniusdik, emunah, shtus); and the Hebrew expressions that are regularly used by frequent visitors to Israel, or Jewish camp and day school alumni (beteavon, ruach, beseder, slicha).
The lexicon lets you seach words by user and origin. I’m drawn to the English words that have taken on particular or distinct Jewish meanings. These include chosenness, continuity, day school, unaffiliated, and peoplehood.
(I contributed “Jewish professional” [meaning an employee, excluding support staff, of an institution specifically or largely devoted to a Jewish cause or agenda] and this morning suggested ”engagement,” meaning “the degree to which someone is active in a Jewish communal activity, or the degree to which Jewish institutions attract people to those activities” [as in, "The JCCNV Community Engagement department strives to inspire Jewish journeys and serve as a catalyst for families in Northern Virginia to seek out deeper participation in Jewish life."])
Come to think of it, a lot of these words — continuity, day school, unaffiliated, engagement, and peoplehood — are examples of Jewish Professional-speak.
If you can decode the following sentence and don’t actually work or volunteer for a synagogue or Jewish organization, consider yourself an honorary Jewish Professional:
In order to ensure continuity, particularly among the unaffiliated, we must emphasize those activities and modalities that encourage engagement. Day school has proven to be an effective tool, but, in an era when “chosenness” has become a problemmatic concept, we must encourage social entrepreneurs to create new ways of promoting peoplehood.