Returning includes a number of Hebrew and Aramaic terms. For the reader’s convenience, any terms not defined in the text can be found in the glossary at the end of the book. We’ve reproduced that glossary here for the convenience of book clubs and discussion groups.
Aggadah: Interpretive story, usually based on a Biblical text.
Am Yisrael: The People of Israel.
Am Kadosh: A “Holy People”. The phrase appears in the Torah in the context of the commandment to the newly-liberated Children of Israel to hold themselves to a higher standard than that of the societies around them.
Aron Kodesh: The Ark in which the Torah is kept in a synagogue.
Ashkenazim: European Jews, as opposed to Sepharadim, referring to Spanish and some North African Jews.
Auskleideraum: Undressing room.
Bet Knesset (plural, batei knesset): Synagogue, House of Assembly.
Birkhot HaShahar: A set of blessings of gratitude said upon arising in the morning.
Brachah (plural: Brachot): Blessing. Usually refers to a short blessing of gratitude before eating, or before performing a Mitzvah.
Eretz Yisrael: The Land of Israel
Gemara: The part of the Talmud which comprises commentary on the primary code of Jewish law, the Mishnah.
Halakhah: Often defined as “Jewish Law”, it actually encompasses the entire body of Jewish culture, tradition, and philosophy.
Hallel: A compilation of psalms of praise recited at special occasions throughout the Jewish year.
Hashem: “The Name.” The substitution in text or speech for the name of God, which, written out, is called the Shem HaMeforash (the Explicit Name).
Havdalah: Ceremony at the end of Shabbat that separates the sacred space from the mundane work-a-day week.
Hessed shel Emet: “True Kindness.” An act of kindness for the dead, who cannot pay back the kindness in any way.
Hester Panim: “Hiding of the Face (of God)”. A term used in the last book of the Torah to refer to a period of history when the Jews will be made to feel the complete absence of God.
Hevra Kaddisha: Burial Society. A group dedicated to carrying out the rituals attending the burial of the deceased.
Ikveta d’Mashicha: Aramaic, “The Footsteps of the Messiah”. A time of catastrophe and upheaval prophesied to precede the dawn of the messianic age.
Kaddish: A brief poem in Aramaic which historically was recited at the end of a lesson or prayer. It is recited in a call-and-response format between sections of the Hebrew prayer service, and by mourners as an affirmation of trust.
Kiddush: “Sanctification.” The Blessing over Wine offered traditionally at the beginning of Shabbat.
Kiddush Hashem (opposite: Hillul Hashem): “Sanctification of the Name.” Any action by which a Jew acts as an ambassador of God, by behaving in such a way as to bring honor to God in the eyes of others.
Kohelet: Ecclesiastes, a book of wisdom literature attributed to King Solomon.
Kohen (plural: kohanim): Priest, A male descendant of Aharon, the brother of Moses.
Lager: Concentration camp.
Leichenkeller: Morgue. German euphemism for the gas chambers at Birkenau.
Midrash: “Explanation.” An expounding that brings out the deeper meaning of a text or of a halakhah. In our context, a story that is not meant to be taken literally, but which uses evocative imagery to paint a picture in the mind of the listener.
Mitzvah (plural: mitzvot, Commandment): Any action undertaken in accordance with God’s will, including acts of kindness.
Mosser: Informant. One who hands over a Jew to non-Jewish authorities.
Musselman: Camp slang for a prisoner whose condition has deteriorated past the point of no return.
Neshama: Higher soul.
Nefesh: The embodied soul, or life force.
Peshat: The simple meaning of the text, as opposed to the deeper levels.
Shabbat: The period from just before sundown on Friday evening until after sunset on Saturday night when Jews cease all actions that involve willfull, conscious creation. The day is traditionally spent with family and friends.
Shaharit: The morning prayer
Sh’chinah: “The Presence.” Often referred to as the feminine aspect of God.
Shema: The fundamental statement of Jewish loyalty to God: “Hear, O Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is One.” It is recited twice daily and is traditionally also recited in the last moments before death.
Sh’losh Esre Ikarim: Thirteen Principles of the Rambam, considered by some to be the core beliefs and worldviews of Judaism.
Shoah: The Holocaust.
Siddur (plural: Siddurim): Prayer book.
Tallit: Prayer shawl, a four-cornered garment, to which are attached Tzitzit, or fringes.
Tehillim: Psalms, a collection of songs and poems, some of which date back to the Kingdom of David.
T’shuvah: “Return.” The process of repentance and rehabilitation from wrong-doing.
T’fillah: Prayer. In Jewish traditional texts, it refers to the central prayer of Judaism, which is performed three times a day. Also known as the Shmonah Esre (Eighteen Benedictions), or the Amida (Standing Prayer).
Tsaddik: Righteous person.