Author: David Olivestone

Mah Shlomcha?

It’s the simplest of questions: “Mah shlomcha?—How are you?” But when your country is at war, how can you give the usual answer?

Poland Is the Past

For us, Poland is the past; Jerusalem is both the present and the future.

Our Tenth Aliyaversary

Even after living in Yerushalayim for more than ten years now, I still experience a sense of wonderment when I turn off the street named for Ramban to the street named for Ibn Ezra and when the seasonal decorations on the lampposts are for my festival, not someone else’s.

The Best Is Yet to Be

What a Robert Browning poem teaches us about old age and the surprising Jewish influence on his work.

Of Hospitability And Wine

No one has ever actually eaten the fruit cake, he claimed. Rather, he insisted, “there is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”
That’s also true about a bottle of kosher wine.

The Gabbai’s Klap

The gabbai’s klap is a tool, nurtured by tradition and minhag, that when used judiciously can help ensure that everything goes right.

My Ideal Shul

There was no one close by whose talking could disturb me, no aisles for anyone to stroll along, in fact no one near enough to distract me at all.

Milk for Pesach

My father was able to get matzot and some Pesachdik ingredients for my mother to cook with, but was faced with the challenge of how to obtain fresh milk.

The Mystery of the Half a Matzah

You see, when he did bedikat chametz (the search for leaven), my father, like everyone else, took a candle to light the way, a feather to collect the crumbs and a bag to hold the pieces of chametz that he found. But, unlike everyone else, he always put half a matzah into the bag. “Why?” I asked. “Because that’s what my father did,” was the only response I ever got.

A Most Obscure Best-Selling Author: Dr. Philip Birnbaum

What is perhaps even more remarkable is that a 19-year-old Polish immigrant attained such a high level of fluency in a language which was not his mother tongue, and produced felicitous, articulate, eloquent and sometimes even poetic translations of complex texts.

“Please Blow the Shofar Quietly”

Several members of his family were there when I got to his house. “Please blow the shofar quietly,” they cautioned me, as soon as I stepped in. “He hasn’t been very responsive in the last few days, and you mustn’t startle him.”

The Custodian

In his four decades at Sotheby’s, the renowned auction house, David Redden presided over many memorable sales.1 Among the most notable, he lists the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels, a lunar lander, and a copy of the Magna Carta. But the one that touched him the most was the sale […]

On Guard in Jerusalem

If, like me, you are a man of a certain age who never served in Vietnam or the Israeli army, you have probably also never seen a gun fired in anger. This was certainly the case for the ten or so of us—all greying American and British olim—who came together on a recent evening to […]

A Gallery of Shana Tovas

  During the 1800s, the sending of greeting cards for all sorts of occasions, mostly in the form of postcards, became hugely popular in Europe, including among Jews. Toward the end of the century, the waves of Jewish immigrants to North America brought with them this practice and began importing a wide variety of Rosh […]

What Exactly Is it That God Hears?

(The writer of this piece thinks he should probably have opted to remain anonymous, since he is afraid that his friends, who are already not allowed to talk to him in shul, will not talk to him at all after they read this.) What exactly is it that God hears when we daven and simultaneously […]

How Much Hebrew is Enough?

They say that the only time you hear Ivrit spoken on Derech Beit Lechem, a major street near where I live in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood, is when a Russian meets a Frenchman. That may be an exaggeration, but, as is evident from the accompanying article, most olim want to live in a neighborhood where they […]

Standing Room Only: The Remarkable Career of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt

This article originally appeared in the fall 2003 issue of Jewish Action In an obituary for Cantor Josef Rosenblatt, whose seventieth yahrtzeit was observed this year, The New York Times noted, “He was so well known in this country that letters from Europe addressed to ‘Yossele Rosenblatt, America,’ reached him promptly.”1 No other chazzan has […]

Lights of Redemption

Once Buried in Warsaw, These Menorot Are Now on Display in Jerusalem In May of 1943, SS General Jürgen Stroop triumphantly blew up the huge synagogue building that stood on Tlomackie  (pronounced Tlomatskyeh) Street, on the edge of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. To the Jews of Warsaw, the dedication of this palatial shul in […]

Listening to God: Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren

Listening to God: Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Maggid Books Jerusalem, 2010 445 pages Reviewed by David Olivestone   When I moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the early 1970s, during the heyday of Lincoln Square Synagogue and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s tenure there, I was quite unprepared for […]

Inside the Mind of A Chazzan: A Conversation with Cantor Joseph Malovany

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Cantor Joseph (Yossi) Malovany has been the chazzan at Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue for the past thirty-eight years. Born in Tel Aviv, he studied at the Bilu Synagogue and School for Cantors, and took his first position in Johannesburg, South Africa, at age nineteen. Five years later, he became the chazzan […]

The OU Takes On Another Face

It was just eighty years ago that the familiar Orthodox Union (OU) logo was created to be placed on the labels of twenty-six Heinz products, among the first to be certified OU kosher. The logo—the letter U inside the letter O—became one of the most-recognized, and most trusted, symbols in the Jewish world. Soon, another […]

How to Buy a Shofar

If you don’t already own a shofar, it’s better to first learn how to blow on a borrowed shofar before buying one. When you do go to the store, you need to find a shofar that is right for you personally. For reasons that are purely commercial, the longer the shofar, the more it costs. […]

The Sound of My Thoughts

I often hear people talk about the awakening power of the sound of the shofar—how awesome a moment, how inspiring an experience it is for them. From the perspective of one who blows the shofar, the ba’al tekiah, it is even more than that. No other mitzvah resembles it in the way it is carried […]