June 23, 2024
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In his conversation with God, the prophet Jeremiah is granted a vision of a mahkayl shahkeyd or a staff of a shkeydiah or an almond tree. A shkeydiah was chosen above all other trees, because God wished to emphasize that He planned to be shahkeyd (a homonym meaning “diligent”) in fulfilling His word. Even though we are not Jeremiah—and even though we are not privy to divine visions—perhaps, it is time that we take a look at the Yiddish equivalent of “shkeydiah” along with various Yiddish terms associated with the almond tree; for it is the shkeydiah which serves as the “signature tree” for the soon to be celebrated holiday of Tu B’Shevat.

Mandelboim (almond tree): It was the Lithuanian born, Israeli poet, Israel Dushman, who wrote the poem “hashkeydiah porachat (the almond tree is blossoming)” which, for all intents and purposes, has become synonymous with the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Soon after, “hashkeydiah porachat” was put to music by Menashe Ravina. As a child studying at a Yiddish day school, I recall learning the Yiddish version of “hashkediya porachat.” Mandelboim is Yiddish for “shkeydiah.”

Mandelbroit (almond bread): It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I first heard the term “biscotti.” It doesn’t take a genius to see the similarity between “biscotti” and “biscuits.” But, biscotti began as an Italian almond biscuit. Mandelbroit bears an uncanny resemblance to biscott, even though Eastern European Jews were largely influenced by Polish, Ukrainian and Russian cuisine. Rarely, if ever, did Italian cuisine find its way to the shtetl. Of note, in my childhood home, we referred to mandelbroit by its Ukrainian name, “kamishbroit.”

Mandelmilch (almond milk): Most would be surprised to learn that it’s been eight decades since scientists began working on a non-dairy creamer. Most would be even more surprised to learn that pareve (non-dairy) creamers have been around in the form of mandelmilch for centuries. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch advises us to carefully label mandelmilch as such—lest anyone draw the wrong conclusion and think that one is pouring milk into the coffee at a meat meal.

Mandlen (soup nuts): Story has it that a first-time guest at a Pesach seder was intrigued by all the symbolism. When it came time to eat, and soup was served, the guest asked about the symbolism of the mandlen floating atop the chicken soup. “What are these round objects—with the constancy of saltines—floating atop the soup called, and what do they symbolize?” asked the guest, in all innocence. Without missing a beat, the host responded, that the round objects are known as “mandlen,” and they symbolize the fact that in no way does the non-Jewish world have a monopoly on croutons!

Mandlen (tonsils): I could be wrong, but it seems to me that tonsilitis was far more prevalent when I was a child. I am not wrong, however, when I tell you that in Yiddish, tonsils are referred to as “mandlen.” Visually, it is easy to see that the tonsil—more so than any other part of the human anatomy—bears a resemblance to an almond.

Rozhinkes mit mandlen (raisins and almonds). I’m not sure that rozhinkes mit mandlen was a precursor to trail mix, a mixture of nuts and raisins—but, I am certain that “rozhinkes mit mandlen” was among the most beloved Yiddish lullabies. Written toward the end of the 19th century by the Yiddish playwright, Avrohom Goldfadden, the lullaby assured the child a successful livelihood trading in rozhinkes mit mandlen.

As we celebrate Tu B’Shevat this Monday, let us keep in mind the mandelboim, mandelbroit, mandelmilch, the three meanings of mandlen and, of course, rozhinkes mit mandlen. A meaningful Tu B’Shevat to all!


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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