We Jews have arrived! That seemed to be the general sentiment on my Facebook news feed last night as word traveled around the social network that the winning word in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee was “knaidel” – the Yiddish word for matzah ball. Most excited Facebook users chimed in on the variant transliterated spellings of the Yiddish word wondering how the organizers of the annual spelling bee could agree on just one accepted spelling.
No one else seemed to have even noticed that a few hours earlier in the competition, another contestant was asked to spell the word “hesped” – Hebrew for eulogy (which is what I should be writing right now instead of this blog post, but I digress). As my friend and fellow traveler to Ukraine (back when he was a student at the University of Michigan and I was working at Hillel) Adam Soclof pointed out, “knaidel” was not the first Jewish word of questionable transliterated spelling that had been asked of the Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants in the past. In 2006, the word “hechsher” caused some controversy when 14-year-old Saryn Hooks of North Carolina correctly spelled “hechsher” (I go with the “hekhsher” spelling), but the judges disqualified Saryn even though she spelled it correctly. The judges later admitted their mistake and reinstated the girl.
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