Posts

Barack Obama’s Pan-Semitic Opportunity

Earlier this year I wrote an article for Jewcy arguing that Barack Obama was good for the Jews. One of my more light-hearted points was that 'Barack' is essentially the same word as 'Baruch', and both mean 'blessed', so Jews … Read More

By / May 27, 2008

Earlier this year I wrote an article for Jewcy arguing that Barack Obama was good for the Jews. One of my more light-hearted points was that 'Barack' is essentially the same word as 'Baruch', and both mean 'blessed', so Jews should vote for him. The article was passed to Obama through a friend of mine who is friends with one of his advisers on Jewish affairs and Israel. I thought he must have read it, for lo and behold, he told a synagogue audience in Florida last Thursday that they can call him 'Baruch'.

The audience laughed and smiled in response.

But sadly for my future career plans as presidential inter-faith adviser, it seems that he has known about Baruch-Barack for several years. Daniel Koffler advises me that Obama has been working the Semitic cognate thing since 2003.

Even so, the similarities among Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili could still be a useful tack for Obama as he tries to negotiate a path between his Arabic and Swahili names and multi-cultural heritage and his Jewish supporters. He could, perhaps even should, start lacing his speeches with other examples of almost-identical phrases. Of course we know that Hebrew and Arabic share much vocabulary, but it's still suprising quite how similar they are once you start looking. Wikipedia's guide to Semitic languages is very good on this. Personally, I found that several years of Hebrew school and time on a kibbutz ulpan was a solid basis for learning Arabic at Leeds University. The two languages are, roughly speaking, about as similar as Dutch and German.

The best way for Obama to greet his audiences, of whatever faith, would be with 'Shalom Aleichem-Salaam Aleykum', meaning ‘Peace be upon you'. This could even be a subtle set-up for Baruch-Barack, as the ‘chet' in ‘Aleichem' and ‘Baruch' becomes a ‘kaf' in both Arabic versions. He could continue with ‘Beyti-Beytak', meaning ‘My house is your house', a traditional Arabic greeting. That would not need a Hebrew version as ‘Beyt' means house in both languages. He could even put his yad-yad (hand) on his lev-qalb (heart) as he spoke. And that would send a message about what unites Jews and Arabs, instead of dividing them.

Tagged with: