The Hebrew name for grandfather is saba, pronounced to rhyme with the rock group “Abba.” Sometimes it is spelled sabba. Differences in spelling are due to differences between the Hebrew alphabet and the English alphabet, resulting in spelling variants.
Some Jewish families prefer the Yiddish zayde, sometimes spelled zaydeh, zayda or zaydee.
Many Jewish grandparents choose more secular names as their grandparent names. On the other hand, the use of saba and savta (or bubbe and zayde) by non-Jewish grandparents is relatively rare, probably because it is so strongly associated with the Jewish culture.
About Hebrew and Yiddish
Although Hebrew and Yiddish are both associated with the Jewish culture and religion, they have some significant differences. Hebrew is a Semitic language, whereas Yiddish belongs to the Indo-European group of languages. Yiddish is spoken primarily by Eastern European Jews, and Hebrew is used by the country of Israel and by Jews with a Middle Eastern background. Both groups typically have some acquaintance with classical Hebrew, the language of their ancient religious documents. Classical Hebrew is different from the Hebrew that some Jews speak and write today. Half of Jewish Americans say they know the Hebrew alphabet, but only about 13% claim to understand Hebrew. Still, that is greater than the number of Americans who speak Yiddish, estimated to be around a quarter of a million.
Hebrew and Yiddish use the same alphabet and share other similarities. Both read right to left and neither uses capital letters.
Jews in America
In a recent survey of American Jews, 62% said that being Jewish is more about culture and ancestry than it is about religion. In fact, of the Jewish individuals surveyed, 22% said they have no religion. Also, many Jews marry out of their religion and culture. Since 2000, the number of Jews who marry non-Jews has remained stable at around 58%. That means that most Jews deal with some interfaith issues, although non-observant Jews may not be strongly affected.
Jewish Americans have a higher level of education and a higher income on the average than non-Jews.
Estimations of the Jewish population of the United States vary according to how being Jewish is defined, whether Jewish ancestry, religion or culture makes one a Jew. The most common figure used is around 4 to 5 million Jews. That’s a lot of sabas.
Jewish mothers and grandmothers are often portrayed as dominating figures, somewhat larger-than-life. Jewish fathers and grandfathers, on the other hand, occupy much less space in the imagination of the public. They are perceived as being hard-working and frugal, proud of their families, but generally content to occupy the background rather than the foreground. They are also rightly considered to be sources of wisdom, with adages such as these:
- “It is better to be the tail of the lion than the head of the fox.” It’s better to have a low position in a noble group than a high position in a dishonorable group.
- “A good name is better than good oil.” Few things are as precious as a good reputation.
- “Pride is the mask we make of our faults.” Foolish people turn their faults into something to take pride in.
- “A penny at hand is worth a dollar at a distance.” Money and goods are more valuable when you don’t have them.
- “If a girl can’t dance, she says the musicians can’t play.” It is common to blame one’s shortcomings on others.
- “God is a father; luck is a stepfather.” God is faithful, but luck is fickle.
- “A little fire burns up a great deal of corn.” Something small can be very destructive.
- “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.” Don’t repeat rumors.
- “An old man in the house is a burden, but an old woman is a treasure.” You might not hear this one from the man of the house!