So a couple of months ago, this guy puts this piece of jewelry on e-bay. He apparently gets a little over five bucks for it. We guess that he wasn't sure what it was; well, we're absolutely positive he wasn't sure what it was, but we don't exactly know where his guess came from. He referred to it as a sterling silver Navajo Moose.

Navajo Moose? Not quite as much of a non sequitur as, say, Hawaiian Polar Bear, but let's just say that we don't exactly picture Kokopeli riding one.

It's interesting in an In Search Of Ancient Astronauts sort of way. Maybe, in eons past, when Raquel Welch was hanging around with dinosaurs, mooses wandered around the desert mesas of Arizona. Lost mooses. Maybe one developed a crush on a buffalo.

After this buildup, you might be curious as to what exactly a Navajo Moose looks like. To begin with, it's attractively stylized.

This is what the picture on e-bay looked like (I got the picture second-hand and the object itself has of course long since sold):






The story apparently doesn't end here. On an online magazine called Tablet (, a writer reports that he received an e-mail from a guy whose son saw one of these on an unlikely wearer who, upon questioning, identified what he was wearing as a Navajo Moose. The probability that this is the exact object in question is awfully remote, leading one to the conclusion that someone somewhere is now selling these as Navajo Mooses.


For those of you unfamiliar with this piece of jewelry, which is pretty common and typically worn around the neck, it's a Hebrew word, Chai (the ch pronounced more like kh, like you're gathering spit, not like tsh like one kind of tea you can buy in Starbucks; the vowel is a long I). It means "life." In Hebrew writing, letters stand in for numbers, this number is 18. That's why if you or your kid is ever invited to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you're wondering about a gift, most people give a check in a card and the check is frequently made out for either $18 or a multiple thereof, for luck.

Am Yisrael Chai is both a saying and a song title. It means The People of Israel Live, though it isn't necessarily a reference to the country so much as to the Jewish People.

If you ever see one of these worn with the Moose Head on the right, it's backward. Wearing it like that will not make it a Navajo Moose, it will make it a backward Chai.

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Comment by tr ig on October 1, 2012 at 1:29pm

smiling here over the incongruity of 'Navajo moose' and the explanation, which makes much more sense. Learn something new every day? Thanks..

Comment by L in the Southeast on October 1, 2012 at 1:35pm

 I can see the moose in the object, but why Navajo?  It is so interesting the way "knowledge" gets contaminated by someone's imagination.

Comment by Alan Milner on October 1, 2012 at 1:42pm

I saw three black teenagers, apparently sisters,  wearing chai(s) the other day and when I stopped them to ask why, they told me that they were Jewish.  They were amused because they get asked about it all the time.   I used to go to an all Black -except for me - synagogue in Harlem when I was at CCNY, so I asked them if their parents had grown up in Harlem.  They said no, but their grandparents had.  This is a layover from when Harlem was a Jewish neighborhood and intermixing families gave rise to the Black Jews of Harlem, a phenomenon that dates back to the early 1900s.  This is a different group from the Falashas or Ethiopian Jews.  The Falashas are accepted in Israel as Jews, and have the right to make Aliya by exercising the Law of Return, which gives any Jew automatic Israeli citizenship.  The Black Jews, who actually call themselves the Black Hebrews, are not recognized as Jews by Orthodox Jewry because they are Jewish by conversion but their conversions were so far in the past that no documentation survives to prove the conversion.  They are accepted as Jews in Israel only after  they convert according Halachic law.   There are around 40,000 Black Hebrews in the United States.  

Comment by L in the Southeast on October 1, 2012 at 1:47pm

This is where I start to get confused.  If a Black Jew (Hebrew)  is a second or third generation Jew, doesn't that make them a Jew, since their mother is a Jew?  How far back does this conversion issue go?

Comment by Alan Milner on October 1, 2012 at 2:04pm

It depends on the school of thought.  My girl friend's mother is half-Jewish on her father's side but according to halachic law my girl friend's  not Jewish.  If her mother were half Jewish on her mother's side, then an orthodox rabbi would inquire about her mother's parents to insure that her mother's mother mother was Jewish.  Further back I've never heard anyone go.   However, if you are the child of a female convert, then you are considered Jewish under halachic law.  The issue arises when someone doesn't look Jewish, which causes the literal minded to ask questions.  Me, I figure that anyone who wants hang with us is more company than we had before.  On the esoteric level, it is believed in some circles that Jews only reincarnate as Jews....Yes, some  orthodox Jews do believe in reincarnation....and the Holocaust screwed up that practice to the extent that in the generations since the Holocaust, Jewish souls have been reincarnating to non-Jewish parents. When I was in practice, I encountered more than a dozen of these cases in which people came to me with this strange conviction that they were actually supposed to be Jewish.   I'm not convinced about reincarnation or past lives myself....but I understand the allure of the concept. And, before you ask, my treatment protocol was simple.  I had a rabbi friend of mine convert them. Worked like a charm, except that the converts would kvetch all the time about the kathruth (kosher) laws.  Seems like they could give up shell fish, but not bacon. 

Comment by L in the Southeast on October 1, 2012 at 2:09pm

Hah!    Is there any chance that the resistance to accepting Black Jews is racial?  I mean, this idea  of  "looking like a Jew" has been proven ridiculous in my experience.  I have known Jews that could pass for Norwegians, for Pete's sake.

Comment by Alan Milner on October 1, 2012 at 2:18pm

Yes, and my father was one of them.  In fact, that's why he was in military intelligence, if you pardon the oxymoron.  As far as the racial aspect is concerned, the love hate relationship between Blacks and Jews is a long-running tradition in both communities.  A lot of black people from my generation hate the Jews because a lot of the slum lords and shop keepers they dealt with were Jews....who were there because, as the neighborhood changed, the residents went from Jewish to Black but the landlords and the shop keepers were stuck there.  On the other hand, Jew are fearful of blacks because of all the stereotyping...and, of course, the Nation of Islam didn't help that much.   Judaism is unique because it is a religion, a creed, a culture, and an ethnicity.  You can be a Jewish atheist, but it is very hard to be a Christian atheist.  The difference is that you are still recognized as a member of the Jewish community even if you don't observe the religion but, in Christianity, if you become apostate, you lose your connection to the community.  It's a huge subject, L, and not an easy one.   There were Chinese and Japanese Jewish communities dating back to antiquity who were obviously converts.  It goes on and on. 

Comment by Dan C. Boutwell on October 1, 2012 at 2:18pm

Great post....learned something....also gained a little insight regarding human nature.

Comment by L in the Southeast on October 1, 2012 at 2:25pm

In other words, the Jewish community is just as diverse and complex as the Black community.  Why oh why are people so quick to stereotype based on such small numbers of bad people?

Comment by Alan Milner on October 1, 2012 at 2:27pm

The answer to that one is simple:  we use stereotyping because we don't have the time to hand sort every person we come into contact with.   Most people have never seen or heard an actual act of violence in their lives and very few have seen more than 1, but we're all frightened of each other. I believe this is a media induced psychosis.  We have been imprinted with a belief system that we are in danger from people who are different from us without any actual evidence. 


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