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Ashland rabbi pens book about the etymology of biblical place names

ASHLAND — Life is a journey and, as Rabbi David Zaslow writes in his new book about the Jews' exodus from Egypt and its 42 stopping places, the journey contains a lot of guidance for modern people.

The book, "These Are the Journeys," traces the etymologies of the names of many places Jews settled in their flight from Egypt in the 13th century B.C., he says. And it uses the journey as a personal psychological search for the trials and meanings of life's ups and downs.

A six-week class structured around the unpublished book starts Tuesday at Havurah Shir Hadash. The class is $10 per person and anyone is welcome. The text costs $25. Register by calling 488-7716.

Zaslow believes he has created a new approach to understanding the historical passage of the Jews from Egypt into what would become Israel. The etymology of the place names form a pattern of the development of the individual through life, from the "narrow, limited confines" contained in the meaning of the word Egypt into the liberation and understanding of mature later life.

To explain the thesis explored in his book and workshop, Zaslow said that place names in the Rogue Valley could be interpreted in the same way, journeying from "the place of burnt fires" (Ashland), the discovery of inner skills (Talent), the place of rebirth (Phoenix, the bird rising from the ashes), on to the middle ford of Medford, then arriving at the central point of life.

Although no scholar has studied the etymology of place names in Exodus, Zaslow believes he has found a pattern, starting in Egypt with Raamses, "born of the sun," then to Sukkot, "thanksgiving harvest shelters," to Etam, "hope that we can find perfection amid chaos," and so on to the 42nd resting place, which translates as "letting go of dead wood" and "ready for the final crossing."

"I bring out the linguistic etymology. When you translate the etymology, you always get poetry," explained Zaslow, who said he's seeking a scholarly publisher for his work.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Ashland rabbi pens book about the etymology of biblical place names