In a recent New York Times book review of Jonathan Weisman’s (((SEMITISM))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump, the famed author Simon Schama counseled, as a defense against anti-Semitism, “an aggressive defense of … the integrity of the democratic process, the protections of the Constitution and the preservation of the ideal of a nation of immigrants.” And, he added, “A little davening now and then wouldn’t do any harm.”Ah, daven. A Yiddish word whose source is as elusive as the act itself–praying–is common.Theories abound about the word’s etymology, none of them terribly compelling. Some point to the Arabic word da’awa, purportedly meaning “to pray.” The problems are that a) Arabic words are unlikely candidates for seeping into Yiddish (unlike into Hebrew, where Arabic slang abounds), and b) that da’awa really means “summons”—and refers to proselytizing for Islam. No way.Other shots in the dark include the Aramaic “d’avhasana,” meaning “from our fathers,” an ostensible reference to the Talmudic teaching that the daily Jewish prayers were established by our forefathers.And then there’s the theory that the word derives from the Hebrew “daf,” or “page,” alluding to the turning of a prayer book’s pages. Meh.A credible candidate is the Lithuanian dovana, or “gift.” Not only does that word actually sound like davening, but Mincha, the afternoon prayer, in fact means precisely that: a gift. And all Jewish prayers are characterized in traditional texts as offerings, or tributes to a king–in this case, The King (no, not Elvis, but the ultimate one).Then there’s the Old French devin, which came from the Latin divinus, “of a power”—the source of our English word “divine.” And, finally, the Middle English root of our word “dawn”–namely, dauen, “to become light.” If that is daven’s source, the word would refer to the ideal time for the day’s first prayer.A cynical use of daven is the dismissive phrase “daven up,” meaning to read a document in a perfunctory, hurried fashion. It would be used to refer to someone quickly and uncomprehendingly reading a text, or to how some people recite their daily prayers.As exemplified in the famous (well, it should be) and caustic story of the shtetl Yid who owed the local poritz, or landowner, some money. Yankel somehow convinces the guy to forgive the debt if Yankel can teach a bear cub how to pray. He obtains a cub and hands him a siddur, or prayer book, with a drop of honey on its cover and on each of the book’s pages. The bear wipes up the first drop of honey with its paw and puts it on his tongue. The bright bear opens the book and locates and eats the other drops of honey, too.The next day, Yankel gives little Smokey the same siddur, this time with a drop of honey only on every other page. The bear, with a murmur of disappointment at each page bearing only words, still manages to service his sweet tooth. The following day the honey is only on random pages. The bear goes through the book, turning pages, wiping up drops of honey, licking his paw, murmuring at the unsweetened folios.Yankel is ready. Presenting the bear to the creditor, he gives the animal a siddur. The bear opens it, turns a few pages, murmuring all the while, stops every few seconds to lick his finger, then resumes page-turning and murmuring. Over and over. “That’s not praying,” complains the poritz. “Come with me,” says the Jew, leading the landowner to the local shul and opening its door. Lo and behold, an entire congregation is doing a pretty good imitation of the bear. Tadeusz has no choice but to forgive the debt.And everyone, thankfully, davened happily ever after.