Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lost language

Like you, I assume, holidays make me nostalgic for loved ones who are no longer with us. I have written countless times about my grandmother, whose house I was at every Friday night until I was 15 years old, when she became too sick to cook. I was the youngest, so my brothers and cousins and parents and aunt were with her much more than I was for many more Sabbath and holiday dinners. Still the memory of her is so vivid in my mind. Specifically the the smell of her house (matzah ball soup – even when it wasn’t cooking) and her language of choice – Yiddish.

I have learned to recreate her matza ball soup, each batch more authentic than the last. I made it for my second seder (passover meal) on Thursday and it tasted almost exactly like hers except cooked probably with a little less heart and soul.

What I can’t recreate is Yiddish as the lexicon of expression within my family and my surroundings. Remnants of this Hebraic-European-Germanic language can be found on Seinfeld, Woody Allen movies and even on the Daily Show. But as a language goes, it’s not spoken much anymore except in very small ultra-religious circles.

In college, I had the opportunity to study it, but instead minored in Modern Hebrew, a language which after studying since the age of 6, I have still failed to somehow master. Perhaps, even though I travel to Israel all of the time, perhaps even though I love the country and her people, the Hebrew language doesn’t grab me emotionally like Yiddish. Or maybe they are just different: like comparing hummus to cholent.

So, I thought this fifth night of Passover I would write down some Yiddish phrases that I used to hear a lot as a kid and do not hear much anymore. Yiddish was written using Hebrew letters, so pardon my transliteration. Also, I do not actually speak Yiddish, so there may be some inaccuracies due to phrases being out of context. Feel free to add your own in the comments section, or add phrases in the tongue of your grandparents’ native tongue that have been lost in the amalgamation of language.

[so I tried to do this and I couldn’t. I had to cheat. I knew there were so many words that I just couldn’t retrieve. And then I went to and it blew my mind. All of the sudden, all of these words from my childhood came back to me. Not everything was there, but I copied and pasted from this web site what I remembered. What a trip! Now I understand why my friends would come over and say, "I have no idea what your family is saying half the time." Full credit goes to Rabbi Dan S. Wiko, PhD, and his glossary. I only included the words that I remembered hearing during my childhood. His web site has many more. Also note, all the words used in American popular culture. One more thing: I left out some of the more offensive phrases my grandparents used to say.]

A brocheh - A blessing
A chazer – a pig
Meshugeneh - Mad, crazy, insane female.
Meshugener - Mad, crazy, insane man
A langer lucksh- a tall, skinny guy
A volf farlirt zayne hor, ober nit zayn natur - A wolf loses his hair but not his nature. "A leopard cannot change his spots."
Alef-bais - Alphabet; the first two letters of the Jewish alphabet
Alevei! - It should happen to me (to you)!
Alter Kocker - An old man or old woman.
Az och un vai! - Tough luck! Too bad! Misfortune!
Bashert - Fated or predestined
Bentsh - To bless, to recite a blessing
Bentshen lecht - Recite prayer over lit candles on Sabbath eve or Holy Day candles
Boychik - Young boy (term of endearment)
Bupkis - Nothing. Something totally worthless (Lit., Beans)
Chazzer - A pig (one who eats like a pig)
Chochem - A wise man (Slang: A wise guy)
Derech erets – Respect
Drai mir nit kain kop! - Don't bother me!
Drek - Human dung, feces, manure or excrement; inferior merchandise or work; insincere talk or excessive flattery
Emes - The truth
Shpilkes – The condition of not being able to sit still
Faigelah - Bird (also used as a derogatory reference to a gay person)
Farklempt - Too emotional to talk. Ready to cry.
Farkakte (taboo) - Dungy, shitty
Farshtaist? - You understand?
Feh! - Fooey, It stinks, It's no good
Fressing – Making something almost too good, going crazy over something.
Gai gezunterhait! - Go in good health
Gevalt! - Heaven Forbid!
Gut Shabbos - Good Sabbath
Gut Yontif - Happy Holiday
Ich darf es vi a loch in kop! - I need it like a hole in the head!
Ich hob dir lieb - I love you!
Kaporeh, (kapores) - Atonement sacrifice;
Kaynahorah - the evil eye
Ketzele – Kitten
(To) Kibbitz - To offer unsolicited advice as a spectator
Kibbitzer - Meddlesome spectator
Knish (taboo) – Vagina
Kurveh - Whore, prostitute
Lantsman - Countryman, neighbour, fellow townsman from "old country".
Lig in drerd! - Get lost! Drop dead! (Lit., Bury yourself!)
Lokshen – Noodles
Macher - big shot, person with access to authorities, man with contacts.
Mameleh - Mother dear
K'vetsh - Whine, complain; whiner, a complainer
Mashugga – Crazy
Mechutonim - In-Laws (The parents of your child's spouse)
Mentsh - A special man or person. One who can be respected.
Meshpokha - Extended family
Meshugass - Madness, insanity, craze
Meshugeh - Crazy
Mieskeit - Ugly thing or person.
Nebach - It's a pity. Unlucky, pitiable person.
Nebbish - A nobody, simpleton, weakling, awkward person
Neshomeh - Soul, spirit
Nosh – Snack
Nudnik - Pesty nagger, nuisance, a bore, obnoxious person
Oi vai iz mir! - Woe is me!
Oysgeputst - Dressed up, overdressed; over decorated
Patsh - Slap, smack on the cheek
Pipek - Navel, belly button
Ponem - Face
Poo, poo, poo - Simulate spitting three times to avoid the evil eye
Potchke - Fool around or "mess" with
Pulke - The upper thigh
Rachmones - Compassions, mercy, pity
Saykhel - Common sense
Shaineh maidel - pretty girl
Shandeh - Shame or disgrace
Shlemiel - Clumsy bungler, an inept person, butter-fingered; dopey person
Shlep - Drag, carry or haul, particularly unnecessary things, parcels or baggage; to go somewhere unwillingly or where you may be unwanted
Shlub - A jerk; a foolish, stupid or unknowing person, second rate, inferior.
Shlump - Careless dresser, untidy person; as a verb, to idle or lounge around
Shmaltz - Grease or fat; (slang) flattery; to sweet talk, overly praise, dramatic
Shmaltzy - Sentimental, corny
Shmatteh - Rag, anything worthless
Shmendrik - nincompoop; an inept or indifferent person; same as shlemiel
Shmo(e) - Naive person, easy to deceive; a goof (Americanism)
Shmuck (tabboo) - Self-made fool; obscene for penis: derisive term for a man
Shtik drek (taboo) - Piece of shit; shit-head
Tachlis - Practical purpose, result
Tateh, tatteh, tatteh, tatteleh, tatinka, tatteniu - Father, papa, daddy, pop
Tateh-mameh, papa-mama – Parents
Tsores - Troubles, misery
Um-be-shrien - God forbid! It shouldn't happen!
Utz - To goad, to needle
Ver vaist? - Who knows?
Vos hob ich dos gedarft? - What did I need it for?
Zaftik - Pleasantly plump and pretty. Sensuous looking (Lit., juicy)
Zoineh – Prostitute
Kutz- something little
Zei gezunt en laben longiyurn and sheyn vaksen (what my Bubbie used to say after we sneezed)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Letter to Muslims and Arabs about Holocaust

Dear Muslims and Arabs from around the world who are enraged about the situation in Gaza,

Whether I agree or disagree is not the point. The point is STOP COMPARING THE SITUATION IN GAZA TO THE NAZI HOLOCAUST. They are not comparable or similar. When you do so, you sound like a bunch of crazies with no legitimate claims.

Worse, when your leaders and professors make up lies about the Holocaust, or even when you publish lies about the Holocaust, you are doing a disservice to your own people as well as those who perished at the hands of their Nazi persecutors. How can anyone trust anything you say when you begin your argument with fictitious accusations?

Holocaust denial has caused more harm to the Muslim world than good. Your causes are viewed with little sympathy because you sound unreasonable and irrational.

Let’s start with the truth. Demand it from your leaders. Demand it for your teachers. Demand it from yourselves and then the conversation can go from there.

Until then, I don’t know how you can expect to get anything accomplished for the Palestinians from human rights to statehood.

I would tell you the article that I read that led to this posting, but the web site doesn't deserve the publicity and neither does the author.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Porkless Donuts

I started a petition in support of an Arab American who was told he had to give up his Dunkin’ Donuts franchise license because he wouldn’t serve pork in his stores. According to a Chicago Tribune article, he was able to have the store sans pork from 1979-2002 until Dunkin’ Donuts “would not renew his franchise agreement if he did not sell its full line of products.”

After a seven year court battle, higher courts found that Dunkin’ Donuts could refuse to renew his franchise license.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the court ruling. I’m not a legal scholar. Their interpretation of law and the constitution is probably correct.

My issue is with Dunkin’ Donuts the company acting without a moral compass.

So you might be asking, why do I care?

There is something about this that has struck a nerve. Maybe it’s because I know there is a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts on Devon. Maybe because I know there are porkless Dunkin’ Donuts in Arab and Muslim countries.

Maybe it’s because, according to the Tribune, he bought the license back in the 70s, instead of a lets say, McDonald’s, because then Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t serve pork products.

Or maybe because I’ve recently become obsessed with genealogy and am simply amazed that my 8 great grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, survived the Great Depression, and have descendants all of whom have realized the American Dream, mostly to a great degree.

I don’t know where Walid Elkhatib is from and I don’t really care, to be honest. All I know, is that he is a first generation American and he deserves to run his business within the confines of his religious beliefs, just as he has done since I was just a little girl.

He’s not asking to close during Ramadan. He’s just asking not to serve pork. It’s not like he’s running a ham shop and asking not to serve pork. He wants to sell doughnuts, muffins and coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.

My message to Dunkin’ Donuts is as follows: just let him and stop being such corporate jerks.

Sign the petition

Read the Tribune article