Three awful Yiddish words

Like many east European –born families, Yiddish was the spoken mother-tongue. In newer countries to which they had emigrated Yiddish was spoken in the home only when they did not want their non-Yiddish speaking children to understand.

The remedy for that was for the non-Yiddish speaking children to remember in particular angry words hurled at them, write them down and find a Yiddish speaker outside of the home who could serve as a translator.

Almost seventy years have passed and nevertheless I still unhappily remember the three awful words which my mother spoke to my father when I was present… unkind and hurtful words referring to me.

Without translating them for my readers, you will be required to locate your own personal translator.

“Mir hob’n gehalten”.. “Er iz a klaleh”. Unser umglick”.

Now please don’t get me completely wrong. Both of my parents were very loving. It was only on occasions when I disobeyed or challenged my mother’s wishes that the words flew out of her mouth.

On one occasion, I was being prepared for my Bar Mitzvah at age 13, my parents took me shopping to be fitted for a new suit. The clothing store was exclusive and expensive but my parents were wealthy and wanted me to look my very best. Their reputation was at stake.

I tried on three or four fine outfits and found only one that I liked. My mother did not share my taste and she preferred two other suits. After a heated exchange of words over her tastes and mine, I blurted out “ I hate that suit. If you buy it I won’t wear it and you can’t make me”.

Mother turned to father and out with one of the Yiddish phrases. When I finally won the dispute, out came the phrase again…. Noch a mol…. Another time. But who cares. Not me. After all, I won the dispute.

On another occasion a few years later when I was a university student, I invited my parents to visit me and to partake of an academic cultural event with me.
At the end of it, my parents wanted to invite me to a café to enjoy something sweet. Without asking me, my mother ordered the “something sweet” for me at the recommendation of the waitress.

When I told my mother that I did not like the flavor, her reply was “but the waitress recommended it and she knows what is good. So eat it and enjoy it.”

And I replied, “if she likes it, let her eat it. I don’t like it. And at age 19, why do you have to tell me what to eat. Why don’t you let me make my own decisions and choices?”

Again with a Yiddish phrase. A curse. And with only a “goodby” she took my father by his arm and they left to return to their home.

Thankfully, the Yiddish words and phrases which I had to hear, the three awful words in particular, were not heard anymore when, at the age of 26 I was married to my Hebrew-speaking wife who detested Yiddish as the language of pogroms and persecutions.

However, I tried and succeeded to convince her that most of the great Jewish literature was written in Yiddish, sometimes translated from Yiddish into Hebrew. Sholom Aleichem was the classic example.

When our children were born, there was no objection from her to my singing Yiddish songs and l went from the traditional Oif’n Pripachek to my favorite zaideh’s :Hop Hop Hop, a Gezunten Kop. The words are sweet and the memories are sweeter.

And finally, there are no more yiddish klalot (curses)…. Only Hebrew brachot (blessings).

Rest in peace, mama. S’iz genug. (It’s enough). Or as good Hebrew-speakers would tell you: Dayenu !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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