Happy New Year. First blog of 2012. My parents spoke Yiddish when I was a child so I would not be to understand what they were saying. I learned a few words like seza, kiki slufen, chutzpah (not the Michelle Bachman version) and schlep but not much more. (See below for list of a few more common Yiddish words that are now commonly used.) I have never been too good learning languages. I have checked some of the words and not sure if my parents pronounced them differently, I heard them differently or I just don’t remember. I remember my parents calling me seza which I thought was sweetness. I checked online and the closest was sis. Kiki I think is keit for child. Slufen is schlofn for sleep. The secretive quality always made Yiddish special for me. I am always looking for new topics to blog so as usual I googled Yiddish Divorce. I found a very interesting and funny discussion at http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/25978/divorce-court/?all=1 . It is not surprising that human nature has not changed and stories about Jewish divorces by Jew who spoke Yiddish are not all that different from contested divorces today. Perhaps worse! There are Jewish Divorces or Gets. See blog on at http://centerfordivorcemediation.blogspot.com/2008/03/religious-divorce-and-annulment_10.html on March 10, 2008 on Religious Divorce and Annulment. There are no Yiddish Divorces but rather the Yiddish culture has influenced the divorce process has it has influenced our language. I guess there was not Yiddish Mediation but the Rabbi was often a problem solver. The above link to Tablet Magazine is an excellent article with stories about divorce in the Yiddish Culture. Let me excerpt one of my favorites.
“Divorce Court By Eddy Portnoy, Tablet Magazine online on February 18, 2010 quoting the Yiddish publication, Moment of January 1929.
Now that the saccharine idiocy of Valentine’s Day is safely behind us, we can focus on the beneficial fallout of love: the breakups. It is, no doubt, a tragedy when a marriage or a long-term relationship dissolves into an angry knot of hatred and acrimony, when fury and venom are spit from lips that only recently touched in tender embrace. Except, of course, when you get to watch it happen.
Such was the luck of Yiddish journalists of the 19th and early 20th century who were assigned to report from the Warsaw beyz-din, the city’s storied rabbinical court, which functioned as a kind of Las Vegas-style divorce court, where couples could show up without an appointment and request an instant divorce. More often than not, proceedings would devolve into pitched battles between appellants. And because people knew that journalists would be present, the court began, starting in the mid-1920s, to take on the flavor of a Yiddish Jerry Springer show in which chairs and fists would fly on a sheitel-trigger
“In the Shadows of Jewish Family Life: A Woman of Valor,” Moment, January 1929
The door of the rabbinate is thrust open and in falls one Tshipe-Kayle Yagora of Black Street, shlepping her husband Borekh Einbinder behind her. About two dozen Jews, men and women, pour in after them. Some of them are “helpers” planning to testify and the rest are simply curious.
The shamus asks, “What do you want?”
Tshipe-Kayle is in the mood for a song and starts off on a high note: “I gotta get to the rabbinate. What I want is none a ya business. For once and for all I want my Borekh should have a carcass, right now. I’ll light a candle in shul! ”
One of the Rabbis steps in: “In short, what’s this all about?”
Tshipe-Kayle starts her tune. Oy, does she pour out a hail of accusations on her husband’s head, among them that at the time they were married, she, a divorcee, gave him 300 dollars as dowry and in only a short time he wasted all of it. And on top of that he’s got a lover and doesn’t come home for nights at a time.
Borekh, a scrawny Jew with a scratchy little beard and red eyes, stands there and doesn’t utter a word. When the rabbi asks him if he is guilty of what Tshipe-Kayle accuses him, he simply shrugs his shoulders without making a peep.
“You idiot! ” yells one of her supporters, shoving him, “now that you’re not with Tshipe-Kayle, you have to tell the rabbi everything….nu, talk!”
Borekh finally gets the courage to say something and begins to describe the troubles that he suffers from his “woman of valor.”
“It’s true,” he says, that Tshipe-Kayle gave him 300 dollars, but what could he do if business was bad and his own money was also lost? “That she is a malicious woman I learned right after the wedding, but because she was mine ‘according to the laws of Moses and Israel,’ I didn’t want to ridicule anyone and suffered in silence. And did I suffer. Just when business started to take off, my toast landed butter side down. She began to make all kinds of scandals, driving me out of the house and not cooking for me even a spoonful of food. I was forced to go to my 68-year old aunt’s house to get something to eat. And my nag calls that a ‘lover.’”
“Rotten little Borekh!” Tshipe-Kayle can’t take it any longer, “You should live as long as you speak the truth! Why don’t you tell the rabbi where you spend your nights?”
“Yes, rabbi,” answers Borekh meekly, “that’s also true. I purposely try to avoid having to listen to her curses by spending half the night in the study house reading psalms or studying a bit of Mishna. I can’t take any more of her. Rabbi, please grant us a divorce. Maybe it’s still possible for me to have a few comfortable years.”
“What?!” booms Tshipe-Kayle, like a canon, “You wanna divorce? I’ll dress you in a shroud first and send you express mail into the next world!”
The rabbi decides that the couple should try to live together in peace for two weeks. Tshipe-Kayle is warned not to pester Borekh—because if she does they will force her to accept a divorce.
“Ha, ha, ha,” she laughs to herself, “I’d like to see the Cossacks that will force me to get a divorce.”
Tshipe-Kayle is dragged out of the rabbinate by force and, for a long time, her screams and curses reverberate in the stairs.”
As always, you can post any comment about this blog or Divorce Mediation, or just Mediation by following the directions at the right in the green column or at the bottom of this website. Learn more about mediation at http://www.center-divorce-mediation.com/ WM (241 corrected count) 1/2/12
Some popular Yiddish Words:
1. bissel Or bisl – a little bit.
2. bupkes Not a word for polite company. Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” – less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”
3. chutzpah Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
4. glitch Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”
5. kibbitz In Yiddish, it’s spelled kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.
6. klutz Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.
7. kvetsh In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
8. maven Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.
9. Mazel Tov Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”
10. mentsh An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
11. mishpocheh Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
12. nosh Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.
13. nu A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?”
14. oy vey Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.
15. plotz Or plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.
16. shlep To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.
17. shlemiel A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
18. schlock Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
19. shlimazel Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.
20. shmendrik A jerk, a stupid person, popularized in The Last Unicorn and Welcome Back Kotter.
21. shmaltzy Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
22. shmooze Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
23. spiel A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.
24. shmutz Or shmuts. Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.
25. shtick Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
26. tchatchke tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.
27. tsuris Or tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.
28. tuches Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled tuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.
29. yente Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a yente though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yente means matchmaker.