Yeah. About that.
Several years ago, my dear husband’s grandmother (may her name be for blessing and may she rest in peace) lost most of her English and reverted to communicating with us in Yiddish, her first language. My husband understood little, if any, of what she said and I got only pieces after listening to my sister studying German in high school. I determined to learn Yiddish at that point. My first reason was to understand what Bubbeh Yetta had to say. Her grandson and great-grandchildren needed to have any memories/wisdom that she shared.
My second was a little less admirable: we were moving to a very small town at that point in our lives – the sort that , if you sneezed, within an hour the whole town would say you had pneumonia – and I wanted a measure of privacy, which I thought speaking another language might help.Now, during our time there, we weren’t suspected of spreading pneumonia, but one the one day, I let my 3- and 2-year-olds skinny-dip in a wading pool, the talk went around that I let my children run the neighborhood naked.I can only imagine what the gossips would have made of the only Jewish family in town speaking a German-sounding language.Well, no, I can’t. I don’t want to imagine it.
For various reasons, what I learned wasn’t enough, but, then again, we were only in that half-a-horse town for less than a year. Thank G-d.
Anyway, I’ve continued my studies off and on since that time (about 30 years). Fluency still eludes me, but I try. I’ve committed myself in this new month to redouble my efforts and finally get it right. But first, I have to clear up a couple of matters that bother me:
Perhaps eight or nine years ago, I tried to take up a Yiddish Pen Pal relationship with the brother of my husband’s cousin (don’t get me started on his family’s branching; it’s crazier than choke weed). Being a novice at Yiddish and somewhat of an idiot, I think I communicated to him that I was a “Jew by conviction.” The pen pal relationship stopped dead there. I can only guess he thought I was some Christian crank trying to make inroads for conversion attempts.For that, , I apologize. It was no such thing.
What I meant to say is that I am a convert to Judaism. I am a Jewess by choice. Or, to put a finer point on it, I am a Jew. Legitimately. I studied with a rabbi for some years; then, at age 21, I went before a , ritually immersed myself in a and recited the appropriate prayers. There’s even a certificate to back me up. So I have spent the majority of my adult life as a practicing Jewess.
The operative word being “practicing” because I have yet to get it “right.” Having a Taoist attitude towards life and religion, there are still conflicts yet to be resolved. If they ever will be resolved, since I am content to allow them to be as they are.
Thus, one of my “practices” is still to learn and practice Yiddish. I have taken improvised classes people who grew up speaking the , acquired books and movies, and so on and so forth. It’s the practice that eludes me, as my dear husband and children seem reluctant to and with me.
So, the work goes on in a solitary manner for now. The “Yiddish Phrase aDay” calendar provides a great deal of my practice and I’ve noticed so many of the recent phrases are way to applicable to the State of the US these days, so, bear with me, and I will share a few of them with you (use as you like, or not):
A nar ken a’mol zogen a gleikh vort - a fool can sometimes say something wise.
Ver volt dos geglaibt?- who would have believed it?
Ven er iz tsvai mol azoy klug, volt er geven a goilem. – if he were twice as smart, he would be an idiot.
Er krikht oif de gleikheh vant - he climbs the straight wall (said of a trouble-maker who invents faults where no fault exists; e.g., the man currently in the Oval Office).
Some thoughts not even the greatest “minds” in politics or the media could say as well.
I’m a bit conflicted on the notion of an afterlife, but, hopeful to the end, I would like to think Bubbeh Yetta and Zaydeh Paul and their families will smile a little and perhaps give me a noodge to keep on learning this beautiful, expressive tongue.