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Spread the Yiddish Word this Holiday Season

Yiddish is becoming a lost language, so any effort to preserve the dialect of our ancestors is worthy of attention. Actually, Yiddish is older than English, originating in Spain in the thirteenth century and then becoming a more commonplace lingo after the fifteenth century when Jews migrated to Eastern Europe, Poland, Galicia, Hungary, Rumania, and Russia. Yiddish comes from the German word “Judisch,” meaning “Jewish.” In the Yiddish language itself Yiddish means “Jewish.”

Early on, Jewish mothers spoke the special tongue to their children at home, commanding attention like no other words to this day are able to. For example, when my kids complain that they’re bored, I respond unsympathetically with “Klop der kop in der vant,” which translates “Beat your head against the wall.” Need I say more?

Yiddish is not reserved for God’s chosen people, although Jews seem to instinctively know how to make the “cccchhh” sound, similar to a fish bone stuck in their tonsil. Try saying “chutzpah,” “chuppa,” “challa,” or even “tuchas” without scratching your throat. It can’t be done. And don’t get me started on all the different ways to spell Yiddish words, such as “Hanuka,” “Chanukah,” “Hanukkah,” or “Channukah,” to name a few variations. The rules of Yiddish are as unique as brisket recipes.

One of my personal favorites, “mishegas,” also comes in “mishegoss,” and “mishegaas,” unless referring to “meshugge,” which has the male counterpart “meshuggener,” and female “meshuggeneh.” It’s all crazy to me.

To be fair, it’s perfectly acceptable for millions of gentile Joe Schmoes to borrow Yiddish oldies-but-goodies like “oy” even when their well-meaning intonations are awkward. By the way, “oy” is not even a word, but a vocabulary with 29 distinct variations, such as “oy vay!” which means “oh pain.”

Other Yiddish influences on English words include “schmoos,” “slimazel,” and “schlep.” In fact, research suggests that 500 Yiddish words appear in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, but who’s counting?

Another example is the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant in the classic television comedy Laverne and Shirley that started out “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” Everyone sang the catchy theme song even if they didn’t know what it meant.

The truth is, no other language eloquently conveys one’s culture and religion with such sentiment, sarcasm, and wit. In my opinion, to lose the artful dialogue of Yiddish would be a disgrace to Judaism.

Thankfully, entrepreneurial cousins Vicki Kipper, from California, and Amy Blum Quigley, a Floridian, got together to preserve their Bubbe’s favorite Yiddish expressions in a clever line of greeting cards and gifts called MeshugaNotes. Now why didn’t’ I have the chutzpah to think of that?

Their website (www.meshuganotes.com) says it all: “For the Yentas with So Much To Say And the Schlemels who don’t know how to say it.” These colorful greeting cards, notepads, and gift enclosures say way more than mazel tov on a simcha. They kvell, kvetch, and kibbitz over any occasion, including birthdays (belated ones, too), anniversaries, weddings, congratulations, friendship, travel, sympathies, holidays, apologies, and thank you sentiments.

Just in time for Hanukkah, MeshugaNotes make a great gift and a mitzvah. In fact, part of the proceeds from the get well cards benefit Fran Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer Foundation (www.cancerschmancer.org) , which is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring gynecological cancers (ovarian, cervical, and uterine) are diagnosed in stage one when they’re most curable. The Cancer Schmancer movement also educates women on risk factors, early warning signs, diagnostic tests, as well as advocates legislation for improved women’s cancer healthcare.

So this holiday season, spread the word. Yiddish is coming!

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is disguising turkey leftovers in casseroles. Feel free to send any comments to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.