Week 28: Facebook Yiddish
Published on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 196 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 111 hours
I have reviewed 2,662 individual flashcards
After seven months of Yiddish, you find yourself making Yiddish jokes on Facebook.
The context is as follows: I read a story on Facebook about a building in my childhood neighborhood of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population. There is a Jewish bookstore there, Elijah's Cup, and a Kosher delicatessen, Prime Deli, and a Christian rock band has placed a billboard above these businesses that read "JESUS," surrounded by stars and spangles and other images of Americana, because that's how we do in America.
I don't know that the Christian rock band knew there were Jews that worked and ate underneath that sign, but, superficially, it seems a bit tone deaf. I also know that St. Louis Park is surrounded by an eruv, the elevated wire that some Orthodox communities use to surround their neighborhood, that allows them to do things that are traditionally forbidden on the Sabbath, such as carry car keys.
So I posted the following on Facebook about the billboard: It's within the eruv, so we can carry is away on shabbos.
And then, underneath it, thinking about what I had just said, I wrote: That's the most Jewish thing I have ever said.
And then it occurred to me that this was a wasted opportunity, so I wrote: I should have said shlep.
And then, what the heck, I rewrote the whole thing in Yiddish, as best I could: Es is in di eruv, mir veln shlepn fun shabbos.
I'm fairly sure that, to a native speaker, that sentence reads like a caveman were attempting Yiddish, but, then, American Jews have a history of finding Yinglish to be funnier than correct Yiddish, and so I can console myself that my bad Yiddish is comedy gold. I mean, I got at least two Facebook likes for all that work, so, in the end, it was all worth it.
In the real world, I find myself just randomly translating stuff into Yiddish all the time, especially when talking to my dog. "Go potty," I will tell him during our morning walks, which mostly consists of him stopping randomly and staring into space like he's trying to remember something very important. When he doesn't listen and doesn't potty, I will say to him "Pish vi a loshek" -- piss like a racehorse.
He doesn't listen to that either, but instead tends to spend a few minutes staring in absolute horror at a deflated Mylar balloon.
I also find myself remembering Yiddish phrases I have memorized, but not at moments when I can use them. You want to have them on hand to use triumphantly at the moment you need them -- for instance, in watching the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny Devito comedy "Twins," when the actors, playing unlikely twins, find themselves in conflict, you want to be able to sagely say "A brother turned enemy is an enemy for life," and have everyone nod at this wisdom. It is, however, considerably less useful when you're buying pastries at a donuts shop and the baker has just asked if you'd rather have the cream cheese or apricot filling.
But that's how Yiddish has been for me. First, I don't know it. Then, I know it, but not when I need it. Eventually, I know it when I need it. I've gotten pretty good at complaining that I am tired and it is time to go to bed in Yiddish, and I do so at bedtime. I'm also good at complaining about being hungry at mealtime and complaining about the weather when I am outside, as this week it has been heis, feicht, and shtikidik, none of which is pleasurable and all of which I can remember when I need it, which is during my long bus trip home.
Bus trip? I should have said shlep.
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