I really enjoy Yiddish and would love to share that enjoyment with others but how to do it when they do not speak the language? How to convey not only the word for word translation but the general attitudes and assumptions of those with whom I speak it? What is the flavour of yiddish?
I could perhaps refer to the many words that English speakers use. But did I have to shlep all the way here to tell you about it? I’m not kvetshing, it’s just my shtick. I don’t even consider it chutzpah to brag about it. Not that I want to push things too far kennehora. Do you think I am meshugga? When I told my my friend I heard he had cancer he said, “cancer, shmancer, as long as I have my health.”
With apologies to William Shakespeare and Wayne and Shuster, in order to transmit that flavor in English, here is a re-imagined scene from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”
Caesar: I can’t sleep with all the thunder and lightening because every time, Calpurnia kicks me with her feet.
Calpurnia: Caesar, you look tired and it’s raining. You’re not going to work today, are you? You’ll get sick.
Caesar: Sick, shmick, I’m going. You think I’m going to melt? When my enemies see my face, they’ll disappear.
Calpurnia: Well, it’s true your face could scare anybody. It’s a face that could sink a thousand ships. But I kept dreaming someone was kicking you and you know you’re always sorry when you don’t listen to me. Remember the last time it was raining when I said, ‘Julie, don’t go’? You went anyway and got sick as a dog. And who had to feed you the chicken soup?
Caesar: Stop nudging me! I go because I am Caesar.
Calpurnia: Of course you’re Caesar. You think I took you for Mussolini? How many times do I have to tell you “Julie, don’t go”? Oy gevalt are you an akshan! You’re just going on purpose because I told you, “Julie don’t go.” You always do what you want, no matter what anyone tells you. You think you’re the Kaiser? I’m telling you, you’ll see I am right.
(Caesar claps his hands on his ears and runs out while Calpurnia runs after him, “Julie don’t go! And don’t forget your umbrella!”)
With further apologies, but in a more romantic vein, here is a scene between Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo: Sha! There is the tzatzke Juliet. She is like the sun, beautiful from far away, but when she gets closer, you have to shut your eyes. There she is, patting her cheeks. They’re so zaftig, I just want to pinch them. What is she saying?
Juliet: Romeo, Romeo, why is he named Romeo? Your father couldn’t find a nice Yiddish name like Moyshe or Lebel? Only his name stands in the way of our going under the chupa together.
Romeo: Hmmm. I could call myself Reeven.
Juliet: But he’s so good looking and so smart. After all, a latke tastes the same even if you call it a potato pancake. Yes but a Rose always smells strong and sweet. Romeo would smell strong even if he was named Yosef and isn’t that him I sniff out in the garden?
Romeo, are you there, there?
Romeo: Yes I am there, here.
Juliet: Oy sweetheart!