After sixty-odd years of an adventurous life those who have spent time with me are quick to liken my communication style to a linguistic minefield: In fact my language has been influenced by the Yiddish language, and its art of the schpiel, which welcomed me into this world.
As a child Yiddish, in all its splendor, was the common language amongst my world of grown-ups. My grandfather came to America to escape the pograms happening all over what we now know as the Ukraine but at that time was part of Russia: Catherine the Great had settled all the Jews of Russia into one vast landscape simply known as the Pale of Settlements, a place where Russian was not spoken: Yiddish was the mother tongue.
The second wave of Jewish immigrants arrriving to my neighborhood were survivors of the Holocaust. Although these people were mainly from Germany and middle Europe, Yiddish was their common language as well, so they fit right in.
Yiddish had no boundaries, rather it was (is) a universal language among the Jewish people. Speech inflections and body language give nuances to simple ideas imbuing a mere word with an entire experience of an idea. Even as Yiddish is less frequently spoken with each succeeding generation so rich are some words and phrases that they are now included in the Webster’s and Oxford Dictionary.
To wit, who has escaped using the word “oy” And what exactly does it mean? “Oy” is a word that speaks an entire sentence or an encyclopedic reaction to a situation imbued with dismay. Usually “oy’ is accompanied by the word “vey” as the eyes roll up to the heavens asking for help from the powers that be.
Or schlepp or schmooze? Words that immediately give a visceral sense of what is transpiring!
And finally, “messuganah’, a word that might be translated as crazy but it can also be endearing. As a youngster I took delight in doing multiple cartwheels in family living rooms and over lawns, anywhere. My grandfather would shake his head even as a smile grew upon his face he would say, “Midgie, you are messugie!”
Whether my conversation revolves around ideas cerebral, political or personal, it is the use of Yiddish that defines my views. For me Yiddish holds wisdom and truth. It is warm and loving. It is my soul music.