Yente at the Telephone

(As told by a ‘Drugsman’)

By B. Kovner

Published April 06, 2007, issue of April 06, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Forward was known for its stable of erudite Yiddish writers, whose stories reflected the lives of the paper’s immigrant readership. One such prolific scribe was Jacob Adler, who, under the penname B. Kovner, wrote a much-loved humor column that sketched the everyday foibles of life on the Lower East Side. His most iconic character, Yente Telebende, known for her loud mouth and meddling ways, even spawned the creation of a new term in the vernacular: a “yente,” meaning a gossip.

Below, a tale as told by a “drugsman,” anglicized Yiddish for pharmacist.

Recently one of my next-door neighbors ran into my drugstore. Her name is Yente. The same Yente that gets written about in the papers, whose husband‘s name is Mendel Telebende and who has a son — Pinye.

“Mister Heifetz, Mister Heifetz!?” she exclaims with all her strength — “Here’s a nickel, now please connect me with my husband with your telephone. Mendel is his name, Mendel Telebende. Huriup, Mister Heifetz!”

“Where is your Mendel’s telephone number?” I ask her.

“How should I know?” she answers. “I think 144 Pitt Street, near Broome in a rear building, on the stoop.”

“I don’t mean the number of the shop where he’s working, but the number of the telephone,” I say.

“What do you need two numbers for?” asks Yente. “One number is not enough?”

I finally managed to find her Mendel’s phone number, called up “Central” and gave the receiver over to Yente in her hand.

“Halo, Mendel!” She starts screaming, “Halo! Is this you? Hey, Mendel don’t forget to bring back home my silk vest from work, are you listening Mendel? And a strap for Pinye. He threw Isaac down all the stairs ..[…?] wha? What are you saying? Halo! Is this you, Mendel? Wha?”

“Mister Heifetz, Mister Heifetz!” — yells Yente wildy — “What’s the matter with your telefon? Someone else is talking to me, not Mendel…. Where did Mendel go? Who drove him away?”

So I take the receiver from Yente, call up Central, and tell them to send away the clown who kept interfering in Yente’s call, and I give her back the receiver.

“Halo, Mendel!’” — yells Yente — “Huh? Mendel, is this you? Mister Heifetz, Mister Heifetz! Please fix the telefon, again someone else is speaking….”

So I take the receiver from her hand and listen. The person on the other yells — “Is that you, Gussie? Hello? Gussie, wait for me tonight near Shmelke’s theater, don’t forget, Gussie.”

When it was quiet I gave Yente back the phone.

“Get away from here you unkosher bone!” She yells, “Hello, Mendel!”

“Gussie,” the other voice, still again. “Gussie, don’t forget Shmelke’s theater. My love for you burns like a fire.”

Yente shouts: “You and your Gussie should be burned and destroyed together. Wait a minute, Mendel. You leave me waiting to talk to some Gussie? A dark year on you, Mendel. I hear your voice, why are you talking to Gussie? Who is Gussie? Are you nuts or what? You leave me standing and declare your love to strange women?”

And Yente starts arguing with Mendel on the phone. “Mendel,” she screams enraged, “leave that wretched woman already. Mendel, you’ll only have unhappy years. Mendel, stop, I am telling you, this monki bizness, what do you say? Someone mixed up the wire? May your hands and feet also get mixed up! Why didn’t they mix me up? Just you wait, you’ll get yours!”

“Mister Heifetz, what is this? Now it’s totally quiet. The telefon hot gestopt.”

“You ran out of time,” I explain to Yente — “five cents, five minutes. A penny a minute.”

Translated by Itzik Gottesman.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.