The Pitselech Are Reviving Yiddish

By Devra Ferst

Published November 04, 2009, issue of November 13, 2009.
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Oy gevalt, Yiddish is dying. It’s listed in the Encyclopedia of The World’s Endangered Languages, which means that an entire generation is at risk of not knowing such phrases as nosh, shmear, pitsel and shayna maidel. Indeed, where would we be as a people without some good bagels and shmear? Unless bubbes, zaidies and alter kochers (grumpy old men) keep teaching us Yiddish words, they might be lost to the dreck (garbage) forever.

COURTESY OF SIMON & SCHUSTER

Leave it to Grammy Award-winning art director and graphic designer Janet Perr to help bring Yiddish back into vogue, first with the quirky book “Yiddish for Dogs,” and now with her new book, “Yiddish for Babies: A Language Primer for Your Little Pitsel.” The picture book teaches 29 Yiddish words with entertaining pictures of babies in various states of “Yiddish”: playing with a dreidel, letting out a geshrei (scream) and looking ongepotchket (gaudy) decked out with excessive amounts of jewelry.

The book’s aim is to help babies understand their parents when they start yelling things like, “Stop kvetching, dinner will be ready soon,” which the book reads next to a mother with a hot pot in her hand.

The book also teaches babies to look and act just like their bubbe in Boca. “Nu? Did you hear we’re having a playdate later?” one baby says to another on an outdated flamingo-colored rotary phone. “Yay,” the other baby responds, through a key-lime phone.

But the book is not just for babies. One of the last pages teaches parents the phrase yiddisher kop (smart person). So they can kvell: “Baby’s on her way to Harvard. She’s a real *yiddisher kop.”


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