Just Say 'Nu?': Second Helping

A Monthly Column on Making Your Daily Life More Yiddish

By Michael Wex

Published June 19, 2008, issue of June 27, 2008.
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Categories of Kosher

Jewish law divides permitted food into three main categories:

MILkhiks
dairy

FLAYshiks
meat

PARveh
neither

The categories are pretty straightforward, once you know that poultry is considered meat — an instance of divine grace that has kept khayder cafeterias chicken à la king-free since before the time of Jesus, because meat and dairy may not be eaten together. Parveh food — neutral food, the Switzerland of the kosher kitchen — includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and any drink without milk or cream in it.

Idiomatically, parveh means “nothing special, lacking any particular qualities of its own, bland.” It’s used more often than you might expect:

Berl:

VEE IZ geVAIN DER konTSERT?
How was the concert?

Shmerl: PARveh
Nothing to write home about

Because you’re supposed to wait six hours after eating meat before you eat any dairy, flayshik has come to be associated with long-lasting effects:

NU, MAKH ZAKH FLAYshik
Nu, make yourself flayshik

means, “Why don’t you join me in a drink.” It’s the sort of invitation that implies a bottle in front of you. You can’t use it to invite an object of lust or affection for a drink:

VILST ZAKH MAKHN FLAYshik MIT MEER?
Wanna get flayshik with me?

would make a great rhythm and blues song. It means, “Wanna fool around?” in the sense of “Why don’t we give it a whirl and see where we end up?” I can still remember the kid version of Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”:

Are you flayshik
tonight,

Was the mikveh
just right?

Are you kosher,
cause I don’t eat traif.

Makhn zakh flayshik
is also used by people who say *nu to drugs:*

LOmeer MAKHN ZAKH FLAYshik means, “Let’s get stoned.”

VILST FLAYshik VEren? Wanna get high?

Less recreationally, a person who makht zakh flayshik is someone who has finally taken the plunge, as they’d say in English, and opened up a business of his or her own.

Meals

A meal is known as a MOOLtseit. Like English, Yiddish recognizes three mooltseitn, along with frequent snacks:

FREEshtik
breakfast

OONbeisn
lunch

VEtshereh
supper

TSEEbeisn
snack

Lunch is also known as MIteg, which is often thought of as a hot meal, as distinct from the sandwiches of oonbeisn. Free food is generally distributed in one of two forms:

KIbed or KIdesh

Kibed, from a Hebrew word meaning “honor” or “respect,” is what someone offers you if you drop by their home. It’s also the snack or refreshments that follow meetings, school plays, and other such gatherings in which eating isn’t the main object: “I have no interest in the organization, but they have pizza at the kibed,” tells you a great deal about speaker and organization alike.

Kidesh, literally “sanctification,” is the name for the food and drink served after a synagogue service, especially in the morning, as you’re not supposed to eat before you’ve said your prayers. Depending on the synagogue, the time of week and the nature of the occasion — a simple Sabbath, a bar mitzvah, a groom’s pre-nuptial call to the Torah — it can range from depressingly meager to shockingly lavish. In the synagogues that I attended in my youth, a weekday kidesh usually consisted of a shames, a bottle and a box. A shames (rhymes with “pumice”), whose title gives us the English “shamus” for “private eye,” is a factotum, a synagogue employee who takes care of whatever needs taking care of: setting up chairs, keeping the Torah scrolls in good repair, supervising and even leading services, teaching bar mitzvah kids, setting up the kidesh and cleaning up after it. Breakfast in most of the synagogues that I went to consisted of the shames doling out two — precisely two — Manischewitz brand Tam Tam crackers to each worshipper, while his self-appointed helper, a sort of unter-shames, poured each of us a shot of whiskey. On special occasions, there’d be a piece of herring, too. No water, no juice, no coffee or tea. You’re thirteen already, you’re a man; swallow your rye or you’ll be late for school. I had trouble explaining myself to junior high teachers at the public school that I attended — and not because I was slurring my speech.

A Saturday kidesh in an upper-class shul can be an actual buffet meal, complete with strictly kosher pseudo-shellfish made from Alaskan pollock, that cost the donor thousands of dollars.

Foods

Using the Yiddish names for the following common or typical foods will help you give the impression that English isn’t really your first language. If you’re really good, you’ll get halfway through the Yiddish name, then stop to correct yourself, and offer an apology: “I used to love [or even better: dream of] these back home.”

Fruit

EPL
apple

BOKser
carob

komPOT
fruit stew

VEIN-TROYB
grape

LEEmeneh
lemon

NekteREEN
nectarine

BAR
pear

aNAnas
pineapple

MILgroym
pomegranate

geTRIKNteh FLOYmen
prunes

troosKAveh
strawberry

maRANTS
orange

Widespread use of Lipitor and other statins has resulted in the virtual disappearance of the graip-frukht, or grapefruit, from the lexicon of day-to-day Yiddish.

A Yiddish Version Of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”

Kh’zits in es zakh doos harts oop, in vart meer,
I’m sitting here eating my heart out

Vart biz a koKHAnik klingt on.
Waiting for a lover to call

OONgeDRAYT toyznt NImern shoyn, hob ikh
I’ve tried about a thousand numbers,

RakhMOOnes afn teleFON.
I feel sorry for the telephone.

reFRAIN /chorus:

Kh’zikh meer Epes FLAYshiks, zol meer zein YONtef.
I’m looking for some flayshiks, let it be yontef,

Darf ikh Epes FLAYshiks, ketsl, hei nakht,
I need something flayshik, baby, tonight,

Kh’vil Epes FLAYshiks, zol meer zein YONtef
I want something flayshik, let it be yontef

Darf ikh Epes FLAYshiks,
I need something flayshik,

Ersht bin ikh fin MIKveh aROYS.
I’ve just come out of the ritual bath.

Kh’darf meer FLAYshiks
I need something flayshik

Kh’vil Epes FLAYshiks
I want something flayshik

Kh’darf Epes FLAYshiks.
I need something flayshik.

Kh’zikh meer a koKHAnik voos zikht koKHANkeh,
I’m looking for a lover who wants a lover,

Nokh a nakht aLAYN vil ikh nisht.
Don’t want another night alone

Kh’vil mesSHAmesh zein haMEEteh vee a KAleh,
I want to use my bed like a bride does,

Nisht tsim shlufn nor tse vern geKISHT.
Not for sleeping but for being kissed.

reFRAIN /chorus:

Kh’zits in es zakh doos harts imZIST oop,
I sit and eat my heart out for nothing,

Nokh a nakht aLAYN vil ikh nisht.
Don’t want another night alone.

OONgeDRAYT a HINdert NImern shoyn, ketsl,
I’ve dialed about a hundred numbers, baby,

Kayner est meer nokh nisht daim knish.
But there’s still nobody eating my knish.

reFRAIN /chorus

Adapted from “Just Say Nu,” by Michael Wex. Copyright © 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.


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