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A South African influencer used a Yiddish term. Why is that a problem?

Vusi Thembekwayo defines “farginen” as a business concept

South African business influencer Vusi Thembekwayo is going viral on social media for sharing a Yiddish word. 

He brings up the word “farginen,” which means to take genuine pleasure in someone else’s success or joy. It’s a concept that is not immediately translatable to English, and a reminder of the enduring beauty of the Yiddish language and culture.

Unfortunately, Thembekwayo did not define it accurately. He claims that the word “farginen” actually means to support your community by buying inferior products from them until they succeed, saying that it is a cultural business concept. 

@financian_ Fargin, an inspiring concept derived from the Hebrew word meaning 'to shine a light,' embodies a business philosophy that goes beyond competition and embraces a mindset of abundance and support. It is a testament to the belief that when we uplift and empower others, we all thrive together. In the Fargin business model, success is not measured solely by individual achievements, but by the collective growth and prosperity of all involved. It is about fostering a culture of collaboration, celebrating each other's accomplishments, and actively seeking opportunities to help others succeed. #fargin #vusithembekwayo ♬ original sound - Financian

In another clip, Thembekwayo extends this concept beyond the Jewish community to describe why people are buying more Chinese-made products: that the Chinese will invest in their own products until the products become good enough to sell them abroad. He claims “fargin” is why they do it.

“Farginen” has never had the meaning of “ensuring the success of Jews” or anything close to that.

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Not only is his definition of “farginen” wrong — it’s dangerous.

Antisemitic ideas take many forms, including those that have plausible-sounding explanations. One of them is that it’s simply an innate part of Jewish culture to help fellow Jews, a collective trait that other groups should learn from.

This idea has gained traction lately, marketed by Thembekwayo and others as an antidote for ethnic groups that “tear each other apart” instead of supporting each other. But this seemingly positive characterization quickly spills over into hateful comments on his videos, blaming Jews for supposedly excluding them from job opportunities or housing, or playing unfairly in society.

 “As a non Jewish realtor working in NY I have been discriminated against plenty from getting the listing simply because I was not Jewish,” writes one. “This wouldn’t be a problem if it was socially acceptable for every ethnicity. The problem is that some ethnicities are not allowed to behave this way,” writes another.

It doesn’t take long for this narrative to spill into even more intense hate speech about Jews using an unfair cultural advantage for economic power, and advocating for removing them from the playing field. Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, used it as part of his supposedly “philo-semitic” ideas that quickly spun into much more negative ones.  “I prefer my kids knew Hanukkah instead of Kwanzaa. At least it would come with some financial engineering,” said Ye in a particularly unhinged interview with Tucker Carlson.

The danger of using a Yiddish word is that it signals credibility about Jewish culture, especially given that relatively few people know Yiddish. If you present information about or using Yiddish, accuracy is important; arcane Jewish knowledge is frequently manipulated by antisemitic sources, and can cause people with positive intentions to spread hate without even knowing it.

A message from Forverts editor Rukhl Schaechter

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, I wanted to ask you to support the Forvert's 127-year legacy — and its bright future.

In the past, the goal of the Forverts was to Americanize its readers, to encourage them to learn English well and to acculturate to American society. Today, our goal is the reverse: to acquaint readers — especially those with Eastern European roots — with their Jewish cultural heritage, through the Yiddish language, literature, recipes and songs.

Our daily Yiddish content brings you new and creative ways to engage with this vibrant, living language, including Yiddish Wordle, Word of the Day videos, Yiddish cooking demos, new music, poetry and so much more.

—  Rukhl Schaechter, Yiddish Editor

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