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DER YIDDISH-VINKL October 10, 2003

As Columbus Day approaches, we are reminded of the dual and contrary views held by Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century regarding Christopher Columbus. To some, he was the heaven-sent explorer who brought a goldene medine (a sort of secondary promised land) to the wandering Jew. To others, whose experiences in this strange land were oppressive, it was not uncommon to hear them weep or shout, “A klog oyf Kolumbusn.”

In Ruth Levitan’s entrancing collection of humorous stories, “Lakht a Bisl, Lakht a Sakh” is a delightful, delicious piece that falls in the latter category of those to whom Columbus was a pain in the pupik.

(Although this piece was written about a half-century ago, it may have a modern ring for those pestered by telemarketing.)

Kolumbus Mit Di Gleklekh

In Amerike, rak me klingt, rak es gleklt. Kayn ru ken men keynmol nit hobn. Inderheym ver hot es gevust fun gleklekh?

“Vos hot ir azoy tsu di gleklekh?” hob ikh gefregt mayn yidn.

“Vos ikh hob? Ikh hob lib ruikayt, un do in Amerike iz es zeyer shver tsu krign. In shop, tumlen di mashinen, in hoyz tumlen di kinder, un take dos vayb oykh. Az Got helft, un ir blaybt inderheym aleyn, volt dokh shoyn geven gut, men volt zikh gekent a kapetshke opruen, iz ober dos umglik mit di hige gleklekh.

“Ver klingt nisht in Amerike? — Der ‘gaz’ man, der milkh-man, pedlers, oremelayt, der ‘dzheniter.’

“Un haynt vu is der toes? — a klingeray! Du loyfst efenen di tir, ersht men anshuldikt zikh — me hot gemakht a toes. Eyner darf oyfzukhn an adres. Klingt er on davke tsu mir.

“Ikh zog aykh, es iz nit oystsuhaltn fun di klingerayen. Ot leygstu zikh, nemst a tsaytung in hant un heybst on dremlen — aha, me klingt shoyn. Du shpringst oyf, loyfst tsu der tir, ersht a pedler — alte zakhn vil er koyfn. Ver hot alte zakhn? Mir trogn aleyn di alte zakhn!

“Haynt vu iz der telefon? Dos iz oykh an onshikenish, un nokh gut ven me klingt tsu aykh, ober az me klingt on, un ir loyft tsu, un es los zikh oys a boydem, as es iz gor a toes — me meynt gornisht aykh….

“Amerike iz a land vu men iz zikh rak toe, un dervayl klingt es shtendik.

“Ir hert, ven men fregt mikh, volt men opgeshaft di gleklekh. Un ikh hob di ergste gleklekh — es rayst oyf di oyern.”

Neyn, mayn fraynd, a medine, vu me ken zikh keynmol nit opruen iz kayn medine nit.

Columbus With the Bells

In America, it’s always ringing, always bells. One can never get any rest. Back in our homeland, who knew about bells?

“What do you have against bells?” I asked this complaining Jew.

“What do I have? I love quiet, and here in America it is very difficult to get it. In the shop, the machines make constant noise. In the house, the kids carry on. And my wife, too.

“God willing, you find yourself alone in your home and things should then be okay if you could get just a wee bit of rest. But, that is impossible because of the ever-present bells.

“Who does not ring in America? The gasman, the milkman, peddlers, poor people, the janitor. And who or what is to blame? Bell ringing! You rush to open the door. Someone excuses himself. He made a mistake. Someone has to find someone’s address, so by chance he rings my bell.

“I tell you that this bell ringing is intolerable. You stretch out with a newspaper in hand and begin to doze off. Aha, the bell rings. You leap up and run to the door, and you encounter a peddler. He wants to buy old clothes. Who has old clothes? Myself, I wear my old clothes.

“And then there is the telephone. Another pest. It may be okay when they call for you. But, often as not, when the phone rings and you rush to it, it turns out that it was in vain and that it is all a mistake and they don’t want you at all.

“America is a land of endless mistakes. And that’s why bells ring endlessly.

“Hear me. If you left it up to me, I would abolish all bells. Still, I am beset with the worst bells in the world, and they tear at my ears.”

No, no, my friend, a country where you can never get any rest is not a country at all.

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