bialik by the Forward

The Yiddishist side of upcoming ‘Jeopardy!’ guest host Mayim Bialik

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Jewish actress, neuroscientist and newly-minted “Jeopardy!” host Mayim Bialik is not just talented and smart. She speaks Yiddish and has proved herself to be a wonderful Yiddish comedienne, too.

Bialik, who was recently announced as the host of a new series of “Jeopardy!” prime time specials, will also be guest hosting the first 15 episodes of the new season of the show. The show’s executive producer, Mike Richards, was slated to replace the late Alex Trebek as permanent host, but resigned last week amid outrage over inappropriate comments he had made on a podcast, including at least one that was offensive toward Jews.

In a 2015 interview with the Canadian Jewish News, Bialik, whose middle name is Chaya and who keeps Shabbos, spoke about her Yiddish background.

“I was raised speaking Yiddish, and I speak short sentences with my children,” she said. “When I was in college, I was taking Yiddish and reading and watching Yiddish movies and things like that for class. I wasn’t raised with full proper grammar, but with a very large vocabulary, which was part of normal speech, meaning we didn’t just whip it out when we needed to.”

In a 2012 interview with Haaretz, she said that she used to sing to her children in Yiddish when they were babies. “All of their body parts they learned first in Yiddish, just like I did when I was a kid,” she said.

Among Yiddishist audiences, Bialik is probably best known for her hilarious performance in a memorable episode of the subtitled Yiddish comedy “Yidlife Crisis.” In her appearance, during an episode titled “The Double Date,” she plays a no-nonsense Jewish woman on a date with two eligible bachelors. Although the skit could have been played in English, the absurd situation recalls the best of Yiddish comedy theater.

Bialik’s pride in her Yiddish background and her eagerness to transmit the language to her children can serve as an inspiration for all “Jeopardy!” viewers, no matter their background, curious about the language and culture of their immigrant ancestors.

And who knows… maybe one of these days, Bialik’s presence will lead the game writers to come up with a Daily Double question about Yiddish culture that will stump even the mavens among us!


Rukhl Schaechter

Rukhl Schaechter

Rukhl Schaechter is the editor of the Yiddish Forward (Forverts) and also produces and stars in the YouTube series, “Yiddish Word of the Day”.

The Yiddishist side of upcoming ‘Jeopardy!’ guest host Mayim Bialik

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