I've compiled this site by taking bits of pieces of reference material from various sources, including Jackie Masons' "How To Talk Jewish".
I personally grew up in a Jewish household, my grandparents were Russian Jews who's parents immigrated to the Bronx, NY sometime between 1890-1900. I was raised in Greenwich Village until my family moved to Miami Beach in 1972.
Suffice to say, I was always surrounded by Jewish culture. My grandfather was a sax player and upon retiring to Miami Beach, he got a regular gig playing with a trio at Miami Beach's exclusively "kosher" hotel on Collins Ave & 28th street, the Tarleton. Owned by one Mr. Eric Jacob's. Eric Jacob's father, Walter Jacob's was probably worth in the neighborhood of 200 million dollars at the time. He owned 22 hotels on Miami Beach. One day he walked in the hotel wearing a jacket that didn't match his pants. I was eager to talk to him, after all, he was a rich man and I was a kid with a lot of chutzpah.
I was prepared to listen to some very intellectual wisdom, words that would inspire me, guide me towards a path of success. Old man Jacob's sat me down and told me that the way he worked his way up to the top...was by cleaning spittoons for .5 a piece. He spread his arms and said 'And Look!!'
Now, I don't know about you, but for myself, even at 8yrs old, I knew this guy was full of baloney.
I mean, if this guy cleaned a generous 20 spittoons a day, that's $1.00. That comes out to $365 a year.
Plus the guy had a wife and five kids to support. Regardless, in HIS mind he cleaned spittoons for $1.25 a day until he bought half of Miami Beach...I was eight, so who was I to argue?
This encounter introduced me to the true meaning of a Bobbeh Meissah and from there I grew to
truly appreciate the Yiddish language
With that, let's get back to the subject...Yiddish
Yiddish began in central Europe, primarily in Germany, around the twelfth century. Yiddish is a blend of numerous languages, and wherever Jews were living, they tacked on words from the different countries. So you have derivative words from Russian and Polish, and even English.
Jews clung to the language because it helped them identify with each other more closely. Their language was the thing that made them feel close; it was something they shared. It formed a bond between them. As Jews assimilated they needed Yiddish less, and began concentrating on the language of their country.
Today Jews and others interested in language are trying to salvage Yiddish by studying it in colleges, but everybody knows that when you study something in college you don't use it again after college. You might as well have never learned it because it serves no purpose. Like Latin or Sanskrit. There will be three intellectuals doing research in some ivory tower university three hundred years from now, telling you what a great language Yiddish once was.
If Yiddish dies out, it will be a great loss. It's a colorful language and a very dynamic form of expression. It has sounds that match the meaning of the words. It tells you a whole story and it has a comedic sound.
It seems in English that you have to prove that you're not emotional in order to have class. Intensity and expressiveness are considered crude in English. The more class a person has, the more money he makes, the higher the level of his society, the cooler he is and the flatter his speech becomes.
By the time he's reached the height of elitism, his speech is so monotonous and low key that you can't understand a word he's saying. Emotion is somehow the opposite of culture and class to an American. To him, an emotional expression proves somehow that he can't control himself, that he's lost his ability to restrain himself. He is somehow never schooled enough or trained enough to learn how to act like a gentleman, so he has to learn to mumble in a monotone. Then he's considered the most cultured person in the neighborhood.
Yiddish has vivid words for beauty and ugliness, for love and hate, for kindness and harassment. It has lovely words for sweetness, for happiness, for joy. And it has great deceptive words for derision, for abuse, for cursing, etc.
Yiddish is so rich that it has been picked up and adopted in other languages. There are some five hundred Yiddish and Hebrew words in the English dictionary. In Yiddish a question even sounds more like a question because of the more intense rhythms. It's something like the rhythms Italians have in their language. American speech, for the most part, is flat. There aren't a lot of intonations. It is not emotionally expressive. For instance, look at black Americans....if you go into an urban neighborhood, listen to people speak. There is a rhythm in their speech, a lot of emotion in the highs and lows of their voices. Their words are packed with speech intonations. It's almost musical when you hear a Jew or an Italian or a black person speak. I think some cultures are given much more to expressing themselves emotionally than are Americans or the English. When you get emotional you're more likely to find it as much in the sound of the language as in the use of the word itself. All of a sudden the sounds go up and down in so many different directions that you can feel the words as much as hear them.
Jews have always been very free in terms of expressiveness. That's why Jews were always among the best comedians, and still are. Jews always felt alienated from the rest of the world and they had no other way of fighting back against that feeling of alienation except through their humor. They were always a defenseless, helpless minority and they had to hide their true feelings in society at large because they were so suppressed. Their only outlet was to express themselves in the privacy of their own homes or in their relationships. So to relieve their frustrations, to find ventilation for their emotions, they argued among themselves and fought among themselves and screamed and laughed among themselves.
Humor has always been one avenue of escape for Jews throughout history. They managed to find humor in the most tragic circumstances. That's why Jews, until Israel came about, were never known as fighters. Jews knew that things were so stacked up against them by the countries in which they were living that the only sure way they could never win a fight was by fighting. So they had to find ways of winning the fight by avoiding it, outsmarting the opponent, outmaneuvering him, coddling him, lying to him, hiding from him. Anything except fighting, because he was so out-numbered, so outmanned, so
outarmed. The whole thing became a battle of wits and a battle of tricks and games. In such circumstances, humor always helped give the Jew perspective and sense of balance. Humor is way to maintain your equilibrium in the face of misery. It's the saving grace for a person who feels so overwhelmed that he has to find a way to survive by laughing at misery. It's basically the avoidance of reality. It's a way of creating a different world for yourself, as drinking does for some gentiles.
It's another way to change the subject.
Jews never drank much because then they would really be at a disadvantage against the enemies. A Jew had to stay sober to keep his head, to outwit the Cossacks, the Gestapo, the secret police-etc.
This is why a lot of Jews became great fiction writers and great musicians and composers. That's why they wrote such stories and fables and poems and humor. And that's why they composed great songs and were some of the best pianists and violinists in the world. Jews were always having to create a world to live in to replace the real world that they had to deal with.
Yiddish helped them build their world.