A Yiddish-Laced Conundrum
I am not Jewish and, unlike some of my childhood friends, I never had Yiddish-speaking grandparents, but I am charmed and delighted by the Yiddish language, which was “used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It was originally a German dialect with words from Hebrew and several modern languages and is today spoken mainly in the U.S., Israel, and Russia.” (Wikipedia)
Having come across a short Yiddish glossary, I am offering an admittedly clumsy attempt to integrate Yiddish terms into an English narrative. Please feel free to correct my usage and, even more important, suggest a solution to the problem of Bubbe, Zayde, Shirley, Judith, Norman, and a marriage that promises little happiness and a great deal of unwelcome drama.
Shirley couldn’t stop kvelling. Her Judith was engaged to be married, and the intended groom wasn’t just a mensch, he was an endocrinologist. Shirley wasn’t altogether sure what an endocrinologist did, but it was enough to be able to say, “My son-in-law, the doctor.”
Unfortunately for Shirley, her parents—Judith’s beloved Bubbe and Zayde—were more clear-eyed and less sanguine about the marriage. Young Norman was—in a word—a putz. That much was plain five minutes after meeting him. The first time he spent a weekend with Judith’s family, he sent Judith out to schlep the luggage while he sat on his tuches at the kitchen table and began to nosh. He kvetched at Judith as she busied herself about the kitchen, punctuating his conversation with remarks such as, “Before we go anywhere, you’ve got to change out of that shmatte.” When he’d eaten his fill, he got up and wandered the room, picking up Shirley’s prized tchotchkes one by one and scowling at them with distaste. “Schlock,” he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Bubbe and Zayde to hear him.
Shirley considered herself a baleboste, but she was determined to view Norman as mishpocheh, so she overlooked his shlekht manirn and inquired brightly, “More kasha varnishkes, Norman?”
“A bissel,” he replied, and proceeded to eat the entire contents of a two-quart casserole dish without interrupting his monologue, schmoozing on everything from the smallness of the kitchen to the largeness of Judith’s tush. “My adorable klutz,” he said, patting her bottom. “We’ve got to get you a gym membership, darling,” adding, with insolent chutzpah, “although flab seems to run in the family. A bit of a shande, no?”
“Oy vey,” whispered Bubbe to Zayde. “The man is meshuggeneh. Gornisht helfn.” If Shirley heard her mother, she made no sign of it. “Dessert, Norman?” she inquired politely.
Zayde seemed ready to plotz. Bubbe, recognizing the signs, took her husband by the arm and gave him a gentle shove into the front room. “The man is insufferable,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “Our granddaughter is marrying a shmendrik.”
“It could be worse,” said his wife. “He could be a shagetz, like Arthur Mitchell.” Arthur was Judith’s previous fiancé, and the entire family had been united against the match—even though Arthur was something of an endearing shlemiel. But Bubbe wasn’t altogether sure that Judith’s marrying a Lutheran auto mechanic who had truly loved her would indeed be as disastrous as wedding a boorish, narcissistic Jewish doctor who seemed to love nothing more than the sound of his own voice.
Just then, out of the corner of her eye, Bubbe caught sight of Judith, her face blotched and tear-streaked, slipping out of the kitchen toward the staircase. Norman was apparently oblivious to the tsuris, as he was engaged in earnest conversation about the tachlis of purchasing a house—something he evidently believed would be an appropriate wedding gift from Judith’s parents to their only daughter and her groom.
“Oh, dear, Papa,” Bubbe said to her husband. “This can’t go on. You, my love, are a yiddisher kop. Whatever shall we do?”