Two brothers – an agode

We read this very cute agode – legend – in class. I just translated it, in between the homework:

Once upon a time there were two brothers. The older one had no wife and no children. The younger brother had a wife and small children. Both brothers were poor. They had just a small piece of land after their father. They worked on it together.

When they were cutting the grains, they divided the sheaves [kornbåndene] in half. They laid them by their small houses.

I googled “sheaf” and found the two brothers too!

One night the older brother couldn’t sleep. He was thinking about his brother, “my brother has a wife and sons and daughters, my nephews and nieces, and I am alone. It is not fair that I take half of the grains.” And in the middle of the night he took a bundle of sheaves and carried it to the house of this brother and sister-in-law.

The same night the younger brother could also not sleep. He though about his brother, “I feel pity – a rachmones – for him. I have a wife and small children. They can help me in my old age, but he doesn’t have any sons, nor daughters, nor grandchildren. He doesn’t have other brothers nor sisters. He is all alone, poor thing – nebech.” The younger brother went out, took with him a bundle of sheaves and carried it to the house of this brother.

In the morning the brothers saw that they had the same number of sheaves. They were both surprised but said nothing.

The second night the brothers did the same thing once more. The third night, when the brothers carried their sheaves, they saw each other in the middle of the road. With tears in their eyes they kissed each other.

One says that the Temple – Beys haMikdosh – was built on the very spot where the brothers met each other.

“Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph” by Rembrandt. Ephraim and Manasseh are examples in the Bible of brothers who actually get along…

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Above the road stands a tree

Such a beautiful lullaby… We sang it in class today. And the animation is just hilarious!

By Itzik Manger

Above the road stands a tree, he stands there bent down, all the birds have flied away. Three to the west, three to the east, and the rest to the south, and the tree is left alone unprotected against the storm.

I say to my mom: – Listen, do not stand in my way, mommy, I will in one-two-three become a bird… I will sit on the tree and lull it to sleep and comfort him through the winter with a beautiful melody.

My mom says: – No, child – and she weeps with tears – if you, God forbid, will sit on the tree you will freeze to death. I say: – Mom, it’s such a pity that you are crying your beautiful eyes out. I will become a bird in any case.

My mom cries: – Itzik, my precious, look here – God willing – take with you a scarf so you are not catching a cold. Also wear on the caloshen, the winter will be cold. Take with you the fur hat too – oy oy poor me…

– Take with you the undershirt, wear it, you silly boy, if you don’t want to be a guest to the dead people. I pick up the wings. It’s so heavy for me. My mom has put on me far too many things. On her little, weak bird.

I look sad into my mom’s eyes. Her love didn’t let me become a bird… Above the road stands a tree, bent down, all the birds have flied away.

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What is the most Yiddish word?

Now, this is a good question. A gute frage indeed. We asked our shmoos-lerer (teacher in conversation) what in her opinion is the most Yiddish word. We could literally hear the wheels spinning in her head, before she finally exclaimed: I’ve got it! A word that is so uniquely Yiddish that it would be impossible in any other language.

We threw out guesses. But it was not shleppen (to carry lots of unnecessary stuff). Not shmock (¤%&#). Not shlimazl (unlucky dude). Not beygl.  Not chutzpa. Not even oy vey! (the arch-Jewish sigh of discontent). What could it possibly be?

Parev! Nu?! Farvoss – why? This is why: It’s a word pointing to a very specific cultural, religious trait. Dietary laws in Judaism prohibit among other things mixing dairy products (milchik) with meat products (fleishik). The “neutral” food category that is neither dairy nor meat and may be consumed together with both these two food categories is called parev. These are products like fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc.

This word that describe a quite specific phenomenon, a part of the everyday life of every observant Jew, has received a much wider application. Anything not particularly exciting is parev. Food that doesn’t taste good, but doesn’t smell neither. Shmekt nicht, shtinkt nicht. Or things that are simpy not that exciting. A parev exhibit, concert, film, vacation, or anything that you may have an opinion about.

If the Norwegian film reviewers were sufficiently knowledgeable of Yiddish, they would perhaps have labelled the last “Pirates of the Caribbean”-movie parev.

But the most Yiddish of all Yiddish words? I would personally would prefer a word with more schwung. Or more schmack. But in any case it is hard to argue that any other language can boast of the same type of word.

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Undzer nigundl – our little tune

What is as sad as a Yiddish song. And what can make you as freylach – merry. If this song from some reason doesn’t appeal to you, you can always contemplate how on earth it is possible to sing such a song with such a big hat.

We have a little tune, in pleasure and in joy. We sing it, we sing it, and it sounds so beautiful; It was sung by grandma (bobe) and grandpa (zeyde) when they were still children.

Oy-oy-oy, this is how the tune sounds now, such a cheerful tune (freylechs), such a cheerful tune, sing dear children….

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A feyike studentke

A student of Yiddish who may or may not be hard-working, but who gave her permission to be photographed for this blog.

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How sneaking fears may be connected to grammar

I have a sneaking fear that I made a serious mistake. In the very title of this blog. Oy gevalt! It is possibly not supposed to be “di goldene medine” but rather “der goldener medine”. This brings back to me the headache of my youthful German studies when I had to engage in a great deal of thinking when determining whether to put the noun in dative, accusative or nominative.

Now, the years have already erased a great deal of German grammar intricacies from my mind. What is still sticking to my subconsciousness confirms to me that Yiddish grammar is a great deal simplified compared to today’s German.

Like in German – and Norwegian – all nouns have genders. Masculine nouns receive “der” as the definite article. What can possibly be more masculine than “der mann”. Feminine nouns receive “di”. “Di mame” (the mom). Neuter nouns receive “dos” – “dos kind” (the child). And like in German, one is quite unable to explain why “the girl”, “dos meydl”, is neuter and not feminine. And finally plural: “di kinder” (the children).

A meydl is not necessarily feminine.

And like German, Yiddish has four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive and dative. Yiddish has decided to make life easier for us by for instance determining that all prepositions are followed by a noun in dative. While the Germans are keeping us in agony by giving both accusative or dative as possibilities after a preposition. Depending of the preposition and whether the preposition is creating a movement or not (or something like that)… I just could go on and on here, but who wants to read about grammar really (I just write about it to prove that I am a serious student, who is not only watching movies). So, for the sake of simplicity, I took a picture of my notebook page with the nominative/accusative/dative table, for definite articles and adjective endings. Just to give you an impression.

Go figure!

Just to prove that I have understood it, I’ll give you a couple of sentences:

Ich hob lib dem gutn tatn (I love the good daddy – whom is finding himself in an accusative state)

Der guter tate leygt dos shvere buch af dem grinem tish (The good daddy – who is now nominative – lays the heavy accusative book on the green table – a dative table).

a griner tish

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Baby, sweet baby

Yiddish is a mishmash of all different kinds of influences, most prominent German and Hebrew. With certain Slavic components. Mixed together, subtracted and extracted into something quite on its own.

Let’s take the word “sweet”. חנעוודיק. Cheynevdik. CHEYN-ev-dik. Stress on first syllable.

To Hebrew speakers “cheyn” is known as the Yiddish pronounciation of “chen”, meaning “grace”. It’s hilarious really, how Biblical expressions live on in the most trivial circumstances in the Holy Land. When the clothes’ store employee says to you “does this find grace in your eyes”, she simply asks you how you like the dress you have tried on – using the words of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Or whoever it was. But this was a digression.

“Ev” is a Slavic phrase, I was told.

“Dik” is typical Germanic.


What is sweeter than a baby really. In Yiddish a baby is an “oyfele” – stress on OY-fele. Literally “little chicken”. While babies may have a certain chickenish look to them, you may think that this is a bit derogatory to say. Right. But there is more. If the little chicken in question is REALLY precious, you would call him “the little ugly one”. Ken-en-hore. Without the evil eye! Because the evil eye is everywhere, constantly searching for small Jewish sweet babies. Better then to have small ugly chickens!

Why be a small ugly chicken when you can be an ugly duckling.

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Beatles in Yiddish! Ganz foygldik!

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Undzere Kinder

Was it a documentary? Was it a comedy? A drama? All of the three? I am not sure. What I did find out is that “Undzere Kinder” (Our Children) was the last Yiddish film to be made in Poland. Set in 1948 it had to be about the Holocaust, but it’s not a “traditional” Holocaust movie. Or documentary.

What have I not heard about the Holocaust. The most dreadful stories. The most shivering accounts. But what really got me in this film was this little girl telling the story to the other children of how she survived the war: She was sold by the Nazi commandant to an elderly Pole for a silver coin when the truck loaded with Jewish children drove through a Polish village. On the way to be executed, we obviously assume. A mind-blowing intersection of humanity and sadism.

“Our Children”. More info on the film here:

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From not-so-foygldik to very foygldik

I have implemented not-so-foygldik (see pre-previous post) into my active vocabular. Since I have not learnt yet what is the opposite, which is a thing that turns out better than expected, I use the term “foygldik” as a term of emergency. Even if there is no such thing, says my teacher. But since Yiddish is a language where words are being invented just like that, I am sure that I will be forgiven.

Today we were brought to a pre-screening of a film, a documentary, which I was wildly looking forward to. About the celebrated Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, who I have briefly mentioned earlier. Just to give you a number that shows his importance: When he died in New York in 1916 no less than the impressive number of 200.000 people showed up. Which is, believe it or not, the biggest public funeral in New York till this very day.

So let me explain myself: The film is probably very good. The problem was that we only got to see parts of it, nebech (too bad). Good parts though. I enjoyed in particular the part where it was explained why he was embraced by Communist Soviet. Conclusion: I was probably too gullible when I thought that we would see the whole film for free, and before it is screened in the movie theaters.

And believe it or not, I managed to bring back with me one little piece of the film in order to post it on this very blog:

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the darkness. Visit:

In the evening we were invited to admire a Yiddish theater group, the Folksbiene, in the Sholem Aleichem Center in Bronx. In a stuffed, hot and humid underground hall that reminded me of a neglected Oslo suburban youth club in the 60s (never been to a such, so I have no idea how I came up with this comparison), we witnessed a wonderful, riveting and wildly funny performance. Shkoyach (hats off)! Especially amusing was the last song about Rabbi Tam who receives a love letter from the Queen of Turkey brought to him by a peacock in an outrageous outfit. I truly regret that I did not bring with me my camera… Anyway, you can read more about the Folksbiene here (includes a photo that does not do justice to the peacock).

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