Did you ever wonder about the meaning of the word “shrek”? European Yidden used it yeder Muntog und Dawnershtig! (every Monday and Thursday, i.e., often). Being constantly harassed by their “neighbors,” Yidden were in a state of shrek most of the time. Many books have been written regarding the terrible shrek experienced by Yidden during World War II because of the German chayess (animals) and their collaborators, which was beyond description.
By now, you have surely fathomed that the word shrek means fright, or fear. The former U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt put it this way: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” In Yiddish, the saying is similar but more expressive, as the word shrek is much more colorful than “fear.” It goes like this: Ess iz gornisht mit voss zich tsu shreken – oyser shrek.” Nu, you might disagree with his statement, especially after you take a hike in East Baltimore!
Some words have more than one meaning, depending on what is meant. For example, the word guht (good) can be said with a smile: “You washed the car? Guht!” Or it can be spoken with a frown: “You insist on being late? Guht – you’re fired!” Regardless of how you say shrek, however, it remains a shrek!
Shrek begins at an early age. As youngsters, we had a shrek whenever a storm was accompanied by lightning and thunder. To ease the shrek we recited appropriate prayers, and the shrek was reduced – for a while. Some youngsters have a shrek of darkness or a shrek of school. Others have a shrek of socializing or a shrek of not being “number one.” Sometimes the shrek continues into adulthood, and that can be a real shrek!
As for East Baltimore, that’s where we lived many moons ago, and it was a shrek to walk from our home on Fairmount Avenue to Castle Street, two blocks away. Fahrvoss (why)? you may ask. Iz dehr enfehr (the answer is) that if, while walking, we suddenly heard a loud whistle, our goose was cooked, so to speak, because following the whistle, a gang suddenly appeared and surrounded us. Next they began pouncing on us. We returned each zets (punch) with a zets. For a while, it was a zets for a zets, and soon the landscape was decorated with black eyes. We were told in no uncertain terms that no Jew had the right to walk past the neighborhood church. Hairst ah miseh (can you believe it)?!
After our Castle Street tararam, we avoided walking there for a while, but it bothered us not to be able to walk on any street in the good old U.S.A. Therefore, before you could recite “ahl tiraw” (don’t fear), we walked there and the tumult was repeated – but with less shrek, and eventually things quieted down.
In the film entitled “Shrek,” there is a character called the Green Ogre, who is considered a shrek by the masses. It soon becomes clear, however, that all that the ogre desires is to be left alone. Was Shrek a symbol of a persecuted people?
Wondering whether a Yiddle thought of such a theme, I googled “shrek.” Sure enough, the original creator of Shrek was William Steig (1907-2003), whose parents are listed as “Polish Jewish.” Steig was known as the “king of cartoons” and authored many other bubeh misehs.
Incidentally, there are too many violent TV shows and computer games nowadays, and the violence is unfortunately often imitated in real life. Other programs portray people falling, sustaining injuries, and suffering. Rather than expressing compassion for the injured people, the audience laughs with glee! Voss gayt awn (what’s going on)? This state of affairs is a real shrek, and a reminder of the Roman good timeniks cheering for the lions in the Colosseum!
Nu, you may say, let’s “lighten up.” As usual, you are one hundred percent correct, so here are a few examples of some everyday types of shrek:
- Reviewing your gas and electric bill.
- Taking a stroll after 10 p.m. while checking your wallet.
- Listening to the latest news occurring in Charm City.
- Looking in the mirror after being awake all night.
- Checking your weight-after the chasana.
- Reviewing medical bills after being hospitalized (chas vesholom).
- Driving on the Baltimore beltway at four o’clock.
- Thinking about the meaning of prayers recited on Yom Kippur.
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One way to overcome shrek is to review Tehilim (Psalms). Many pesukim speak about putting our trusting in Hashem when we are afraid, and He will save us. See especially Psalm 23, about walking in the valley overshadowed by death, which we recite every Shabbos at shalashudes.
Davening, of course, is a major way to overcome shrek. “Real prayer always does one of two things: It either frees us from the trouble we fear, or it gives us the strength and courage to meet the trouble when it comes.” (Author unknown)
One thing is for sure: Following the arrival of Mashiach, shrek will end – forever! Bimhairah beyamainu – May it be in our time!