Articles by Isaac Kinek

Oh, My Papa

The song “Oh, My Papa” was popularized by singer Eddie Fisher more than a few years ago! In the beautiful melody and words, Eddie praised his “wonderful” father. Recently, I heard the tune again on the radio. It begins like this:

Oh, my papa, to me he was so wonderful,

Oh, my papa, to me he was so good.

No one could be so gentle and so lovable,

Oh, my papa, he always understood.

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Oy Vay, an Unchepenish


Nu,” inquired a neighbor, “what is an “unchepenish?” He didn’t realize that asking me that question a few more times would turn him into an unchepenish! So what’s the explanation? Hare zich tsue (give a listen): An unchepenish means something that clings to you. In Yiddish we often do not translate words or phrases literally, so an unchepenish is an unwanted happening that can occur in an instant, such as an outbreak of hives or a fahrzetsteh (messed up) missionary.

Our holy Torah mentions 10 plagues that were cast upon the Egyptians. If an Egyptian could speak Yiddish (wouldn’t that be interesting!), when the plague of hail began, he would have his exclaimed, “Oy vay, another unchepenish!” The Egyptians had constant unchepenish episodes until they finally released us from slavery.

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You Gotta Have Heart


If you – like Jack Benny – are over the age of 39, you may remember a tune entitled “You Gotta Have Heart,” which was popularized by singer Eddie Fisher. Anybody remember? It went like this:

You gotta have heart,

All you really need is heart.

When the odds are sayin’

You’ll never win,

That’s when the grin should start.


You’ve gotta have hope

Mustn’t sit around and mope.

Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear

Wait’ll next year and hope.


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The Greeneh Kuzineh


A generation ago, “The Greeneh Kuzineh” was a well-known tune among Yidden. “What is the meaning of greeneh kuzineh?” you may inquire. Does it refer to a krankeit (illness), chas vesholom? Is it some type of vegetable? A new environmental movement? Or what?

If you noticed that kuzineh sounds like cousin, you’ve hit half the nail on the head, so to speak. Now the challenge is to interpret greeneh. If you are a second- or third-generation American, you probably don’t know that the new Jewish immigrants to America were called greeneh or greenhorns – often by former greeneh! Truth be told, other than Native Americans (aka Indians), the ancestors of all the inhabitants of this country were greeneh at one time!

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Mach Nisht Ah Tsimmis!


Mach nisht ah tsimmis means “don’t make tsimmis.” I asked my vibel (wife) Shirley about the ingredients of this delicacy. She responded that tsimmis consists of carrots, sweet potatoes, prunes, lemon juice, and honey. Translated literally, therefore, mach nisht ah tsimmis makes no sense. Why should you not make a tsimmis? The first lesson, therefore, is that, when encountering a Yiddish expression (or an American one, for that matter), we shouldn’t take it literally. Rather, the enfehr (answer) is that mach nisht ah tsimmis means that we should not make a big deal about every annoyance. (Of course, there are annoyances that do require attention.) A common English equivalent is “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill” or the folksy “stop making such a fuss.”

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My Yiddisheh Mameh


Years ago, the song “My Yiddisheh Mameh” was very popular not only in the U.S.A. but around the world and brought tears to the eyes of many listeners. The lyrics were written by Jack Yellen with music by Jack Pollack. There are many versions and many singers, ranging from Sophie Tucker to Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. (Google the tune and you can sing it!) Here is the second verse:

My Yiddisheh Mameh, I need her more than ever now,

My Yiddisheh Mameh, I’d like to kiss that wrinkled brow.

I long to hold her hands once more as in days gone by,

And ask her to forgive me for things I did that made her cry.

How few were her pleasures, she never cared for fashion’s styles.

Her jewels and treasures she found them in her babies’ smiles.

Oh, I know that I owe what I am today

To that dear little lady so old and gray,

To that wonderful Yiddisheh Mameh of mine

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