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.”
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
Is there a Yiddle who does not know the meaning of the word “chutzpa”? Is there even a nochri (non-Jew) who doesn’t? The closest translation of the word may be “a lot of nerve.” From this you see that a single Yiddish word has more impact than several English ones. No wonder chutzpa has become part of the American lingo.
As we all know, an early lesson that parents should teach their children is to be a mentch and to avoid chutzpa. But while we’ve all heard many maises (stories) regarding how to be a mentch, we’ve not heard as many about chutzpa. (Of course, being a mentch includes avoiding chutzpa.) With that understood, here are a few examples of chutzpa, past and present, that illuminate the word and its meaning.
Soon we will once again hear the story of Mordechai, who was taken for a ride on the King’s horse, led by the infamous Haman. That was a Persian horse, but did you ever hear about a Yiddisher faird?” So now you are laughing: a Jewish horse? What’s that!?
Many of the Yiddish misehs (tales) of the Old Country, by Sholom Aleichem, were about Tevya der milchiger (Tevya the dairy man), later written into a play entitled Fiddler on the Roof. Tevya delivered dairy products to the folks in his Russian village. One day the anti-Semitic government officials decided to expel the Yidden from their shtetl (town) as was the custom in many sections of Europe. Prior to leaving, Tevya goes to the barn and thanks his faird for pulling his dairy wagon for so many years. Of course, he speaks to his horse in Yiddish.
“Would a thinking human being drive on the Baltimore beltway?” asked a neighbor. “Would a non-gambler gamble?” was the response. Sometimes, however, “ehn brerah” (there is no choice). Whenever my vibel Shirley joins me for a trip involving the use of the beltway (aka as Route 695), her reaction shifts from panic to near hysteria. Nu, she’s right! Let me explain.
To enter the beltway you must increase the speed of your car from 40 miles per hour to 60 mph within a few seconds! This feat is accomplished on a narrow ramp leading to this raging river of cars, and as you enter, approaching vehicles keep you from moving into any space. The average speed on the Beltway is about 70 miles per hour. It is therefore in your best interest to have patience and wait for the traffic to ease up, when you will have a few seconds to act or to vehr tsuzetst (go bananas) waiting for the next opportunity to enter the race course.
If you are a young person, the title of this article probably does not make much of an impression. But if you have entered the “golden years,” your awareness of the meaning of the title is loud and clear. Am I right?
Uttered during the High Holidays, the tefila pleads with the Ribono Shel Olam (G-d): “Al tashlicheinu le’eis zikna. Kichlos kocheinu, al ta’azveinu – Do not cast us out in our old age. When our strength wanes, do not forsake us….”
So, let’s talk about old age. There are people who are 40 years young and act like zekeinim (oldsters), and there are zekeinim who are as youthful as ever. You may therefore wonder what establishes old age. The following are strategies to keep zikna at bay as long as possible: