Articles by Isaac Kinek

All About Chutzpa


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.

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A Faird Is a Jewish Horse, of Course!


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.

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Beltway Shmeltway, Oyvay!


“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.

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Al Tashlicheinu: Don’t Cast Us Away

old lady

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:

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The Ahmoliker Yid

Voss fahr ah (what kind of) title is that?” you may ask, Are you suggesting that we have Yidden who are Amalekites!? Chas vesholom – Heaven forbid! Let us therefore define the word “ahmoliker.”

Ahmoliker is the past, as in “a long time ago.” So, the translation of our title would be “The Once-Upon-a-Time Jew.” In our context, it refers to Yidden during the time of your bubbies and zaidies if you are a yunger mentch (young person), or your parents if you are a zoken (elder) or pre-zoken.

While “Jew of the past” is indeed the literal translation of the word ahmoliker, when you say that Yankel is an “ahmoliker Yid,” there are several possible interpretations. Nu, you may say, zog shoin – tell us already what you are talking about!

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Purim in the Good Old Days


“So how was Purim celebrated when you were a kid?” asked a friend. Now that’s an interesting question, because from the time I was a young kid until the time I became an old kid, things changed considerably – not to mention after that!
 My earliest recollection of Purim was from when we lived in East Baltimore. My father, a”h, was the cantor of a shul called Bais Hamedresh Hagodol. I recall his beautiful reading of the Megilla, when suddenly, Beryl Simowits (not his real name) brought in a huge gregger, which was actually a type of noisemaker that was used to announce air raid drills. Those were the war years, and the shul had a supply room that housed (in addition to the “greggers”) air raid warden helmets, gas masks, and stacks of a magazine entitled Death to Hitler. The magazine’s front cover featured a large imaginary photo of the Nazi beast hanging like Haman. The contents of the magazine included articles about what was occurring in Europe and photos of the horrors inflicted by the chayess (beasts). It was difficult to comprehend what was happening to our people. Purim was celebrated – but in reserved tones, because people began to realize that a crazed and dangerous Haman actually existed

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