Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Chassidim and the Turtle

During Chol Hamoed Pesach, Jews - most visibly Haredim (not Ultra-Orthodox, that phrase has been retired) - open the gates of their conclaves and reveal themselves, warts and all, as they burst into "the world."

While on the subway on the way home from work, I sat across from an old Japanese fellow who was holding a translucent container with two turtles inside.

In walks a 150-year-old Chasidish lady with her 27 grandchildren in tow. She sits down next to the Japanese fellow and spots the turtles. In Yiddish, she then begins educating her grandchildren on matters amphibiana. The conversation goes something like this:

Granny: "Kik kinderlach! A frush!" (Look children! A frog!)
Children: "A frush?" (A frog?)
Granny: "Yuh! A frush!" (Yes! A frog!")
Children: "Azoivee the makeh?" (Like the plague?)
Granny: "Yuh! Pinktlech vee the makeh! Uber groise!" (Yes! Just like the plague! But bigger!")
Children: "Oooooh!" (Ahhhhh!)

And I'm sitting there, playing Scrabble on my BlackBerry, praying they don't start speaking in English and showcase their zoological prowess to the rest of New York City. My hopes are dashed. The old lady turns to the Japanese fellow and begins yelling at him:

Granny: "Is this your frog?!!!!!"
Fellow: "Yao Ming?"
Granny: "This frog, you have more of them?!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Fellow: "Keyser Söze?"
Granny: "My grandchildren want to know about your frog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Fellow: "Hideki Matsui?"
Granny: "Shoyn, ehr fahrshteit nisht." (Alrighty, he doesn't understand.)

I exited the train at that point, deciding not to hold any grudges against ignorance in my heart. (My wife surprised me yesterday by taking me to and I was particularly inspired by the inclusion of a famous quote of his: "If we had two hearts like we have two arms and two legs, then one heart could be used for love and the other one for hate. Since I have but one heart, then I don't have the luxury of hating anyone.") Instead of grudging, I dedicating my energies to finding out the Yiddish word for turtle.

Back home, I asked my wife's grandmother (who is staying with us for Pesach along with my in-laws) for the word. She didn't have it handy, so I Googled my brains out and found that the German word for Turtle is "Schildkröte." That's fascinating, because if spoken quickly, it can easily sound like "shielded critter." I then found the Yiddish word, which is "vaser-tsherepakhe."

I'm happy I looked that up, though I doubt the subway party will do the same. The Japanese man doesn't have to, he knows the word is "Ichiro."

Just kidding. It's "kame."


At 1:13 PM, Blogger Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein said...

Aren't you concerned that a post like that will encourage anti-Chassidic sentiment on the part of the amphibian community? I mean, if I was a turtle, I would be shouting "racism!" right now.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Me said...

Possibly, but if I was a turtle, I'd be Donatello. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. :-)


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