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      Blog — Yiddish Proverbs

      What Does “If You’re Going To Eat Pork, Get It All Over Your Beard" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “If You’re Going To Eat Pork, Get It All Over Your Beard"

      Ez men est khazer zol rinen ariber der bord.

      As spectacular as the Jewish people are, nobody said we were perfect (certainly not us!). When I was 8 and as neurotic as I was chubby, I was issued a particularly devastating report card; a manila tri-fold of tarnation riddled with Ds and N.S.s. (The latter was an abbreviation for “Non-Satisfactory.” Hey, it was the ’90s and the beginning of the everybody-gets-a-trophy-G-d-forbid-we-hurt-the-child’s-feelings era. They weren’t about to call an F an F.) I earned these grades not because I wasn’t smart enough, and not because I was too smart to be challenged by the curriculum, but because I was otherwise occupied. Basketball and ballet, perchance? Soccer and sleepovers? G-d no! I’d have burst into tears at the mere mention of such paralyzing prospects. No, my extracurricular activity of choice (or rather, inheritance) was worry, and I have to admit I was quite the prodigy. (I believe the psychological term is “deigeh savant.”) But here’s the thing: when a kid spends day and night fretting about every conceivable “what if” and obsessing over what she’s convinced will be her parents’ imminent deaths, there’s little time and energy left over for Social Studies—hence the aforementioned academic standing.

      On this particular day, the mail arrived as it always did right about the time I got home from school. As fate would have it, my mother spotted the oversized envelope before I did (how could I have been so careless?!), thus robbing me of the opportunity to privately process my failure and prepare myself before having to share my shame with others. It only took a momentary glimpse at the repugnant report to transform my baseline anxiety into full-on panic. As my mind performed its customary cartwheels of catastrophe, my body got busy sobbing to the point of hyperventilation. After all, not only would I be an orphan any day now, but I was about to fail Grade 3 on top of that! As usual, being the self-cleaning oven of a child that I was, the mere possibility of disappointing my parents was torturous punishment enough that in lieu of chastising me for my dismal grades my mother spent the better part of the afternoon trying to convince me that it really wasn’t a big deal.

      But what about when Daddy gets home?! What will he say? Oh the horror! The horror! (I’m paraphrasing of course, as I didn’t encounter Conrad until much later.) As utterly plagued as I was by these questions at the time, looking back it’s apparent that my concerns were just another figment of my irrational imagination. Among Jewish parents who asserted they would surely die if their child failed to grow up to be a doctor (or at the very least marry one), my dad was an anomaly. Worrying about my father throwing a fit was as absurd and unfounded as fretting about a flounder taking flight. In reality, the worst case scenario would have been a look in Daddy’s eye (most likely imagined) that I’d interpret to mean he’d ceased loving me forever and would disown me publicly at the very next opportunity. Needless to say, it was a long afternoon spent eating my weight in bagels and schmear. When my poor, unsuspecting father finally arrived home, he was met immediately with the pale, puffy-eyed puddle that was his pudgy daughter, palliatively pacing and preemptively apologizing through snot-soaked sleeves. My mother handed him the disgraceful document and, after what seemed like an eternity, that magnificent man of so few words, rarely eloquent but always wise, looked up and said something I will never forget:

      “Ahhhh! School-schmool, I failed Grade 4 and I run a company! Who you are on paper doesn’t matter, it’s who you are when you go out into the world, who you are to others, that matters. That, and just trying. Just do your best and for G-d’s sake stop worrying so much, would you? You’ll give yourself an ulcer!”

      He went on to say that some of the most idiotic people he’d encountered in life—especially in business—had been straight-A students (an entertaining phenomenon that I’ve since discovered for myself).

      And so with that, it was done.

      Well, not actually. I went on to torture myself over bad grades for the remainder of my pre-university years, but Daddy’s words did stick with me and continued to challenge my perverse perfectionism.

      Perfectionism?!? Yes, that's right. Despite popular belief, it is possible and actually very common to be both a perfectionist and an outright failure. (As an aside, my husband would like to point out that only a perfectionist would consider themselves an “outright failure.” I see little truth in his argument but promised to include it nonetheless.) You see, I live my life on either end of the spectrum; it’s all or nothing. I either set out to do it better than anyone in the history of the world has ever done it, or I don’t even bother trying. As you can imagine, more often than not the former prospect is so paralyzingly daunting that I spend most of my time doing the latter. But as I’ve come to learn, if you don’t try anything for fear of failure, you fail at everything for lack of trying. (Easier said than done, of course, but it’s still an important truth.)

      Many a member of the Tribe struggles with similarly paralyzing pressures, whether self-imposed like mine or externally inflicted. But gems like my father—and a whole lot of Jewish wisdom and scripture that echoes his profound words—remind us perfectionists that the goal is not to be perfect but to get up every day and try; that getting mired in meticulous minutiae can lead to a life unlived. Our wise ones teach us not to worry about mistakes, because mistakes are what life’s about. And this proverb even goes so far as to say when you screw up, go all out. Be a perfectionist about it! Otherwise, the mistake wouldn’t be worth making.

      When you make mistakes, do you go whole hog?

      Appropriate usage?

      Despite the advanced cataracts in Joy’s left eye, she was driving at quite a clip on I-5 heading north to Los Angeles. Riding shotgun and singing show tunes at the top of her still-expansive lungs was her best friend and next-door neighbor, Golda. After 12 weeks of Weight Watchers and aquatics at the Senior Center, the two friends had turned heads at their development’s annual gala. Despite last meeting’s inspirational lectures from their Weight Watchers leaders about the exciting new frontier of “Maintenance” and their own vows to find fresh motivation and stick to the program, Golda and Joy were heading straight into relapse at a cool 85 mph. ...

      Golda: “I don’t understand why we have to go all the way into L.A. when they have cupcakes in Laguna Niguel! What a schlep!”

      Joy: “Go, you can’t be serious! We’ve been over this! These are not just any old cupcakes! We both read that article in the newspaper and I even TiVo’d that segment on the Today Show for you!! Everyone’s going wild for these cupcakes! I even saw a picture of that actress, that health-nut Gwendelyn Paltron, eating one! Even she can’t resist!”

      Golda: “Why trust her?! She’d probably think Pauline Feldman’s rugelach tasted good after all that parsley juice or whatever she lives on.”

      Joy: “It’s kale, Go, and you really should try it. Dr. Oz says—”

      Golda: “Save it, Joy! You’re driving us almost 60 miles so we can throw our diets down the crapper for some fakakta cupcake, and you’re lecturing me about health?! Please!”

      Joy: “(Very classy, Go.) How many times do I have to tell you, this isn’t just some cupcake! If we’re gonna jump off the wagon, we may as well go for it! You know what they say: If you’re going to eat pork, get it all over your beard.”

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      What Does “You Can't Dance At Two Weddings With One Behind" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “You Can't Dance At Two Weddings With One Behind"

      Mit eyn tokhes ken men nit tantsn af tsvey khasenes.

      A Yiddish proverb, like the Yiddish language itself, evolves and changes as a result of an array of factors: geographic location, time period, cultural imprinting, varying translations, and, among other influences, an endless, generational game of “telephone.” What’s more, for every published or widely-known incarnation of a particular proverb, there are innumerable family-specific variants born of each households’ individual tweaks, personalizations, and (some might say) butchery of the Old Standards. I mention these important facts because:

      • They apply to all the Yiddish proverbs I explore in this blog.
      • I happened to have had a dad who was notorious for modifying the expressions he inherited.

      His version of this proverb (“You can’t dance at seven weddings!”) was the variant I grew up with, and is just one of many expressions unique to my dad’s lexicon. But I’ll be honest, as brilliant as Daddy was, his amendments were not born of a desire to improve upon the classics, or of any other intentional motives for that matter. You see, my fabulous father was dealt (and endured) a frighteningly flawed familial foundation (which, given the miracle of a man he grew up to be in spite of this, is one of the many reasons why he was so darn fabulous). Among other things, the passing on of his family’s Jewish mores, oral or otherwise, was not high on my grandparents’ list of priorities. The dysfunctionality of their family dynamic and the fact that they were typical of some immigrants (busy assimilating and downplaying the rich culture of their homelands) left them little energy or motivation to keep their shtetls’ traditions alive. To complicate matters, my dad was just fine with this radio silence. Born in 1950, he was far more concerned with catching the bus to Woodstock than teasing tidbits of Yiddish lore from his not-so-far-out folks. Furthermore, whatever damaging childhood details weren’t dulled by his and fellow hippies’ requisite hemp-haze were just plain blocked-out. (Amnesia: Daddy’s chosen coping mechanism.)

      What is highly telling, and the very crux of the argument I’ll make shortly, is that in spite of everything these aphorisms (regularly retooled as they may be) have actually survived. Considering that my dad’s experience was not altogether uncommon, and with so many of the aforementioned potentially tradition-eroding variables—not to mention the repetitive persecution of our ancestors and attempts to wipe us out entirely—how the heck have our seeming highly vulnerable traditions survived against such overwhelming odds?

      First and foremost, on a very rare serious note, I must acknowledge the generations of courageous Jews who, for thousands of years, in the face of bleak conditions, unspeakable deprivation, loss of religious artifacts, and other seemingly impassable obstacles, have fought to maintain their cultural and spiritual identities. Who, in living memory, risked certain death by reciting prayers while in hiding, and buried copies of holy books only to bravely unearth them every evening to ensure the youth of the ghetto could be taught the Torah. Still to this day, we remain in awe of Jews who wear kippahs and Stars of David in societies where it would be much safer to stay under the radar. This is a heavy yet beautiful legacy that we Jews have the privilege of preserving. But what happens when, as in the case of my father, Jewish elders fail to purposefully perpetuate our practices? This leads us to the argument I mentioned earlier. …

      Perhaps it’s the case that Judaism has weathered storm after raging storm and is still going strong after millenia because of one fascinating phenomenon (not the whole G-d’s-Chosen-People thing, although there is that too). The particular miracle to which I’m referring is this: even the most secular and unplugged Jewish family—say one living in the middle of rural Texas, going their entire lives without stepping foot inside a synagogue, reciting a word of Kaddish, or lighting a single Chanukah candle—are still, whether they like it or not, unmistakably Jewish. How? Because true Jewishness has little to do with what you do and everything to do with who you are. While Jewish piety is a choice, Jewish culture is a gift that is delightfully and marvelously inescapable. You can seal off a young Jewish family in a tidy time capsule for decades, but when you open the vault you would find that their grown offspring’s Jewishness would no doubt rival that of any Brooklynite or Hebrew camp counselor.

      Even if Jewish parents never formally educate their offspring in the ways of Judaism, their own Jewishness is so palpable—alive in each and every mannerism, intonation, use of syntax, random Yiddish-laden road rage-rant, and, ultimately, their relationship to life itself—that it is inevitably passed down. We know there is no greater influence on children than the behavior of their parents, so whether they’re aware of it or not, a Jew’s Jewishness oozes forth and is absorbed, as if through osmosis, by the child. Generation after generation of Jews teach their children how to be Jewish (whether intentionally or unintentionally or a mishmash of both). I personally am eternally grateful for the enduring and tenacious nature of Jewish culture because, without it, given my dad’s upbringing, I’m afraid to think about what I would have missed out on.

      In the end, you may say “2” and I may say “7” (and another Jew may take it to an altogether different level by asserting “You can’t ride two horses with one ass!”), but instead of calling the whole thing off, let’s focus on the wisdom these expressions share: No matter how hard we try, we just can’t be everything to everyone, or everywhere at once. Learning to say “no” is crucial because saying “yes” to everyone for fear of disappointing someone only leads to disappointing the whole lot (including ourselves).

      But all this touchy-feely-self-improvement schmaltz aside, the important thing is how effective and indispensable these sacred adages, no matter the wording, can be in getting you out of stuff, guilt-free. (Well, as guilt-free as we Jews can be.) Your mother-in-law’s garden party’s coming up? Hey, you’d love to go, but there’s a Golden Girls marathon that afternoon so your hands are tied.

      You can’t mess with the wisdom of our ancestors!

      Appropriate usage?

      It was Bar/Bat Mitzvah season, and not since all their friends started getting married and having babies—some doing both simultaneously!—had Jake been this good at calculating multiples of 18 in his head. Now in the final stretch of this year’s Mitzvah marathon, Jake, finding himself out of checks, was in the basement rummaging through a box labeled “Bank Stuff + Hebrew Camp ‘98 + Misc” in desperate hope of finding a spare checkbook.

      Just as Jake was reluctantly entertaining the prospect of raiding his 6-year-old’s piggy bank for $1 bills, it suddenly became clear that his wife, Dana, was having her own crisis upstairs. Knowing there was no way he could later claim to have been oblivious to the brouhaha (there was no denying the cacophony of Hannah’s, his eldest daughter, alternating high-pitched wails and guttural sobs punctuated by his wife’s muffled attempts to quell them), Jake took a deep breath and, against every instinct, forced himself to climb the stairs toward the tantrum.

      Once upstairs, Jake was brought up to speed by an enervated Dana. He learned that Hannah’s unintelligible meltdown was due to the fact that there had been a party-planning glitch. Somehow, the Pearlman and Weiss kids’ Bar Mitzvah parties were both scheduled for tomorrow night. Following Dana’s lead, Jake tried his darndest to feign the appropriate (apparently apocalyptic) levels of outrage and empathy. Hannah was beside herself because David Weiss and Nathan Pearlman were reportedly both her “most best friends in the whole wide world.” (This was news to Jake who hadn’t heard Hannah utter either one of their names in all the time since her first year of Hebrew school, and even then it was only in reference to their abhorrent cases of cooties.) After calming Hannah down, Dana did what she always does best: she proceeded to sketch out an elaborate itinerary for the evening that would make it possible for Hannah to be present for the most crucial parts of both events (nevermind the fact that it meant Jake would be spending an entire evening plus half-a-tank of gas shuttling their teen back and forth between the Holiday Inn and the Marriot). But Hannah was still not satisfied. …

      Hannah: “But what if I miss something?!?! Everyone’ll be talking about it at school and I’ll be the total loser who missed it!”

      Out of ideas, and in spite of Jake’s long and very spotty track record, Dana turned to her husband for help. ...

      Jake: “It’s a matter of physics, babe! You know what Zeyde always says: You can’t dance at two weddings with one behind!

      With that, Hannah burst into a reserve supply of tears and collapsed into her mother’s arms. Over her trembling head, Dana shot Jake a look that would kill (if not for the smirk she was trying to conceal).

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      What Does “When You Have A Lot To Do, Go To Sleep" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “When You Have A Lot To Do, Go To Sleep"

      Az men hot a sakh tsu ton, leygt men zikh shlofn.

      This poor proverb serves as the black sheep in a flock of Jewish maxims that denounce ineffective use of time. (Some even go so far as to explicitly promote responsibility—hence their conspicuous absence from my line of greeting cards.) But this wildly unbalanced ratio is not the least bit representative of how the average Jew approaches a task (or an overwhelming series of accumulated tasks).

      The truth is, the dizzying display of diligence demanded by our array of expressions does not always reflect an existing work ethic, but just as often aims to inspire those among us who need a little help in that department. For while many a Jew does enjoy a good schnoz-to-the-grindstone session, plenty of us are active proponents of the palpable power of procrastination; of relying on the stress and anxiety (our most available emotional states and greatest motivators) derived from putting things off until the last possible moment to fuel our productive fires.

      Stranger in a strange dichotomy

      But we Jews are no stranger to this kind of dichotomy existing among us, and we almost always see it as an opportunity to engage in one of our favorite (and by “favorite” I mean “only”) sports: debate. From our sage Rabbis spending lifetimes arguing over interpretations of scripture, to American Jews at odds over which local deli has the best pastrami sandwich, it’s no secret that we have a weakness for a well-waged war of words. But there’s a point at which even we have to reevaluate the number of simultaneous arguments we, as a people, can sustain at once. With that said, are these divergent duty-themed devices really worthy of becoming yet another bone of contention destined to divide us forever?? I say nay! Indulge me while I suggest a radical and potentially controversial theory intended to unite us and free up our argumentative energies for more deserving disputes. ...

      One feeling to rule them all

      Let me ask you this: what if our opposing approaches to obligations are fueled by the same inherent quality; one that is present in all of us, but manifests differently in each of us? What is this curious common denominator? Anxiety! What else?!

      Anxiety, and the assuaging of it, is very trendy right now, but we Jews have had the market cornered for generations—think of us like the Amish people set against the farm-to-table phenomenon, or the Good Humor Man awash in the tumult of the food truck frenzy—and I’m living proof that the neurotic Jew cliché is a cliché for good reason. The bad news? Our propensity for anxiety is apparent. The good news? We each have a choice in how we channel it. Some of us ...

      • Deny it.
      • Embrace it and put it to good use.
      • Just learn to manage it.
      • Even make careers of it.

      But with this said, even though anxiety may manifest differently or to varying degrees in each of us, it’s important to acknowledge that deep down we’re all neurotic:

      • If you prick us, do we not bleed? … and then immediately sterilize the affected area while googling “flesh-eating bacteria + what to look for?”
      • If you tickle us, do we not immediately feel uncomfortable and wonder whether we’ve misjudged the progress of our relationship? (I mean, are we really at the “tickling phase” already? Well, why not? Why must we always drag our feet when it comes to intimacy? Is it the fear of inadequacy? An emotionally-unavailable father?) And immediately after feigning laughter in spite of our inner questioning, do we not feel guilty for having misrepresented ourselves as being completely comfortable with said tickling?
      • If you poison us, do we not sidestep grim death by neurotically refusing to leave open beverages unattended for fear of just such an attack upon our lives? And do we not listen with manic focus for the “pop” of the tamper-resistant safety seal when opening all drink containers for the very same paranoid reason?
      • If you wrong us, do we not keep silent in the moment, hold a grudge for the rest of time, and worry every time we see you, afraid you’ll sense that something’s wrong and want to discuss it?

      I propose that our seemingly oppositional approaches to obligations (the go-getters versus the go-grab-a-nosh-and-a-nap-I’ll-get-to-it-laters) are merely superficial stratagems, and, sadly, they obscure a shared sensitivity to our inescapably-inherent quality; one that has the power bring us together.

      Still not convinced?

      Ok, we’ve established that some of us are always (and most of us are sometimes) propelled by anxiety-producing procrastination, but don’t you think it’s possible that the episodes of efficiency “enjoyed” by our proactive polar-opposites are fueled by the exact same neuroses which so thoroughly render us incapacitated? Perhaps these people, in their more methodical moments, compulsively cross things off their “to do” lists because, when items are left to linger, it’s not long before their manic minds cause minor molehills to mutate into momentous and menacing mountains.


      Neurotics unite!

      But before we hold hands (after a thorough sanitizing, of course!) and sing “Kumbaya,” there’s still the matter of this matzah ball of a maxim hanging out there.

      “When you have a lot to do, go to sleep"

      Obviously this proverb is preaching to the procrastinating choir, but can it possibly be of any use to the proactive party as well?

      Let me ask you: What happens when there’s just too much to do? When tackling every task is simply out of the question? Therein lies the universally-applicable wisdom of this proverb! When such a situation arises, isn’t sleep (Ambien-induced or otherwise) the only way to successfully escape an insurmountable index, and, by extension, our conscious catastrophizing?

      With this said, it makes sense why so many of us run to our shrinks every week ... only to lie down! If we just made the contrary commitment to lie down at home, close our eyes, and enjoy a 50-minute nap, it would be a hell of a lot cheaper and apparently far more effective at alleviating our anxieties.

      Even if only temporarily. …

      Oh, and please don’t let your anxiety of public “speaking” or self-expression prevent you from commenting and sharing your thoughts on tackling overwhelming tasks, taking advantage of therapeutic slumber, and anything in between!

      Appropriate usage?

      After knocking repeatedly to no avail—and silently cursing her husband, Maury, for continuing to avoid getting the doorbell fixed—Estelle resorted to using her teeth to insert and turn the key in the lock. Once inside, she finally allowed the dozen or so bags and packages (G-d forbid she make more than one trip from the car!) to fall to the parkay floor. …

      Estelle: “Maury?! Do you think you could help me?! I nearly had a stroke—G-d forbid!—schlepping everything from the car in this fakakta heat! Helllloooo?!?”

      As Estelle wiggled her tingling fingers in an attempt to regain sensation, she got her first look at the state of the house. Not one thing had changed since she’d left to run errands over 3 hours ago. Their matching luggage still sat empty waiting to be hauled upstairs, and the two baskets worth of laundry that she’d done that morning hadn’t budged from the dining room table. …

      Estelle: “You’ve got to be kidding me! MAAAUUURY!?!?!“

      With still no response, Estelle moved into the kitchen and her blood pressure soared again as her eyes fell upon a similar scene. The dishes she’d washed, now long-dry, were still in the rack, and the couple’s digital camera (and its cord!) still sat, uncharged, mere inches from an outlet. Speechless, Estelle made her way over to the sink for a glass of water where, upon closer inspection, she realized that the dish rack wasn’t exactly how she’d left it: her husband’s chipped coffee mug and favorite cereal bowl were missing.

      Her nostrils flared wildly as she gulped tap water and tried to count slowly to 10. Just then, she heard Maury’s distinct slippered shuffle from down the hall. Estelle spun around and, sure enough, there stood her husband, slightly flushed and squinting against the afternoon sun. The telltale asymmetry of his toupee meant one of two things, and (unless he’d gotten frisky all by his lonesome) she knew exactly what he’d been doing. …

      Estelle: “Maury!!!!! Are you meshugga?!?!?! I left you a list of things to do, but, by the looks of it, other than managing to feed yourself (which wasn’t even on the list but G-d knows you’d manage to do it even if the house was on fire), you haven’t done one thing! We’re meeting our cruise in two hours, we’re not even packed, the house is a complete mess, and YOU DECIDE TO TAKE A NAP?!!?!?!”

      With a yawn and a scratch, Maury shuffled toward the refrigerator. …

      Maury: “My father always used to say, When you have a lot to do, go to sleep.

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      What Does “Troubles With Soup Is Easier Than Troubles Without Soup" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “Troubles With Soup Is Easier Than Troubles Without Soup"

      Tsores mit yoykh iz gringer vi tsores on yoykh.

      Imagine the Fast Money round in a hypothetical episode of the latest incarnation of the TV game show, Family Feud (currently in the hosting hands of Mr. Steve Harvey and subsequently saturated in sexual innuendo), where Trudy, a sassy grandmother of seven, is playing for—shout it awkwardly with me—“$20,000!!!” Despite the pressure of making up for her nephew, Ricky’s, embarrassing showing in the first half, Trudy manages to come up with every number-one answer and win the game for her family. Here’s the transcript of her moment in the spotlight:

      Steve: “It’s time to play Fast Money! Trudy, I’m going to ask you five questions; if you can’t think of an answer, say ‘pass’ and we’ll come back to it if there’s time. Let’s put 20 seconds on the clock. Ready? Here we go! We surveyed 100 adults and asked them to name the first thing they would associate with each of the following words: Sweden.”

      Trudy: “IKEA!”

      Steve:Mobiüs Strip.

      Trudy: “Donald Trump’s hair!”


      Trudy: “Ass!”

      Steve:Bill O’Reilly.”

      Trudy: “Ass!”

      Steve:The Jewish People.


      Yes, it’s true. While Jewish contributions to society are endless, all the Singer sewing machines, Freudian slips, and Levi jeans in the world—even Albert Einstein himself—just can’t compete with the Mighty Matzah Ball!

      Think about it: a Jew may have created the first vaccine to cure polio, but Jewish Penicillin cures all! Our magical mixture of chicken, carrots, dill, and, at least in my recipe book, a disproportionate number of scrumptiously starchy spheroids can catapult even the sorriest patient from their sickbed and have them dancing the Hora within moments of their first shaky slurp.

      But wait, there’s more! Our powerful potion’s potential goes well beyond curing the common cold or fighting full-on flu. Jewish Penicillin is the go-to for any dilemma: from paper-cuts to pink slips, painful puppy love to pillaging by pirates, our curative concoction has got you covered!

      Are we frustrated by the fact that of all things Jewish, our soup is what landed atop the stockpile of Semitic synonymies? Not as much as you’d think! It is food after all, and at the end of the day what drives us Jews most is our desire (some might say compulsion) to feed people. Speaking of which, when was the last time you ate? I know I can’t see you, but something tells me you look pale.

      Appropriate usage?

      Miriam always left the task of arranging the place cards on the Seder table to the very end. No matter how long she agonized over the seating arrangement, no conceivable configuration of her contentious kin could prevent tempers from flaring. It was as much a tradition as the search for the Afikomen ending in tearful tantrums—although the children usually displayed more self-control during the latter case than the adults in the former.

      There! she thought. Every last detail was in place; except of course for her mother-in-law’s famous Matzah Ball Soup. No one knew how Pauline made it, and she wasn’t about to tell. (Didn’t other cultures have a long-standing tradition of mothers-in-law welcoming their sons’ new brides into their kitchens and sharing with them all the family’s culinary secrets? Miriam would never experience a similar rite-of-passage because Pauline would take her magic to the grave.) Not only did her soup steal the show, but Pauline made sure that her dish (not to mention she herself) made an entrance befitting its grandeur. Every year, she’d park a block away and watch patiently as all the other guests arrived. Then she’d wait another five minutes before making the last leg of the journey on foot. After all the greetings were exchanged and coats piled on Eva’s (Miriam’s youngest) princess bed, but just before the first awkward silence fell over the room, the rotund Pauline and her dish’s intoxicating aroma would fill Miriam’s entryway. Miriam had to hand it to her mother-in-law: the woman had impeccable timing. It was a performance she put on every year and everyone else patiently played their part in pretending to be oblivious to Pauline’s wiles. (An especially impressive feat considering the fact that, enroute, each guest invariably passed Pauline’s mauve Cadillac idling in plain sight. Inconspicuous she was not.) This year was no exception because, sure enough, 45 minutes after the first guest arrived, the doorbell rang one final time, and Pauline, her face a grimace from schlepping the industrial-size pot, refused all offers of help. As she always did, she insisted on carrying her precious potion to the kitchen and placing it on the stove herself. Once back in the living room, in a blur of vibrant scarves and clattering bangles, Pauline moved graciously about the room, feigning modesty at an endless string of comments about how much everyone was looking forward to her delicious dish. Her performance ended abruptly, however, when she realized there was something or, rather, someone missing; her eldest granddaughter, Adina.

      Pauline: “Where’s my Adina and that shayna punim of her’s?!”

      Eva: “Bubbe, Adina is very sad and we mustn’t bug her. Her heart has a boo-boo but Mommy says we can’t put a Band-Aid on it ‘cause it’s on the inside of her, but if we’re nice to her and don’t ask her to play teacher for one whole week (or maybe more) her heart will heal by itself.”

      Pauline: [with a sharply guttural and dramatic inhale] “What’s happened to my Bubbeleh?!”

      Miriam: “Oh, Mom. That boy she was seeing broke up with her today at school and she’s absolutely crushed. I think she just needs time to—”

      Pauline: “That behaymeh! That paskudnyak! He doesn’t deserve to breathe the same air as my Adina!”

      Miriam: “I know, Mom. She just needs time. I told her she can skip out on dinner tonight. Besides, she doesn’t have much of an appetite.”

      Pauline: “Nechtiker tog! Someone get me a bowl!”

      Obediently, several members of the family scurried off to the kitchen to fulfill the demand, Pauline following close behind. Once armed with a sizable bowl and spoon, she prepared a steaming serving of her savory speciality. With steady hands, while the rest of the family watched in awe, Pauline headed upstairs to face the hormonal fire.

      For almost half an hour, the family huddled at the bottom of the stairs, placing bets and passing around a box of matzah to stave off the hunger pangs. When their strained ears failed them, they sent Eva to eavesdrop at Adina’s door. Eva returned only to report that Pauline had (somehow) been granted entrance to the teenager’s lair (a feat in and of itself), but, despite her best efforts, Eva had been unable to decipher their muffled duologue. Finally, Pauline appeared at the top of the stairs, followed, unbelievably, by Adina herself. ...

      Pauline: “What are you all staring at?! Adina’s joining us for Passover Seder ... and seconds of her Bubbe’s world-famous soup!”

      In an effort not to spook Adina, everyone made their way to the table as if they hadn’t just witnessed a miracle. Except Miriam, who caught Pauline and pulled her aside. …

      Miriam: “How’d you do it, Mom?”

      Pauline: “My mother always said, Troubles with soup is easier than troubles without soup.” [with a slight tilt of her head, Pauline’s nose rose imperceptibly higher in the air] “And her soup had nothing on mine!” [inhales sharply] “Listen to me! Pooh, pooh, pooh! Lashon hora! Pooh, pooh, pooh!

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      What Does “If Grandma Had A Beard, She Would Be A Grandpa" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “If Grandma Had A Beard, She Would Be A Grandpa"

      Oyb di bobe volt gehat a bord, volt zi geven a zeyde.

      Look, we’ve all had to master the ability to discreetly avert our eyes from the cluster of wiry hairs that have not only taken up residence on Bubbe’s chin, but, like condos in regentrified urban areas, seem to be multiplying overnight. Sadly, we’ve consequently been rendered deaf to much of her great wisdom because we’re otherwise preoccupied by fantasies of sneaking into her room during her afternoon nap with a pair of tweezers. Or even worse, we ladies grow consumed by nightmarish flashes of our own future chins and their seemingly-inevitable bumper crops. (Meanwhile, our male counterparts are having to come to terms with their own hairy demons as they stare in horror, disbelieving, at the impossible thatches protruding from Zeyde’s ever-growing ears.) But will we yield as have our collective Bubbes? Never! Menopause, shmenopause! Old age? Ha! We vow to fight it, (yellowing) tooth and (ridged) nail we’ll fight it! We wholeheartedly reject the idea that we’d ever be that:

      • Blind.
      • Complacent about our maturing (and mutating!) selves.

      Should this not be another crucial conversation that parents are required to have with their children about their changing bodies? Now just a minute! Before you start panicking, by no means am I proposing that we pile on yet another paralyzing parlay. Au contraire! This parent-child conversation wouldn’t be worth even an ounce of dread! Behold:

      1. This talk would be a hell of a lot less awkward as aging parents could trade tampons for tweezers and condoms for Conair trimmers in bluntly addressing their middle-aged progeny.
      2. Parents would not be as prone to putting off this talk and, as a result, would face a less-daunting task of untangling the creative-but-wildly-inaccurate (or mitigating the all-too-accurate) information gleaned at school (or, in this case, at the garden club or driving range).
      3. There’d be no stumbling over cockamamie characters and mawkish metaphors, no need to invent traumatizing tales of mischievous garden gnomes who, on the eve of one’s 60th birthday, plant magical follicles—into men’s ears (and backs, when feeling especially impish) and women’s faces—that will, over time, blossom into bushy burdens to be tamed at all costs.
      4. Just think, this time around any trace of discomfort can easily be remedied by sharing a bottle of wine or a stiff drink.

      Everybody wins!

      Now let’s turn to the expression at hand. The reality is, as disturbing as Bubbe’s facial growth can be (scarring to many of us), we’re not talking ZZ Top here! (Yes, I suppose the carnival’s Bearded Lady is somebody’s Bubbe, but that’s different. She not only owns her fleecy facial endowment, she’s even made it her bread and butter. I say props to the Bearded Lady for making lemonade out of some pretty hairy lemons!!) Most Bubbes’ bristles pale in comparison to many a Zeyde’s full-on beard, and this expression uses that distinction to its advantage. (Let’s ignore the disturbing implication that old age induces some kind of androgyny and that the only thing that separates our grandparents is a thin grey line. Of beard.) It’s meant to serve as nonsensical interjection, one which aims to match the absurdity of another’s statement speculating about or wishing for something that is purely hypothetical. Like, perhaps, “If I had only noticed that now-painfully obvious whisker on my jawline before the interview, I could have gotten the job!”

      Appropriate usage?

      In an effort to spend more time with his daughter, Jonathan found himself spending a precious Saturday in the Junior’s section of Nordstroms. Surrounded by glitter, and convinced that any minute now someone would alert security to the presence of a “pervert” in the “Graphic Tees” section, Jonathan was beginning to schvitz. Middle school prom was approaching (Jonathan definitely didn’t remember a prom earlier than Junior year when he was in school!), and Jonathan, well, Jonathan’s wife, Debbie, thought this was a perfect opportunity for him to spend some time with their growing daughter. How bad could it be? His unspoken question was answered in the form of the alarming number of dresses with which Leah had disappeared into the dressing room, what seems like hours ago. Out of sheer desperation to know how much longer Leah would be—and to make a public point of associating himself with his daughter, thus proving the innocence and legitimacy of his presence—Jonathan cleared his throat and called out …

      Jonathan:Ahem… Leah, honey? How’s it coming?”

      Leah: “Daaaddy! You don’t have to yell, I’m in the first changing room! See!”

      She waved a bejeweled frock over what looked to Jonathan like a shower curtain. Shouldn’t they have solid doors? Any pervert could walk right in here! he thought.

      Jonathan: “Sorry, honey, it’s just, well, you’ve been in there an awfully long time. Any chance you could give me an ETD? Daddy’s getting a little tired!”

      Leah: “Dadddddyyy! What are you talking about?! Mommy says that commercial’s about penises and older mommies and daddies doing sex!”

      Jonathan smiles awkwardly at the changing room attendant as his mind races to reconcile what had just come out of his 12-year-old daughter’s mouth. ED?! Oh G-d, she thinks I’m talking about that Cialis commercial?!

      Jonathan: [forcing a chuckle] “‘ETD’ honey! It means ‘Estimated Time of Departure.’ I was asking when you think you’ll be finished so we can head home. It’s almost supper time.”

      Leah: “Whatever, Daddy! Anyway, I’m almost done, I’ve narrowed it down to seven. Now I’m going to model them for you and you have to help me decide.”

      Jonathan’s heart sank into his now-growling stomach and, with it, he let fall the 20 lbs of shopping bags he had in vain kept at the ready. With a sigh, he figured he may as well sit down. ...

      45 minutes later, Leah was down to two dresses:

      1. A long-sleeved pink dress that came to just above her knees which Jonathan thought looked cute and appropriate, but which Leah dismissed as “babyish.”
      2. A “maxi” (one of the many words Jonathan could now, reluctantly, include in his lexicon), Leah’s favorite, that dragged a good three feet behind her and (thanks in part to her as-yet-underdeveloped-thank-G-d chest) had enough gaping fabric in the front to store A through E of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

      The choice was obvious, but Leah was having a hard time accepting reality. ...

      Leah: “But Daddy!!! Maybe Mommy could hem it or something! I know there’s a pattern and it might look weird, but I won’t mind! Maybe it’ll look cooler! And you could buy me a bra and I could put socks in it, or tissue! Maggie Harrington puts her brother’s Beanie Babies in her bra! Plus, the dance is sixteen-and-a-half days away! I could grow still!”

      Her face sank and her eyes started to well up as the absurdity of her plan began to register. ...

      Leah: “Oh Daddy! This would be the perfect dress if I had a different body!”

      Jonathan hugged his precious daughter and dismissed all the grossly inadequate words flooding his mind. What could possibly soothe her in the face of what will sadly and unfairly be her (and all women’s) complex relationship with her body!? Suddenly, the words of his father came to mind and Jonathan decided to risk it. …

      Jonathan: “Yeah well, If Grandma had a beard, she’d be Grandpa!

      Leah’s whimpering stopped abruptly and she looked up at her father with wide eyes as the absurdity of her Zeyde’s expression registered. What felt like an eternal interlude passed without a word. Jonathan’s heart was beating out of his chest and his mind raced: How insensitive could I get?! Oh G-d, what was I thinking!? Suddenly and miraculously, Leah threw her head back in a fit of laughter, and Jonathan, relieved, joined her, grateful that he and not his wife had spent this day with their daughter.

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      What Does “Someone Else's Ass Is Easy To Smack" Mean?

      Afh yenems tukhes is gut sepatchen.

      This proverb not only tells a literal truth (I mean, how can one be expected to perform as well when one can’t even see one’s target? Well, yes, I suppose one could position oneself before a three-way mirror, but think of the planning that would entail and the reactions from the innocent triers-on in the fitting room! Not to mention the fact that achieving the proper force behind a smack requires significant wind up, a maneuver that is severely limited during self-inflicted spanking. Oh! And let’s not forget that no matter how committed one is, no matter how intent one is on treating oneself to the flogging of a lifetime, the instinct for self-preservation invariably wins out at the last moment and curbs the smacker’s well-intentioned efforts!), but it also doles out a healthy dose of figurative truth as well.

      Appropriate usage?

      Sarah asked Ruthie to meet her for coffee at their usual place, but unbeknownst to Ruthie this meeting would take place under some highly unusual circumstances. Ruthie knew something was wrong the second she saw the 24-ounce double-mocha caramel latte with extra whip sitting in front of her best friend.

      Ruthie: “Sarah! What’s happened?! Talk to me!”

      Sarah: “Oh Ruthie! I don’t know how I’m going to tell you this. ...”

      Ruthie: “What is it, Sar? You can tell me anything!”

      Sarah: “Well ... I have a serious moral dilemma. I was tossing and turning all night over it and I just had to talk to you. I know we’ve discussed this before, as a hypothetical, but I need to ask you again: what would you do if you suspected—if, if you thought maybe someone was … cheating? Would you—”

      Ruthie: “That momzer!!! Oh, Sarah! You broke things off with him, right?? You can’t roll over for this one, I won’t let you! And forget proof, a woman’s instincts are everything! You need to tell him where he can go! No questions!”

      Sarah: “Ruthie, wait, you don’t—”

      Ruthie: “Sarah! Stop right there! I know you, and I know that you shy away from confrontation, but come on! What does your gut tell you? You have to trust that, Sarah! He’s no good! I never told you this because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but he always rubbed me the wrong way. I never trusted him, and now look! A cheater!”

      Sarah: “What?! Ruthie! I’m not talking about David! I can’t believe you think—never mind! This is not about David and me, it’s about you and Thomas. I’m sorry, Ruthie, but I saw him outside of Nordstrom yesterday kissing some shiksa half his age!”

      Ruthie: “What??! You’re obviously mistaken! Even if—no, there’s got to be a simple explanation for—wait! Were you even wearing your glasses? You know you can’t see a thing without them. And don’t tell me you were squinting! I don’t want to hear it!”

      Sarah: “Ruthie!! Listen to yourself! What happened to a ‘woman’s instincts’?! When you thought I was talking about David—”

      Ruthie: “That’s, that’s just different! Thomas would never cheat on me! You can’t just go throwing around accusations without proof! As if I would throw away a year-and-a-half because of something you thought you saw!! How dare you!”

      After an impressively dramatic exit by Ruthie, Sarah picks up the calorie-laden drink she’d bought for her friend and thinks to herself with a sigh. …

      Sarah: “Like Daddy always said, Someone else's ass is easy to smack.”