Shlof gikher, men darf di kishn!
People can be pretty particular about their pillows. Preferences vary from the plump and plush, to the pedestrian, to the painfully punitive (and, well, I suppose someone out there is partial to those pink, papery pillowcases whose purpose is to make us women forget that our feet are in stirrups and we’re about to have a “visitor” ... but hey, to each her own!).
When it comes to pillow peculiarity, my family is a prime example
To this day, my mother runs through a regular rotation of three different pillows from three distinct cushion categories. And my dad? Well! He had a staunch loyalty to what he referred to as his precious Jewish Pillows. (No, that’s not a euphemism for aunt Bessie's ample bosom). He could not possibly sleep without them. (Again, we’re talking pillows here, not bosoms.) Much like any addict, he had reserves squirrelled away in closets throughout our house, as well as the houses of relatives we’d visit most frequently.
“What,” you ask, “is a Jewish Pillow?”
Well, first of all, keep in mind this is in no way a universally-accepted term, so think twice before asking an eager employee at your local sleep center to show you to the Jewish Pillow section. (Nor is it all that P.C., so reader discretion is advised!) What my father categorized as a Jewish Pillow was one made from the highest quality down. No Jewish Pillow could contain any “drek” such as, G-d forbid, chicken feathers or, worse, synthetics! Now, while (as far as I know) this term is just one of many that comprised my dad’s personal parlance, it was born of a broader Jewish landscape. Historically, one’s status within the Jewish community, as in many other cultures, was determined by the quality of a family’s possessions; the finer the goods and materials they could afford, the better their standing. It is partly because of this traditional outlook that Jews are stereotyped as being materialistic, but the reality is that the Jewish people are no more or less materialistic than any other group; many in fact are quite the opposite. Outside the anomaly that was his cushion criteria, my dad was truly ambivalent toward material things. Allow me to illustrate with the following example:
Daddy was in the shmata business and, as a practice, his company would cut off pieces of their garments (usually sportswear) to send as samples to potential customers. Well, Dad would think nothing of wearing and layering the leftover hole-y garments because, as he’d say, “They’re still perfectly good!” Not because he was cheap (another ugly stereotype)—he was more than capable of competing, couture-wise, with highly image-conscious Montrealers—but because he didn’t give a damn.
The ironic part, given Dad’s high-end pillow preference, is that his most cherished Jewish Pillows were generations old and, subsequently, flat as potato pancakes—so much so that he had to sleep with at least four or five, Princess and the Pea-style. So, yeah, not exactly what anyone would call materialistic.
As much as I’d love to go on and on about the peerless perfection that was my precious Pop, I must return to the expression in question:
“Sleep faster, we need the pillows!”
This is not the first time the Jewish people have put these plush props to use. We have a bit of a history with the headrest, making a habit of co-opting said cushions for purposes both physical and metaphorical. A couple of examples?
- There’s a well-known Jewish folktale warning against the dangers of lashan hora in which a plumage-packed pillow plays the primary part.
- Every spring, Jews all over the world borrow their best bedroom bolsters for the requisite reclining during the Seder. Red wine and charoset stains make for unique mementos, and, much like figurative bread crumbs (as well as actual crumbs—there are plenty of those too, and if anyone can eat a matzah-marror sandwich without making crumbs, they need to write a book), one can use them as landmarks to follow the passage of time. Allow me to illustrate:
“Oh, that kidney-shaped schmutz? That one’s from Passover ‘92 when, during a fight over who found the Afikomen first, a rogue elbow upended Aunt Ida’s bowl of matzo ball soup and we heard Zeyde curse in English for the first time. Good times. …”
(Word to the wise: no amount of washing, scrubbing, or other efforts by the Smell Gestapo can allay the arresting aroma of gefilte fish.)
With this said however, no amount of pillow talk is going to get us any closer to understanding the meaning of this cryptic quote. Why? Because it’s not really about pillows at all. I’m sorry, what was that? If this has nothing to do with the oblong objects I’ve been obsessing about, were the last several paragraphs purely pointless prattle? An excuse for me to exhaust every last euphemism for these cranial cradles? A waste of your precious prescribed and otherwise productive time?
Never! No … this, this was a … a test! Yeah, a test, see? An elaborate gambit to gauge just how in need you are of this expression’s wisdom, and judging by your little outburst it looks like I’m just in time! (And while we’re pointing fingers, you don’t see me bringing up the fact that, during my scintillating study of these noggin nests, you returned 3 voicemails and checked Facebook twice.)
The truth behind the Pillows
“Sleep faster, we need the pillows!” is an impossible imperative that objectifies our obsession with maximizing our every moment for the purpose of “productivity.” Its aim is to shed light on and hopefully challenge our increasingly harried habits. Those familiar with Barbara Gordon (no, Ben, not Batgirl —I’m talking about the documentary filmmaker) or the late, great actress Jill Clayburgh, are probably reminded of the former’s book (and subsequent film starring the latter), whose title practically parallels our proverb: I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. But if you’re expecting the likes of a harrowing yet triumphant roller coaster ride of recovery (complete with climactic oceanside convulsions), you’ll be sorely disappointed. (If that were the case, do you really think I’d have maundered on about the minutiae of memory foam? Please!)
No, the Yiddish cousin of Ms. Gordon’s captivating caption, though similar in structure, doesn’t carry the same breathtaking baggage. Although perhaps someday an aged and reflective Sasha Baron Cohen will entitle his memoir:
Sleep Faster, We Need the Pillows
From Borat to Burnout & Back
How I learned to slow down and savor every second!
But until then, what our phrase lacks in 1980s melodrama it more than makes up for in universal and timely significance. Our expression is a doomed directive that employs absurdity to showcase just how counterproductive our modern-day “Hurry up and live!” philosophy is. Think about it. Imagine rushing the very act of resting! Seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? Well, much of what we have come to expedite in our modern lives is just as unnatural!
“Sleep faster, we need the pillows!”
This is Yiddish wit and wisdom at its best. Like our mighty blintz, the best Yiddish expressions deliver a delicious duality: the initial allure of the crispy and comical outer layer is followed immediately by a surprising squirt of sweet (or savory) sagacity. Is anyone else hungry? Quick! Prepare the oil and fetch me my eating pillow! And be quick about it! Haven’t you heard?! Time is money!!
So, what’s your pillow preference? Durable? Downy? Deflated? Please, (pillow) talk amongst yourselves!
Following his knee replacement surgery, Albert is staying with his daughter, Gabby, and her two girls. From his vantage point on the couch, Albert has watched in a mix of silent awe and horror as his multi-tasking maven of a daughter ran circles around him all afternoon. Since coming home from her day job, Gabby has put away the groceries (which evidently required re-alphabetizing the cereal boxes), cleaned the apartment, supervised homework while cooking dinner, and counseled a friend over the phone with the receiver lodged in the crook of her neck. It’s nearly 7:30 pm and Gabby is showing no signs of slowing down. She’s currently preparing lunches while reciting tomorrow’s itinerary to her freshly-bathed kids who are “enjoying” their scheduled 18 minutes of TV time before bed. ...
Gabby: “ ... so that brings us to 7:35 am. We’ll have 7 minutes for breakfast before we head to the arena where I’ll drop Noah off for his morning hockey practice. Then Beth and I will head to her ballet lesson. Beth, you’re going to get a ride to school with Tracy’s dad; and Noah, it’s Wednesday so you’ll take the bus. After school, Noah you have tutoring and then you need to be out front at 5:05 pm sharp. I’ll grab Beth from swimming and meet you there, OK? 5:05 sharp. That gives us 12 minutes to make it to karate. It’s a supper-in-the-car night so we’ll change when we get there. Remember how long it took Mommy to get those mustard stains out of your Gi? Beth, we’ll work on math and social studies while Noah’s in his big boy class; and Noah, when Beth is in her group we’ll tackle that science paper you have due Monday. Got it? That’ll get us home by 7:15 pm when you’ll jump straight in the bath. We’ll get up a little earlier the following morning so you can finish any remaining homework. Am I forgetting anything? Oh dear! It’s 7:46 pm! OK you two! TV off! Give Zeyde and Mommy a kiss and then it’s bedtime!”
After goodnight kisses, Noah and Beth obediently scurry off to their respective, equally tidy bedrooms. ...
Albert: “Gabriella, dear. I think you did forget one thing.”
Gabby: “What is it Daddy??? I can’t imagine—”
Albert catches his Gabby’s eye, raises a disapproving brow, and mock-shouts in the direction of his overscheduled grandchildren’s bedrooms. ...
Albert: “Sleep faster, we need the pillows!”
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