October 30, 2020
Haimish is a Yiddish word meaning …? To Google it means “Homey” — that is a far cry from Yiddish. To me it means my grandmother’s wooden bowl and “chopper.”
When I was in high school my grandmother lived with my Aunt Rosie just a short bus ride away. At least two or three afternoons a week I would ride the bus to within a block or two of my Aunt Rosie’s house and walk over to visit my grandmother.
Aunt Rosie lived in what we called a “row house” which meant you shared two walls, one on each side, with your neighbors. The houses fronted on the street, backed on an alley.
The alleys all had at least one basketball net where the neighborhood boys learned their skills and played ball — creating teams on which they then played in high school and often through college. There’s something Haimish about Jewish basketball teams, but I digress.
I would get off the bus, walk up the alley, up a short flight of steps and open the back door (not locked. Back then, who locked doors?). As soon as I opened the door I would hear the sound: Chop-chop-chop … I would walk into the kitchen and there would be my grandmother sitting in a kitchen chair, a wooden bowl between her legs, “chopper” in her right hand. In the bowl were chicken livers being chopped to bits by the steady chop-chop-chop of my grandmother’s right hand.
Every time, I would walk in, listen for a second (chop-chop-chop) and ask my grandmother: “Whatcha doin’ Bubby?”
(Bubby and its derivations: Bubbala, Tatala, kindala are also disappearing as our “Bubbies” leave us)
She would inevitably answer with a sigh: “Well, I really got nothing to do, so, I’m making in the meantime, liver.” Now the way my grandmother talked there was no comma between “meantime” and “liver.”
So, I grew up eating chopped liver, which I called “in the meantime liver.” My Grandma Deitch is long gone as is the chopper, the wooden bowl and of course “in the meantime liver.”
Chopped Liver is still a staple in most “real” Jewish homes — but it will never be the same. The Jewish “Bubby” is no more. Oh, grandmothers live, but today they drive Hyundais, Ford Escapes, even Jeeps. They go out to lunch and to play Mahjong or bridge or just to be “Ladies Who Lunch.” They are two generations from Europe and the chopper. Today pre-packaged chopped liver is in the cooler at the super market. No, it is not the same. It’s just not Haimish.
Without the sound of the liver chopper, or the language of Yiddish, our “Mamalushon” (Native tongue) it just is not the same. Haimish. Without our children knowing the love of a “Bubby,” Haimish could well disappear. Shabbos is Haimish. Sabbath, not so much. Celebrating “real” Jewish holidays is Haimish. Obviously, fasting on Yom Kippur (without cheating) is Haimish. So are eight days of Chanukah and Purim with a noise maker. Weddings with a rabbi and a glass to crunch at the end of the ceremony are Haimish.
Gin Rummy can be Haimish. Mahjong is definitely Haimish. A lot of fundraising is Haimish.
I have told this story before. Our youngest son, when he was younger loved Jewish jokes told with a Yiddish accent. Sidebar: If you don’t know what a Yiddish accent is, oy vey!
One day he asked me: “Dad, what’s going to happen when the last old Jewish guy dies? Who’s going to tell these jokes?” I don’t remember how I answered but when the “last old Jewish guy” dies, there will probably be no reason for “Jewish jokes with a Yiddish accent.”
Not every joke is worth passing on. Not when the last person who understands the point of the joke dies and leaves nobody behind who has any idea where the humor is: Guy (old Jewish man) is sitting in Shul. Every few minutes he cries out “Oy! Am I thirsty!” A few minutes later again: “Oy! Am I thirsty!”
Finally, somebody brings him a glass of water. A few minutes later he starts again: “Oy! Was I thirsty!” The joke has a philosophy behind it. The old Jew, based on Jewish history knows that a while later he will be thirsty again, and again will need somebody else to bring him water.
You don’t get it? Proves my point.
Ethnic jokes can be hurtful. Ethnic jokes cannot be told by anyone who isn’t Jewish or Italian or Black or Hispanic, or … well, you understand.
Ethnic jokes are part of the culture of those who came here to find the “Goldena Medina” [Golden City] whether from Poland or Venezuela or Korea or wherever. The Jews from that generation from Europe — mostly at this point are aged Holocaust survivors — is swiftly disappearing. Those of us who grew up here? Mostly, we just don’t get it.