Three Common Yiddish Words You Didn’t Know You Knew

By Rabbi Allen Juda

I have many distinct memories of my great uncle Sam. When I was a little boy, he would greet me with a strong, twisting pinch of my cheek. Uncle Sam was a Yiddishist, a lover of the Yiddish language, and our family called him, my great aunt and their eight children by their Yiddish names. So I am not surprised that one of his grandsons, my cousin Aaron, remarkably has rescued thousands of Yiddish books that were about to be thrown out and ultimately turned his passion into founding the National Yiddish Book Center. His effort is credited with saving many valuable volumes and leading on some level to a revival of the Yiddish language and culture.

Much more surprising is that several Yiddish words have worked their way into our English language, chutzpah probably being the best known of them. Chutzpah is “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, sheer guts plus a hint of arrogance.” Like “brazen nerve” it may be used either as a positive or negative description.

A klutz is a clumsy, awkward human being. They have a tendency to drop items or slip and fall on their own. Several well-known personalities are described as being a klutz. E! News in November 2015 reported: “Liam Hemsworth confirms what we've all been thinking about his co-star Jennifer Lawrence – she's a bit of a klutz. During an interview with Seth Meyers, the 25-year-old Australian hunk said she's just a ‘clumsy, clumsy girl.’ ‘She's terrible at walking,’ he joked. ‘I am constantly surprised at how much she falls down without trying at all.’”

Everyone likes to schmooze, make small talk about people and community, with friends. Individuals may make plans to get together and schmooze if they haven’t seen each other for some time, or “schmoozing” may occur spontaneously when people are at a larger event and want some more personal conversation. But schmoozing isn’t always just for fun and relaxation. Steve Tobak in Moneywatch wrote an article (Oct. 2010): “How to Schmooze Your Way to Business Success.”  Anyone who says that schmoozing isn't critical to business success is just being disingenuous … When it comes to business, I take schmoozing very seriously. You see, business success is all about relationships, and schmoozing enables relationships.”

Rabbi Allen Juda is the rabbi emeritus at Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem.


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