Sharing Yiddish and Superstitions in Kansas

8 Sep

One of the most difficult adjustments I made when I moved to Kansas is to stop speaking Yiddish. In New York and New Jersey it seems even those who are not Jewish know the most important Jewish words: schlep, gonif, meshuganah, punim, shayna, tottale, madelah, gor nish, keppi, kibbitz, yenta, mishpocha and more!

I never had a problem slipping in a work of Yiddish when I was talking with friends. But then I moved to the Midwest. And I realized that even Jewish people here did not speak Yiddish. Not even the English/Yiddish I spoke.

The little bit of Yiddish I spoke to my own children was about all I heard most of the time, except when I made my yearly journey back East to visit family.

So when I discovered someone with my knowledge base I was thrilled. It was actually someone I knew for years, but we just did not speak about our childhoods and our American/European Yiddish upbringings.

We not only had the Yiddish in common, we had the superstitions.

One of the early indications that she and I spoke the same language had to do with a bindle. That red thread you wear to keep the evil eye, the ayin hora, away. We discussed bindles an entire evening. I told her about the red bindles I had placed on my children’s cribs. I told her that when I was pregnant with my first child, the only thing my Grandfather asked me to do was to put a bindle on the crib. And so I did. I also put one on the highchair, the car seat and playpen.

To this day I have bindles on our cars. There are the bindles I put on each of the kitchen chairs. One of my friends, who heard the conversation, said, “I thought those ribbons were for the cats to play with. “ Nope, there were all red. Whenever we get a gift with red ribbon, it goes somewhere in the house to act as a bindle. I figure if someone gave me a gift, the red ribbon has positive energy.

My friend made her son wear a bindle when his wife was pregnant. I carried a bindle when my husband had surgery. It doesn’t hurt! And I believe it helps. And for extra good fortune or ‘mazel,’ I tied 18 knots in to the red yarn, as did my friend’s son!

I told her that the one on my son’s car had fallen off, and I had not put a new one on yet. She encouraged me to do it soon. And I did. A few weeks later he had a tire problem. It started on the highway, but did not get bad till he got home. The bindle worked! So I am keeping it there.

But do not worry, even when his car did not have a bindle, my son’s car did have 18 cents to keep it safe. Now it is just double safe.

Which brings me to money in cars. Last summer my husband and I sold two of our cars to neighbors. Each car had multiples of 18 cents in them. In Hebrew the word for life are the two letters that add up to the number 18, so multiples of 18 are considered lucky. When we sold the cars, I left the money in the glove compartments. The boy next door brought me back all the things he found in my car that I did not get out before he took it, including the money. I gave the money back. I have known him since he was three years old. I want him safe as well.

The other neighbor, who bought my other car, I exchanged the ‘gelt’ (money). My parents had given me the 36 cents in that car. And since they are no longer alive, I wanted to keep their coins. I gave my friend an equal amount to keep in her car. My two non-Jewish, Kansas neighbors are happily driving around with good luck money in their cars!

Yes, we are a little superstitious in our Yiddish beliefs. But they are important!

Which is obvious about our next Yiddish/European Jewish belief. One day, at a holiday meal, my friend asked me, in front of her son, “What did your Mom do when you got your period for the first time?” My answer, “It wasn’t my Mom, it was my grandma and she slapped my face.”

”I knew you would know!” She exclaimed. “I knew it.” She then told me her somewhat sad story. I will not repeat it because it is her story. But I will say, I felt badly for her when I heard what happened.

Our conversation went downhill for her son. He left. Even though he is a doctor, he just did not want to listen to this discussion. But my friend and I had a great time talking superstitions and Yiddish.

Of course she grew up in New York and spent her summers in the Catskills. I grew up in New Jersey and spent my summers in the Catskills. We cannot help but share many experiences about growing up that people who grew up in Kansas and Missouri just do not understand.

We can spend hours talking about our childhoods. And we have! Our discussions bring back so many happy memories.

I think we need to spend a day speaking about Yiddish expressions. My grandparents would say, “Hock mir nicht ein Chinok,” to mean stop bothering me.   It really means ‘don’t bang the tea kettle,’ but it makes sense. My favorite was “Ge Loch in kupf in Vald.” I might not be spelling it correctly. But it means go bang your head against the wall. That was their favorite saying when we said we were bored.

As my children in their 20s and are dating now, I remember my grandfather telling me that there is a “‘lid for every pot.” And I say “From Your Mouth to God’s Ears,” to a friend who has just made a prediction that I would like to happen, when I want something good to happen.

The Jewish superstitions, Yiddish sayings and language will always be with me, wherever I live. But it is nice to have someone to share Yiddish and superstitions in Kansas.

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