I was 35 when I married a nice Jewish man from Philadelphia. His mother was small, blond, smart, and very scary. She had told him growing up that she would sooner hang herself in the closet than see him marry a shiksa (non-Jewish woman).
He told me this before I met her for the first time. In the car on the way to her house, I could feel my shiksa self growing ever larger, more Christian, and more alien. So by the time we went in the front door, I felt like a Russian peasant with a babushka and a pitchfork who had just cheered on the Cossacks in their raid of the shtetl (little Jewish village). I wanted to apologize right away.
We got married but not in a Jewish or a Christian way. We were married by a judge in a rushed, wacky courthouse wedding. Not having a big deal wedding meant we could avoid choosing a church or a synagogue – a minister or a rabbi. Besides, my husband would say then — he was Jewish, he wasn’t JEWISH.
But the minute we got married, he suddenly seemed like the most Jewish person I’d ever met. Every two seconds, he’d let loose with some Yiddish word. “I don’t want to deal with all the hazarai (junk),” he’d tell me when he got tired of talking about complicated plans for a weekend. “Stop bubbameisting me,” when he’d decided I was henpecking him. He would alternate the Yiddish with my favorite, moo’ing like a cow to suggest I was being bossy.
“Hey, before you leave, there’s some schmutz on that shirt.” Schmutz? Junk, crud, major lint.
And my very favorite of all time, on a day when I decided to wear a long denim jumper from the thrift store, “Where did you get that schmatta (raggedy piece of clothing)?” That last one has stung for a long time even though I later deep-sixed the jumper in a Goodwill bag and resolved to eschew the Earth Mother look going forward.
There are a bunch of other choice words — mummzer and shicker (both not so nice words). And then there’s Yiddisha pisk which he uses to mean a Jewish face although the Yiddish dictionary says it means loud mouth. So he’s taken a little license with the term. He says that’s how Yiddish works.
Oy, I tell you. What do I know? I know nothing.