And on the 6th night of Hanukah, the Jews played Yiddish Password.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother tried to teach me Yiddish. Do not be fooled. Although she was a first generation American born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to eastern European Jewish immigrants (known to me as “Big Grandma” and “her husband”), she was a thoroughly modern Lilli. Our first lesson took place in the leather seats of her Porsche 911. “Vus es dus?” she intoned, pointing. “Dus es a stickshift.” That’s as far as the formal training got. I suspected her qualifications at that point.
Fast forward thirty years to Hanukah 2012. My extended family, including the still fabulous Grandma Lilli, gathered in the living room of cousins Liz and Mitch. You’ve heard about my extended clan of cousins – like our camp song-filled Thanksgivings. You’ve heard about my grandmother, too, and the trip we took to Brooklyn to visit her birth city and her younger sister Shirley. Shirley taught her grandchildren the wisdom, “Just because you can leave Brooklyn, doesn’t mean you ought to.”
Our Hanukah parties have a flair all their own. We used to spend hours playing football or softball on the field just outside their home. But calmer heads prevailed, and now a certain gang spends hours around Liz and Mitch’s poker table, betting and bluffing like schizophrenic Martians. Pair of 2s? All in!
Mitch has become the entertainment maven for these events. For many years he printed out lyrics for Adam Sandler’s The Hanukah Song, until the children protested that it was embarrassing to hear their parents singing “and smoke your marijuanica!” After a couple years more, we heeded their complaint and switched to singing the Maccabeats’ Hanukah versions of pop songs like Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” (“I throw my latkes in the air sometimes”) and Fun’s “Some Nights” (“StandFour”).
One exceptional year we got to crawl through an elaborate maze built by Mitch and their son Nathan. What had begun as a haunted Halloween maze crafted from cardboard boxes and duct tape in the garage, became the “in search of the first temple” maze for Hanukah, complete with a narrative about Alexander the Great conquering Jerusalem, a battle scene (using skeletons from Halloween), and a Temple Wall the kids could draw on. It was epic, until my niece got left inside and Great uncle Larry had to crawl in to rescue her. Mitch reports that he would have kept the maze but the boxes attracted termites, so that First Temple was also lost forever.
Which brings us to Yiddish Password, this year’s invention, which required far less physical labor than the maze. You may recall the old game show: in teams of two, one person sees a word that their teammate has to guess, and gives their teammate clues to help them guess. The shtick? All the words were Yiddish.
Mitch has generously put his game on YouTube, so do yourself a favor and try it. You will be surprised at how many Yiddish words you know, and how many words you never realized were Yiddish (“stick shift” was not among them). Schlemiel. Putz. Schlock. Schmuck. We’ve got all the best put downs. It’s a great language teacher, better even than Grandma Lilli could have concocted, but best of all is the laughter you’ll generate. Watching my father act out “schlemiel” was one of the funniest things I’ve seen. Meshugenah mishepuchim. Happy playing, and happy Hanukah.