Thursday, September 24, 2009


There are some great Jewish haikus floating around on the internet today. One of my personal favorites is:

Yenta. Shmeer. Gevalt.
Shlemiel. Shlimazl. Meshuganah
Oy! To be fluent!

It grabbed my attention in part because I recently had the opportunity to see a traveling performance of Spamalot in Tucson. For those of you who might not be familiar, Spamalot is loosely based on the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is a nonsensical, silly, irreverent movie mostly mocking cinematic depictions of the King Arthur Legend. Spamalot takes this notion one step further and postulates what would happen if Monty Python and the Holy Grail became a Broadway musical.
Needless to say, it is filled with many hilarious lines, jokes, self-referential materials, and some great song and dance routines. One of my personal favorites was a number called, "You won't succeed on Broadway (if you don't have any Jews)." The musical number is a takeoff of several scenes from Fiddler on the Roof. Though I think perhaps the funniest and saddest parts was in some ways how so few audience members were laughing at any Yiddish humor.
I tend to forget that even though Yiddish is increasingly more prevalent in American culture, especially due to the Jewish comedians and writers of the 50s & 60s, how many Americans still only have a nominal understanding and/or exposure to Yiddish.
Yiddish is one of the great languages in part because, like much of our music, it is always filled with hints of sadness. We Jews have suffered tremendously as is indicated in Spamalot when King Arthur finds out his bosom companion, Patsy, is in fact, Jewish. When pressed as to why he didn't reveal this information earlier, Patsy states, "that's not really the sort of thing you say to a heavily-armed Christian."
Yiddish and yiddishisms often indicate our understanding of how the world is not as it should be as long as suffering and persecution still exist. But at the same time, it has the amazing ability to laugh at itself as well in a self-deprecating sort of way. Thus even in the wilderness of Arizona, it is always a good sight to see when non-Jewish audiences are exposed to a pitzel of Yiddish, for we all need a little more Judaism in order to succeed, not just on Broadway, but also in life.

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