BORN TO KVETCH: YIDDISH LANGUAGE AND CULTURE IN ALL ITS MOODS
REVIEWED BY DOVID KATZ
SOME ACADEMICS have been comp l a i n i n g a b o u t B o r n t o K v e t c h . This is, after all, a book that has zero inhibition regarding vulgarity. It is, moreover, quite politically incorrect and provocative. For example, there is plenty and more on the traditional anti-Christian motifs embedded in many Yiddish phrases, enough to make a modern Jewish person (or Yiddish teacher of “multicultural” students) want to tsiter (tremble), khalesh (faint), pretend the book doesn’t exist ( nisht geshtoygn, nit gefloygn), or makhn pleyte (run for it), as if from a sreyfe (fire).
But none of that is the fault of the author, Canadian-born Michael Wex, whose book renders him heir to Lenny Bruce, Leo Rosten and your favourite Yiddish teacher, all rolled into one. It is the fault — if that is the word — of the Yiddish language. The real one, that is, not the watered-down, standardised version often taught at universities and cultural centres.
Yiddish is the language of an exotic culture, and if you don’t have the