04 My Jewish mom? Yiddish and Polish


When I was a little-little kid, my mom would now and again use some rather incisive vocabulary if I should do up something really naughty like messing around in construction sites. I was such a brat. I didn’t know what the words she used meant, other than that I was in trouble. Remembering that vocabulary later in life, I looked up the words I could remember. The internet can be very useful… Yiddish!

I asked her about it. She said that she in fact knew how to speak the various languages back in the day, but by the time I asked her about it, at some seventy years, she remembered only a little. That was a couple of years before she died.

Speaking such languages at home, she said, was the order of the day when she was a kid, but only at home…. never, ever outside the home… No! No one can know what we speak! Ever! “The idiom of the frightened and hopeful humanity,” says Isaac Bashevis Singer in his Nobel Lecture of 1978. “Frightened and hopeful.” Yep.

More indications that mom was Jewish. “Just coincidences,” say the doubters, casting doubt. But after a while, there are so many coincidences that you have to start to wonder. Also, the circumstances of the facts are important.

For instance, in the first post of this series I spoke of white, blue striped stoneware, which in itself, is neither here nor there. It means nothing. Pretty much everyone in the world has white, blue striped stoneware if they think it’s nice. Agreed. All so very common. However, it was her reaction to conversations about it that was interesting. This instigated a conversation that moved to Israel. And then she took me over to look at a portrait of her mom. She would want to tell me something, but refrained ever so wistfully.

And with the languages? Sure, lots of people know both languages and are not Jewish. Yep. But it’s not the languages so much as what she said about their usage. Secrecy was the order of the day. This wasn’t about encouraging kids simply to learn the language of the their new country – English here in these USA – which was common to that generation. Talk to any Italians of that generation and you’ll hear about it loud and clear. Instead, this not speaking specifically Yiddish was about secrecy, about not being found out.

Motivation is paramount in detective work. The quest continues. Progress is being made.

We’re dealing with fear. What’s it’s like for another generation – me – to discover the fear, and go beyond, to the other side? Quite the journey…

1 Comment

Filed under My Jewish Mom

One response to “04 My Jewish mom? Yiddish and Polish

  1. pelerin

    I would say this was a very strong clue to your mum’s origins. Surely Yiddish would only have been spoken in Jewish households?

    When I was naughty as a child my own mum used to revert to Welsh. However, as she never taught me the language I had no idea what she said on these occasions – except that by her tone of voice I knew when she was angry!

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