the schmooze

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

We all know the joke about the Jewish "dokter" who gave his "patsyent" (patient) six months to live. But when the man didn't pay, he gave him another six months.

"GEZUNT IZ BESER FUN GELT" means "Health is better than wealth." And the Yiddish word meaning sickness is "krankhayt."

Joel Siegel ("Lessons for Dylan") told this humorous story:

   Three old Jews are sitting on the porch at their old-age home, complaining.
   The first says, "I haven't had a good bowel movement in three days; I'm lucky to have one a week."

  The second says, "What are you complaining about?  I'm lucky to have one   a month."

  The third shakes his head, "I don't know.  I move my bowels every morning at   7:30, like clockwork."

  "Nu?" said the other two.  "What are you complaining about?"

  "I don't wake up until 8:15."

The first remedy to be discussed:  ENEMA BAGS
The Yiddish word for an enema is a "kane."
Starting in the early 40s, many people hung enema bags in plain view in "der vashtsimer" (the bathroom).  Others kept the red rectal bulb syringe in a clear plastic bowl in the corner of the vanity.  I was mortified because everyone who saw the bag knew that a family member had been a recent recipient of one of mom's good, warm soapy enemas.

My mother knew that eating chicken "zup" (soup) really does aid in fighting the congestion that accompanies a cold.  The Yiddish word for cold (ailment) is "farkilung."  It is called "Jewish penicillin" and has been practiced by Jews for centuries.

Elizabeth Alpern ("Cures for the Common Cold from Maimonides to the Shtetl") describes the process of cupping:  "Cupping involves placing a heated bell-shaped glass on the chest of someone suffering from a cold.  In the shtetl, this cup was supposed to pull phlegm from the chest, relieving pain and pressure."

One must be careful when using "cupping."  In 2004, Gwyneth Paltrow showed up in photos with what appeared to be circular hickeys on her "rukn" (back).  It was due to "cupping," an Eastern medicine practice that is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to treat everything from stiff necks and shoulders to respiratory problems.  Marjorie Wolfe remembers her parents going to the barber shop ("der sherer") in Arverne, New York, to have the cupping procedure administered.

The Yiddish word for garlic is "knobl."
In ancient Egypt, garlic was thought to help with general vitality.  It was fed to workers to keep them "kreftik"/"shtark" (strong).  During both World War I and II, soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene.  Several studies report that a garlic gel, applied to the skin, may treat ringworm, jock itch, and athlete's foot.  
Garlic is one of the many symbols to keep vampires at bay.  Wearing a chain of garlic around "der kark" (the neck) is known to provide protection from evil.  Hang it  over your door, or put a clove in your "keshene" (pocket).

When my second grandson, Shane, was born, his great-grandmother, Dorothy, painted a red ribbon on the wall of his nursery.  The red ribbon (or Kinehora bindels) keep away the evil eye.  You will find red ribbons in carriages and cribs, and sometimes sewn on babies underclothing.

In Israel, it's still unheard of to hold a baby shower before the baby is born.
Another way to keep the evil eye at bay is to refrain from purchasing  baby clothes and other paraphernalia until after the baby is born.

"Kayn eyn-ore zol nit zayn!" means "May there be no evil eye."

GARGLE SOLUTION ("haldz shvenkechts")
According o the Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies, gargling with salt water helps a sore, itchy throat and respiratory congestion.  It also loosens thick mucus, which can remove irritants like allergies, bacteria and fungi from "der haldz" or "der gorgl" (the throat).  

"Grin" (green) tea contains antioxidants.  It's a good choice to fight a variety of ailments.  My dear friend, Reuben Starishevsky, tells me that it also contains theophylline, which opens your airways to help you breathe easier if mucus has taken hold.  The Yiddish words "glezel tai" means "a glass of tea."

"BROKH-GARTL" (a rupture-belt or truss)
Michael Wex says that "the most beloved Yiddish word for Hernia is ‘kileh.'"  In older slang, the hernia was known as "zeks-in-EKHtsik" ("66") and appeared in many smart-aleck idioms and low level curses:  "IKH'L DIR GEBM ZEKS-UN- ZEKHTSIK (I'LL GIVE YOU 66").

Hernia was treated with a "brokh-gartl--a rupture-belt or truss. Years ago, the newspaper, the Forward, ran daily ads for these products and used to occupy a prominent place in its pages.

When you feng shui your home, it protects you from negative energy, dark entities and improves health and "frailechkeit" (happiness).  Feng shui has been used for over 5000 years in China.

Elizabeth Alpern says that "In the category of folk medicine falls the "guggle-muggle," a milk and alcohol based drink, or the "Jewish echinacea."
Barbra Streisand and the late Ed Koch adored this product. T-- his beverage is consumed by the larger Eastern European world and is distinctly associated with Yiddish culture.

What's in a "guggle-muggle"?
 Egg yolk, sugar, milk and alcohol.  It's effective for "der haldzveytik" (sore throat) and "der hust" (the cough) that accompany a cold.

Marjorie Wolfe remembers her mother sewing a button ("k'neppel"/"k'nop") back on a blouse while she was wearing it.  Mom would make her chew on a piece of thread while she sewed.  The idea behind this sewing action was not to tempt the evil eye.  If you are moving your mouth and chewing on something while someone mends your blouse--or shirt--it is a sure indication that you're still alive and not ready for a shroud yet!

And, finally, some advice:  DO NOT leave a "bukh" (book) open on the table.
This superstition probably started with prayer books or talmudic tracts.  If such books were left open on a table, clever devils or evil spirits who happened by would have a chance to "read" the holy books, take the knowledge, and use it to make "tsore" (trouble).

MARJORIE WOLFE'S favorite expression:  "Abi gezunt--dos leben ken men sikh aleyn nemen."  (Be sure to stay healthy--you can kill yourself later.)  Her favorite comedian:  Yakov Smirnoff.  Yakov writes:  "Once you find a doctor you can go in for a checkup.  Now, be prepared to be asked a lot of questions by the nurse before you ever see the doctor.  The first thing she said to me was that she needed my history.  I told her that first there was Khrushchev, then Brezhnev, and now Gorbachev."

She said, "No, I mean, what has made you sick?"

I said, "Khrushchev,  then Brezhnev, and now Gorbachev."
    Source:  "America on Six Rubles A Day" by Yakov Smirnoff


Search for Stories Beginning with the Letter
N O P Q R S T U V W   Y Z
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

Yiddish Stuff
Jewish Humor
Schmooze News
More Majorie Wolfe
Jewish Stories
All Things Jewish
Jewish Communities of the World
Site Designed and Maintained by
Haruth Communications