Shiksa -> Yenta

Gut yontif! Or, good holiday to you. Last night and tonight are traditionally the days where Jews get together for a seder and tell the story of Passover. And I’ll be doing that tonight. But today I’m going to tell you a story about Yiddish, and a Jewish person who inspired me as I was converting and who still inspires me now as I think about her: my ex’s grandmother.

I really love languages. I mean I double majored in English and French for god’s sake. And when I first started down the long hallway to becoming Jewish I was fascinated by Yiddish and Hebrew. And, Grandmom grew up speaking Yiddish, and I thought this was extremely interesting. My own grandfather grew up speaking German, and Yiddish is a sort of Hebrew/German, and I was ecstatic to learn Yiddish from her and hear any story about her childhood she wanted to share.

One story I remember was about the time she met her husband’s family for the first time. His family chided their son for bringing home a “shiksa.” A shiksa is the Yiddish word for a non-Jewish girl, and because she was blond with blue eyes they thought she wasn’t Jewish (and especially back then this was an enormous deal). I thought this was a great story, seeing as I was then still a “shiksa” myself. Years ago I think it was an insult, but it isn’t really considered an insult anymore (at least with my generation), except that there’s a sort of obsession with the “Shiksa Goddess” – the forbidden non-Jewish girl that your mother doesn’t want you to date.

Here’s a little primer on some Yiddish words you may have heard but don’t know the meaning of: 40 Words You Should Know

Well now I’m no shiksa… maybe I’m a yenta? Or a yiddisher kop?

Anyway, the tables are turned tonight. I’m the Jew sharing traditions with someone new to it all: Sherpa’s going to his first seder tonight, and I hope he enjoys it!

40 Words You Should Know


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