He Didn’t Walk. He Didn’t Fly.

You like that title? Think maybe it sounds poetic? It’s not. It’s a Yiddish insult. I’ll get to its meaning in a little bit.

First, if you haven’t been here in afew days, look at the previous post as well.

Second, some background on Yiddish. The Yiddish language was basically a German dialect spoken throughout the Middle Ages on until the Holocaust, when its use was severly diminished. Few people still speak Yiddish in their daily lives.

Written with Hebrew letters, this language was the language of the Jews in Europe until the Holocaust and the creation of the modern state of Israel. It is the most colorful, shall we say, language ever in the history of languages. Reading the translated transcript of a conversation which was held in Yiddish between fluent Yiddish-speakers is like reading a string of idioms, insults, sayings, and metaphors. The unique thing here with the colorful articulations is that they are so often colored by the Jewish experience these people knew. If a man went home to his wife and found that she was furious with him for whatever reason, he might go out to a bar and say to everyone there, “I went home from work this evening and my wife had the destruction of the Temple in her eyes.” If you said this in any other language, the person you were speaking to (even another non-Yiddish-speaking Jew) would not have the slightest idea what you were saying. This was and is a language informed entirely by the Jewish life and stories and ethics known by its speakers in their own times.

I have taken to sitting a lunch with Reuven, one of the Jewish History teachers here. Reuven is an older fellow, more sharply intelligent and blunt than any other person I have ever know, and he lives here on the Kibbutz. He has been a Kibbutznik here for many many years. He used to work in the fields here even. He is an expert on Jewish history like no one else I know. We disagree, all in good fun, on almost eveything concerning the American Jewish experience.

Towards the beginning of lunch today, Reuven took issue with something another Jewish History teacher said. Reuven responded, (I am quite certain I am rendering this wrong so someboby correct me if they know better) “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” The conversation at the tabel paused as we all inquired as to what he had just said. “It,” he said, “is a Yiddish expression meaning, ‘That’s bullshit!'” We inquired as to its literal meaning. “It means,” he said, “He didn’t walk. He didn’t fly.” We inquired as to why this had come to mean “That’s bullshit!”

In Europe it became common for a time for the Christian leaders in a community to force all the Jews in the area to attend a lecture on the evils of Judaism and the correctness of Christianity. These lectures often ended with the story of Jesus’ life, which of course ends with his ascension to heaven. “And then,” the lecturer, probably a preist, would say, “he ascended to heaving, flying, carried by God!” And the Jewish parents in the audience would lean down to their children and say, “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” As if to say, “He didn’t walk up to heaven and he didn’t fly up either. That’s bullshit!”

This later came to be a general expression used when confronted with something one deemed to be bullshit.

That being said, regardless of your own feelings about such a statement, you can’t help but love a language that is so consistently inflamatorily blunt about everything!

More on Reuven some day. Perhaps tomorrow. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe next week. If you haven’t yet seen it, look at the previous post as well.

Email me at d.profound@gmail.com for regular notice of updates to this site.


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