When I heard that my namesake, Rabbi Ilene Schneider, was speaking at the JCC, I knew I would go to the event, and I knew I would strike up a friendship with her. What I learned, to my delight, was that she is a fellow redhead and a fellow only child who was being educated in Philadelphia at the same time as I was, who juggles as many balls in the air as I do, and who has the same enjoyment of cleaning as I do — not. On July 14 I joined a roomful of “Books and Bagels” enthusiasts to learn and laugh about my namesake’s book, Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek: The Curses, Slang, and Street Lingo You Need to Know When You Speak Yiddish.
Rabbi Schneider holds an Ed.D. from Temple University. Ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1976, she was one of the first six women rabbis in the U.S. She is the former director of the Atlantic County Bureau of Jewish Education and the former director of the M.A.Ed. program of Gratz College. She has been a columnist for the Burlington County Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is the coordinator of the Jewish Hospice Program for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and their two sons. An avid birder, she is active with the New Jersey Audubon Society Rancocas Nature Center. Her first novel, a cozy mystery titled Chanukah Guilt , was published April 2007 by Swimming Kangaroo Books.
Prefacing her comments by saying that she is not a linguist and not a Yiddishist, Rabbi Schneider explained that a friend from the mystery novels organization to which she belongs recommended that she write Talk Dirty Yiddish. According to the publisher, Adams Medis Corporation, the book “gives readers the lowdown on how to really spit the Hebrew alphabet. With plenty of slang, curses, and idiomatic expressions, this book gives readers’ Yiddish vocabulary a real kick in the toches.”
Talk Dirty Yiddish contains 850 words and phrases, including slang, idioms, food, clothing, holidays, insults, and body parts. “Sixty of the words are considered impolite, while fifteen are truly obscene,” she quipped.
Rabbi Schneider emphasized that Yiddish is not Hebrew, not German written in Hebrew letters, not the lingua franca of the Jewish people, and not a dead language. In fact, Yiddish culture is very much alive in literature, plays, movies, and music, she said, citing the fact that the Klezmatics won a Grammy Award a few years ago. She said that Lenny Bruce is credited with bringing Yiddish slang into the mainstream to avoid censors. Mad Magazine also had “tons of Yiddish words,” she added.
“Yiddish sounds funny even when it doesn’t mean anything, and many body parts are used in the hexes,” Rabbi Schneider said. “A New York accent is not the same as a Yiddish accent, and not all words that sound Yiddish are.”
Of her other book, Chanukah Guilt, Rabbi Cohen said that “it doesn’t have a lot of blood and guts. It’s a traditional mystery with an innocent person getting involved in a dangerous situation. The sequels will be called Unleavened Dead and Yom Killers. Can you see a pattern here?”
Visit Rabbi Ilene Schneider’s website at http://rabbiavivacohenmysteries.com.