Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are You Shayna Maydelach or Shayna Punim?

As I noted the other day on my Facebook page, we're having a heatwave in New York City.  It's the kind of weather that used to prompt my grandparents to set up a bridge table in the bedroom of their Sunnyside Queens apartment where, with the door closed, the window-unit air conditioner could actually do its job.

There they'd spend time reading, playing cards and just keeping cool.  Unwilling to"light the stove," as my grandmother always said, in such raging heat, she would use whatever ingredients she had on hand to prepare cool, no-cook meals.  Often that meant a concoction of cut up vegetables with cottage cheese and sour cream that she called chazerei.  Imagine my surprise when, many years later,  I learned that chazerei really means junk, garbage, pig's feed or anything of little value, and is derived from the Yiddish word for pig -- chazer.

I've blogged about my grandmother before, describing her in a previous post as "someone who saw Kaiser Wilhelm II ride into town on a white horse, remembered the sinking of the Titanic, watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and still described air conditioning on a hot day as a mechaiya."  When my friend Rebecca posted a comment in response to that blog post, I not only chuckled, but also learned that I'm not alone in occasionally misinterpreting the meaning of a Yiddish word:
"When I was in ulpan, our teacher asked if anyone knew the word for 'air-conditioning.'
She about fell out of her chair, laughing, when I proudly answered 'mechaiya!'"
Another friend, Merry, is guilty of the same offense.  As she wrote recently, "I grew up thinking my 'Jewish' name was Shayna Maydelach!"

Hey, wait a minute... Isn't every Jewish girl named Shayna Maydelach or Shayna Punim?!