Learn Yiddish with Amy Winehouse!

January 30, 2010

You can’t move in London for Jewish education these days.  On every corner in the Jewish neighbourhoods shops have been turned into learning centres.  Every shul runs evening study programmes and there’s even a Friday morning chevruta in the bakery.  Actually, that’s not true, it’s just the same man arguing with the proprietor about the price of challah week after week.

So, in the first of an occasional series (of one, probably) where I invite famous Jews to teach in my online school,  here’s Amy.  Learning is simple.  Just watch the two videos simultaneously until you are a fluent yiddish speaker (albeit with a limited vocabulary).

Instructions:  run the first video until about 25 seconds before starting the second one.  turn the sound off on the second video.

When you’ve mastered that, translate the following…

“Oy, if only my son should meet someone like Amy”.

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Me and my doctors

January 17, 2010

Like most middle-aged Jewish men I am forever worrying about illness and disease.  Unlike the others, however, I really am dying of this stuff.  Those lightweight kvetchers I have to listen to in shul with their aches and pains, oy gevulting every time they stand up or sit down, have no idea what it’s like to be under constant threat of falling off the twig the way I am.

Another difference is that I don’t like to talk about it.  My friend Norman, for example, is quite happy to stand in the queue at Waitrose sharing, with whoever happens to be next in line, the latest news of his unruly bowel.  I try to keep this stuff to myself, which is tricky living in north west London, because if I walk into the doctor’s surgery I’ve hardly had time to pick up an eight month old copy of Top Gear magazine before my phone rings and someone is enquiring after my health with not a little hint of schadenfreude in the voice. Apparently Sam saw me going in there two minutes ago.

By the time I’ve left the place 20 minutes later everyone I know is blocking out the rest of the week in their diaries so as not to miss the funeral.

I’m lucky.  I have the only non-Jewish doctor at our practice and can therefore rest assured that what goes on behind the doors of his room will stay there.

Thus was my expectation when I arrived last week to discuss my latest ailment – a worrying pain down below.  Now a man of my age knows not to take chances with that part of his anatomy, (not that I would take chances with so much as a sniffle), so I was round to the health centre before you could say “probe”.

Unfortunately, on this occasion my regular doctor was away at a conference and instead my file was passed on to Dr Marcus.  Now Dr Marcus I happen to know is a perfectly good GP.  However, I was not comfortable with her examining me because she’s the mother of one of my son’s best friends and I see her regularly in one setting or another, but rarely with my pants down. She understood my reluctance to let her perform the examination, and instead offered me Dr Wiseman.  “No, I don’t think so,” I countered,  “Dr Wiseman sits a couple of rows in front of me in shul.  I don’t need to be reminded of our encounter while I’m davening.”

Eventually I settled on a Dr Phillips with whom I was sure I had no connection whatsoever, and two days later returned to the surgery for what was now, I was convinced, a very urgent consultation.  You don’t need to know the details.  Let’s just say my medical fears were, on this occasion, slightly exaggerated.  Thankfully Dr Phillips was as gentle as he could be.  I doubt it was particularly pleasant for the fellow, although I suspect it was considerably less painful for him than it was for me.

As I dressed he casually asked how my daughter was.  I was confused.  Why, not being our regular doctor, should he be interested?

“Oh just because I recognised your surname.  My wife is one of her school teachers and often mentions her.”

I was totally deflated.

“Anyway, a dab of this ointment now and again should soothe things for you.”

“Forget the cream!”  I blasted, “I don’t need soothing, I need psychotherapy otherwise I’m going to die of embarrassment at parents evening next week!”


The shuls I wish I didn’t have to go to.

January 4, 2010

I don’t like visiting other shuls.  Once a person is used to a place, they can daven better.  I understand how things work at my synagogue.  That familiarity means I don’t spend my time looking blankly around, being distracted by unfamiliar movements, the pattern of the light, smells, sounds.  At my shul I know when things will happen and the tunes that they’ll happen to.  I  have my own spot that I like to sit in and it’s near to familiar faces.

Most of all, in my shul people are respectful.  You can hear the layening.  Mobile phones go off only occasionally.  There’s hardly any chatter.  These are the little details that mean so much when, as last shabbat, I was forced to attend another shul to witness some useless pre-pubescent kid recite maf and haf with about as much feeling as a patch of  lichen.  Yes, I was at a Barmitzvah.

It’s the mensch in me that drags me along to these things.  I figure that an invite to the simcha requires me to attend the service, just so I can lie about how marvelously the boy performed.  Of course the boy, the parents, the rabbi and the guests all know that that he was rubbish and the only reason he did it was for the loot.  Still, like all good Jews, we conveniently pretend otherwise, just as the Rabbi, in his sermon, pretends that the family are fine, upstanding members of the community, and great role models for their son.  I wonder if that role modeling includes the classy way in which his father had an affair and dumped the family a couple of years back?  Ah, but I can’t really blame the rabbi for that. After all, he’d never met the family until the rehearsal about three days previously and they probably didn’t get as far as those minor points.

Yet if that nonsense is not infuriating enough, this was without doubt the noisiest service I have ever attended. I should have taken to heart the warning about decorum in the shul  when I saw the posters that decorated every wall and pillar alternately reminding woman how to dress modestly for shul and  everyone to turn of their mobile phones, the idea that they shouldn’t be carrying a phone on Shabbat in the first place long since abandoned.

But I digress.  The noise was so overwhelming that I honestly couldn’t hear a thing from the bimah and I was only three rows back.  Nobody was following the layening, preferring instead to generate several hundred decibels of noise by chatting to their neighbour, and, in a few cases, someone several seats away.

It was only when the tuneless barmitzvah himself ascended that everyone quietened down.  After 10 seconds I was wishing they’d all start up their chatter again, so painful was his voice.  At least at my shul I have plenty of people around me to talk to under such circumstances.