Yiddish Dictionary

If you've ever attended one of Rachael's live shows, you know they're sprinkled liberally with "playful Yiddishkeit". But what does it all mean?

Following are Rachael's own creative definitions for some of her favorite Yiddish words and phrases. They are reflective of her Conservative Jewish upbringing by Ashkenazi (Eastern European) parents. These are by no means the definitive meanings; this Yiddish glossary may have more standard definitions. And please remember, phonetic spellings may vary!

kina hurra; kinehora noun — the evil eye, an evil curse; often preceded or followed by the act of spitting Example #1"Oy - how could you tell cousin Rhoda you were up for the role of Yenta in 'Fiddler', before you've even heard whether you got a call-back! Aren't you afraid you're gonna put the kina hurra on it?" Example #2: "Please! Can everyone sha about whether or not Joshua is going to propose this weekend at Rivka's birthday party? You're going to put the kina hurra on it!"

kvell verb — to be proud of, to have pride; often with regard to one's own children (but not always) Example: "Shoshanah's mother was absolutely kvelling when she sang her Haftorah portion at her Bat-Mitzvah, she had such a beautiful voice and so much confidence."

kvetch verb — to complain Example: "I can hear myself kvetching, and I just can't stop it; I know it drives my husband mishugge, but if he'd just stop throwing his dirty laundry on the floor, I wouldn't have to bend over, and he knows I have arthritis so it's not like what I'm asking is unreasonable!"

mazel tov noun — congratulations, best wishes; often with regard to good news such as a wedding, a job promotion, or an honor bestowed by one's peers. Example: "I'm so glad you picked up your cell - I wanted to wish you mazel tov on being named President of the Temple Sisterhood. What a wonderful example for your daughters!" Example #2: "Mazel tov - I heard you and Mort went to Israel to renew your vows! But  next time, tell me; I have a friend whose son's partner opened a fabulous new hotel in Tel Aviv and you could've gotten a discount."

mensch noun — a very generous, good, down-to-earth person Example: "Oh, that Marla Greenblatt is such a mensch! She volunteers at the food bank, always offers to bring snacks to the PTA meetings, and on top of everything, she is going to leave her entire will to the Federation For The Blind."

mishugas noun — craziness, nonsense Example: "If I hear any more mishugas about how you're the only one in your entire class without an iPod, you'll be calling Suzy right back to tell her you won't be going to her slumber party tomorrow!"

mishugenah noun — a crazy person, a person with no common sense Example: "All those people who think it's worth the risk, driving and talking on the cell phone – they're all mishugenahs! Didn't they see that episode of 'Oprah'?"

mishugge adjective — crazy, senseless; the behavior of someone who is clearly a mishugenah Example: "Sometimes it seems like my children are just out to spite me; my 13-year-old has gone completely mishugge, she asks me to raise her allowance because she got straight A's, then she goes and gets a tattoo on her ankle and somehow expects me not to have a heart attack?"

oy gevalt! phrase — 'oh G-d', 'G-d no'; an exclamation of worry, confusion or exasperation Example: "Oy gevalt! I I left my keys in the taxi-cab, and I don't even have any cash to call a locksmith!"

oy vey! phrase — oh, 'oh no'; an exclamation of worry, confusion or exasperation Example: "Oy vey – if that skirt were any shorter our daughter might as well be announcing that she's a prostitute, are we supposed to just let her walk out of this house looking like that?"

shana punim noun — a pretty face; a lovely girl Example 1: "Oh – what a shana punim you are! You know, I have a gorgeous son who goes to Columbia who is single and loves reading Tolstoy too – would you like me to set you up?" Example 2: "Aaach – that Shoshana Yeta is one shana punim; but I tell you – before she cut off that hippie hair and stopped dressing like a shlepper you just couldn't see it. Now, she's like a Jewish Nora Jones!"

schlock noun — crap, something of poor quality; something tacky (can also be used as an adjective) Example: "That painting is such total schlock... I can't believe your brother was actually going to buy it before I set him straight; he used to have such good taste before he married that G-d awful woman I just don't know what he sees in her."

tsauris noun — trouble, woe Example: "Oy vey, that Livvy Friedman has such tsauris, first her daughter got arrested for shoplifting, then her son got kicked out of Hebrew school for smoking pot in the sanctuary!"

tuchas noun — rear end, backside Example: "I was never a very good figure skater; even though I took ten years of ballet, I get out there on that ice and I immediately fall on my tuchas."