“Eli’s got me on shpilkes.”
This proclamation is met with silence and a grand sense of failure on my part.
I’ve come to the conclusion recently that my attempts to bring Yiddish into WASP culture may have fallen short, and this Super Bowl party is no exception. I lie in bed each night and wonder where I went wrong. Over the course of many months, the following list of possible missteps was the best I could compile:
1) If you only use “Shpilkes,” “Kishke,” and “Hamentashen,” that doesn’t qualify as bringing a language back. I don’t even say “oy.” Even my shiksa ex-girlfriend said “oy” more than I do.
2) There’s a good one. “Shiksa.”
3) “Hamentashen” can’t be used in normal speech, and even if you’re talking about the foodstuff, it’s only applicable once a year.
4) If your last name is Toufexis and you say you’re going to your grandparents’ Passover Seder, people will generally assume you’re making an offhand, anti-Semitic remark.
5) WASPs don’t understand your rants about how Jewish your Jewish grandparents are, and probably don’t find it amusing.
6) It’s possible that no one—not even your kinsfolk—finds your myriad rants about Jewish people amusing.
7) You may not be amusing.
8) If you went to a Christian private school for 12 years, people will assume you’re anti-Semitic, even when reciting the Hannukah prayer.
9) WASPs drink milk with dinner. Even salty dinner.
10) Jewish people won’t accept you if they find out you went to Christian school for 12 years, your father is Greek and runs a Bible study, and your mother, of Jewish heritage, is a born-again Christian.
11) You have no one. Also, everyone thinks you’re an anti-Semite.
Yes, life has been a veritable tasting menu of loud, debating Greeks; loud, complaining Jews; and silent, silent white people. As I’m sure you’ve heard, I went to a private Christian school for the formative years of my life, the end result being that my closest friends in the entire world are all of Dutch origin.
My dinners growing up consisted of my father banging loudly on the table if he found something particularly amusing (followed by my mother telling him that he’s going to break the table and that’s money we just don’t have right now), and my brothers and I loudly trading jabs about each other’s intelligence levels (or lack thereof).
Dinners at my friends’ homes consisted of silence, and my tradition of eventually saying something idiotic that doesn’t impress my hosts, to the point where I stopped staying over for dinner anywhere for fear of being a moron. I realized, as I became a self-aware adult, that it wasn’t the dinners or the parents; I’m just a moron.
At this particular Super Bowl party, I’m amongst people who understand my dual nature. My friend’s parents host this party every year, and these particular parents may be even more off-kilter than my own, something I find refreshing. They can see right through my attempts to artificially inseminate three or four Yiddish terms into their lexicon, and yet they still accept me for it (probably like 30% acceptance, but it’s something). So why, knowing that this attempt is futile, did I say that Eli’s got me on shpilkes? Because he’s got me on shpilkes. I may enjoy Stella Artois, red wine (not Manischewitz) and milk, and I may enjoy playing croquet by the water on a fine summer afternoon, but Eli hasn’t got me on pins and needles; he’s got me on shpilkes.
Jesse Toufexis is a playwright, screenwriter, and author from Montreal, Quebec. He has a BA in Anthropology from Concordia University. His turn-ons include words and very little else.