The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #33785   Message #452673
Posted By: Shula
01-May-01 - 03:05 AM
Thread Name: Melting pot muddles.
Subject: Melting pot muddles.
Dear Folks,

As fate would have it, I wandered by my favourite old haunt, only to find a ripening fuss developing on the subject of Jewish humour. Being, as 't were, an "interested party," I may have a few thoughts to share on the matter later on. Meantime, in the interests of "Shalom bayis" (Peace in the home), I'd just as soon share a pertinent "snapshot" from our family album. (I was put in mind of this story by the joke in the "Non-Irritating..." thread about the Chinese waiter.)

As background, for those who don't remember me, my husband, Akiba, and I, are observant Jews. We are the parents of six grown children, five boys and one girl, three "his," one "mine," and two, by adoption, "ours." Our son, Joel, who is half native American (Blackfoot and Cherokee) came to us at age one, and, therefore, had little to do in the way of "cultural adjustment." (We have always encouraged his interest in his heritage, but that is a different matter.)

Our only daughter, however, came to us from Vietnam, at, give or take a year, 12 years old. She hadn't just gone from one playpen to another, she had immigrated to another planet. Learning English, for Laura, was complicated by simultaneous exposure to Hebrew and a little Yiddish. (I was put in mind of this story by the joke in the "Non-Irritating" thread about the Chinese waiter.)

Laura had been here about a year, as I recall, and she had earned a service badge in Girl Scouts, so we celebrated by taking her out to dinner at "Chapps," the only Kosher Chinese restaurant in Baltimore. We were waiting for a table, when she observed some other diners enjoying bowls of won-ton soup. She pointed to them surreptitiously, and whispered, "That for eat."

When we were seated and giving our orders, I asked the waitress to bring her won-ton soup. Laura frowned and shook her head vigorously and I tried to explain that that was what she had said she wanted. I pantomimed picking up a wonton with my chopsticks, and eating it, saying "Won-ton, yes?"

Absolutely *not*! She was adamant, so I took another tack. We eat a lot of Italian dishes at our house; I thought she might remember the word "ravioli," so I tried that: "Do you want ravioli?" I asked.

Again, frowns and violent head-shaking. She was becoming more and more agitated as I tried my best to help her understand that we were really going to get her what she wanted.

Watching us at the next table were an elderly couple. The wife, a lady bent to about 4'10" by osteoporosis, got up and tottered over to us, smiling. She leaned close to my nearly tearful daughter and said, "Nu, Zeiskeit, du vantz *kreplach*?" ("So, Sweetheart, you want kreplach?)Laura's expression did a full one-eighty and she bobbed her head emphatically, grinning from ear to ear.

Despite having encountered the dish at home only once or twice, it seems our Vietnamese-born, Italian-food-loving, Chinese-restaurant-going, all-American Girl Scout of a daughter, had spent enough Shabbos sleepovers with her Jewish girlfriends, that she had acquired a taste for the Jewish version of the humble little meat pastry one cooks in soup: kreplach! She just couldn't quite remember the word, until she heard it again.

She did, however, remember how to respond after eating one's first bite of this delicacy. When her soup came, she lifted an enormous wonton with her chopsticks and popped the entire thing into her tiny mouth. Cheeks bulging, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath of satisfaction. When she could speak, but before all the Chinese-style "kreplach" was down her throat, with a drop of soup rolling down her chin, she lifted both tiny hands, palms up to heaven and proclaimed, "Oy! A mechiah!" (A "mechiah," for the Jewishly unenlightened, is a supreme, visceral pleasure.)

By now, the entire restaurant was watching and her unintentional performance brought down the house. The elderly lady gave me an arch look and said -- (I think I have this right, my own Yiddish is merely rudimentary) -- "Ein gutten Yidisshe maidele essen *KREPLACH*!" (A nice Jewish girl eats *KREPLACH*!) How she looked past the beautiful Asian features to divine an exposure to Yiddish, I will never know.

Our daughter, now 22, give or take a year, now knows as much Yiddish -- and more Hebrew, -- than I do, and still loves little meat pastries, in any language.