Mama Loshen by the Ocean


There’s something about Jews and the beach. We love the ocean and the salty sea air. Maybe because most of our ancestors spent summers in Odessa along the Black Sea. You won’t find us at a freshwater lake unless it’s in our lukewarm memory of Jewish summer camp and their cold murky lakes with the disgusting muddy bottoms, the scummy edges, and all those creepy nameless fish.

In July and August, all of Philadelphia migrates to the Jersey Shore, it seems. We’re lucky enough that the ocean is only an hour or two away.

So if you’re lucky enough to have a place at the shore – or have friends, distant relatives or acquaintances who do – and if you are hanging out at one of the Jersey Shore spots where the Tribe gathers, you might hear some Yiddish words floating on the cool ocean breeze. Admittedly, Yiddish words (mama loshen is the nickname for Yiddish) were more common a generation or two ago, so the Word Mavens would like to encourage their continued use. Read on:

Shlep: “to carry, lug.” Although we miss some of the fun things we used do with our kids when they were little, we don’t miss shlepping their stuff. We’re grateful that they’re big enough to carry their own chairs to the beach. Anyone with little kids know the joys of shlepping plastic buckets and shovels, boogie boards, chairs, umbrellas and coolers of “drinks for the kids” to the beach. And then you have to carry it home.

Mechayah: Literally, this means “resurrection.” It’s a favorite Bubby word to describe a feeling of pleasure, delight or relief, like cooling off on a hot day by taking a dip in the ocean – or prying off that tight wet, bathing suit – the one claiming to make you look 10 pounds slimmer – at the end of the day.

Nosherei: “food for snacking.” Related to the verb “nosh.” You could run back to the house for a tuna fish sandwich, but it’s more fun to walk up and down the Boardwalk noshing the “gourmet fare” – fudge, saltwater taffies, French fries, pizza and soft ice cream. All these foods qualify as nosherei. Note: If you take more than two of the free fudge samples, the teenage employee might glare at you, because now you’re a shnorrer, not a nosher.

Borscht: “cold beet soup.” An Eastern European soup traditionally made with beets and eaten cold. Some of us have memories of this soup making an appearance on the summer dinner table. And if cold pink soup wasn’t bad enough, there was a green version called shav with spinach, sorrel or leaks. Thank goodness for the invention of gazpacho.

Shpilkes: Literally “pins.” It’s the impatient, nervous fidgety energy often seen in little kids who have been cramped up in grandmom’s house without access to their familiar toys and TV. After all that togetherness, when the kids get the shpilkes, the parents give them $10 to play mini-golf or go to the arcade.

Chazerai: This is the stuff you win at the arcade, literally “anything of little value, cheap, worthless trinkets. Junk.” When your kids come home from the arcade and shows you the 2 plastic snakes, 8 jeweled rings, 3 mini-superballs, and the Chinese finger trap they won and selected so carefully as they cashed in their 172 tickets, you say, “Take all that chazerai off the table. Get it out of here.”

Fapitzed: “All dolled up, overdressed for the occasion.” Okay, so it’s not the season, or the decade, to wear your mink coat on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, but we still see women getting their stiletto heels caught between the boards. We’d group them with the fapitzed ladies who wear diamond tennis bracelets and gold bling to sit on the beach. We know they aren’t going in the ocean. We fall more into the ongepotchket (“thrown together, not matching”) category. We wear a big hat to protect our faces from sunburn, a comfortable T-shirt to cover up what the 10-pound slimming swimsuit doesn’t, and comfortable sandals for flip-flopping down the walkway.

Shluff: Literally, “sleep.” After a day of splashing in the ocean, riding the waves, chasing the ice cream man, burying siblings up to their necks in the sand, playing in the outdoor shower, running down the Boardwalk to get pizza for dinner, riding the Spin-A-Whirl, and begging for cotton candy, hopefully by 11 p.m. the kids will “go shluffy.”

P.S. Actually, these days, we “go shluffy” and the kids go out at 11.

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3 Responses to Mama Loshen by the Ocean

  1. Steph says:

    “Mechayeh” – memories of my grandmother in the ocean at Brighton Beach…pulling the top of her bathing suit away from her body and scooping handsful of water onto her grandmotherly bazooom. As for the borscht…nothing better in the summer with sour cream and cut up potato. Thanks for the memories.

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  2. Karen says:

    Wonderful! This is why “Down the Shore” was a Philadelphia icon — even though it’s in a completely different state. You make me miss those days.

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  3. Lisa Marks says:

    I never saw my grandmother fapitzed.I remember my bubba in a bathing suit, all full of cellulite in all of her extremities. I thought she was about 100 then, she was probably 50. We stayed in Atlantic City and the bath water in the tub was salt water. We would go to the boardwalk and my mother always was fapitzed, always wearing high heels and getting them stuck in the boardwalk.

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