Tolken Teenage Rebellion

The Street Hustle

Mother wanted us to be raised in a bilingual home. Dad demanded we only speak English. He said Yiddish was the bastard language of the displaced European Jew. Aron wanted his sons to be Americans.

He screamed at us in Yiddish when we did something wrong or beat him at a card game. I was often embarrassed in one of the newest mega malls in the metro area of Detroit when the Old Man burst into a screaming tirade in Yiddish. I felt like everyone in the place was watching Aronchick lose it while I looked at the ceiling and bit my tongue. I had no way to learn Yiddish, short of getting one of those courses on tape. In middle school, the choices were French and Spanish. Of course if the Old Man heard me listening to that tape in my room he would berate me in Yiddish about being an American.

One night I purposely misplayed a hand in our nightly gin game to a rise out of him. He hadn’t won in a few weeks and was quite pleased with himself.

“See, I told you I was going to beat you tonight,” he gloated.

“You didn’t beat me, I let you win,” I replied smugly and told him what cards he had discarded and which cards I threw to let him win.

Aron yelled at me furiously in Yiddish for being disrespectful, at least that’s what I thought he was saying. Somehow, I had to learn Yiddish so I knew exactly what he was yelling at me. A few weeks later, at registration at Birmingham Groves High School for my freshman year classes, I saw the course listing I wanted: German. I registered immediately for German 101.

When I told him I had registered for German, Aron turned beat red and clenched both fists. He screamed about the Germans and the Holocaust. I thought he was going to have a stroke and drop dead right there. His blue eyes were so wide with anger, I was actually afraid of him.

I managed a meager “Yes” and decided the less said about it the better.

After my first semester, Aron stopped screaming at me in Yiddish and started using Russian. German is the basis for Yiddish and I was able to figure out what he was saying, even when he used colloquialisms.

The Birmingham (Mi.) School District was quite progressive in the mid 1980’s. My sophomore year, Groves offered Russian and Japanese classes as alternatives to French, Spanish and German. The Old Man switched to Russian and so did I.

One day over our gin game, I told him I was switching foreign languages. I think Aron was secretly happy I was picking up German. He was already trying to hold conversations with me in Yiddish. He wanted to know why I was switching.

“The teacher doesn’t like me using a Yiddish accent in class.”

“Listen, you tell your teacher I said it’s the accent we use at home,” he said grabbing my forearm and glaring at me. “If she doesn’t like it, she can deal with me.”

“She’d just screw with my grade point average, Dad. I’ll switch languages.”

Aron bobbed his head from side to side, as if debating the pros and cons of my choice to take a different foreign language.

“Ok,” he said, touching his Roman nose like he was giving the \u2018go’ signal to a shill. “What are you going to take,” he asked.

“Russian,” I said.

The Old Man was so furious he couldn’t speak. Dad threw the cards at me and left the table. Aron disliked the Europeans intently but he absolutely hated the Russians with a passion that bordered on obsession. The Old Man watched as his parents slowly starved to death because they were Jews on the run from the Nazi’s and could get no work. Whatever food my grandparents found went right to their four children. At the time, I thought switching languages was a witty bit of teenage rebellion. Technically, however, I was a sadistic little shit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments