Knowing greet people in their language is always helpful, and in Yiddish, especially so. There are many ways to greet people in Yiddish, and each greeting and question has its own special response. In this guide, you’ll learn how to reach out to others, know just what to say, and you’ll become familiar with the words that will make you a good conversationalist.
Greetings in Yiddish are more than simple hellos. They represent a ritual that takes into account the person and the time, offers a prayer, and calls for a special response. Note the different possibilities for each of these greetings:
A bore, it has been said, is someone whose only interest in any meeting is “me.” A good conversationalist is interested in the other person. The following table lists some of the most basic opening questions on meeting a friend or upon greeting a stranger.
|How are you? (familiar)||Vos makhstu?|
|How are you? (formal)||Vos makht ir?|
|What’s new?||Vos hert zikh?|
|So what’s new?||Vos hert zikh epes?|
|What’s the good news?||Vos hert zikh epes guts?|
|How are you doing?||Vos makht a Yid? (Literally, “How is a Jew?”)|
|What’s your name? (familiar)||Vi heistu?|
|What’s your name? (formal)||Vi heist ir?|
|Where do you come from? (familiar)||Fun vanet kumstu?|
|Where do you come from? (formal)||Fun vanet kumt ir?|
|Where do you come from, neighbor? (familiar)||Fun vanet bistu a landsman?|
|Where do you come from, neighbor? (formal)||Fun vanet zeit ir a landsman?|
|From where does a Jew come?||Fun vanet kumt a Yid? (if the person you’re speaking to is Jewish)|
There’s a special phrase for proper etiquette in Yiddish. It’s called derekh eretz. A famous proverb has it that derekh erets geit afilu far Tora: Etiquette (or proper behavior) precedes even the laws of the Torah. The following table lists some polite phrases that you should commit to memory.
|Tzi ken ikh eikh forshtelen ----?||May I introduce -----?|
|Es frayt mikh eikh tsu kenen.||I am happy to make your acquaintance.|
|Vos makht ayer mishpokhe?||How’s your family?|
|Zetst zikh avek zayt azoy gut.||Sit down, please.|
|Ikh hob zeyr gut farbrakht.||I enjoyed myself very much.|
|Ikh hof az mir velen zikh bald vider zen.||I hope to see you again soon.|
|Git mir ayer adres.||Give me your address.|
|Git mir ayer telefon numer.||Give me your telephone number.|
|A grus ayer mishpokhe.||My regards to your family.|
|Mazel tov tzum geboyrentog.||Happy birthday.|
There are three ways to ask a simple question in Yiddish. The easiest way is just to change your intonation. Du bist Goldberg (You are Goldberg) can go from statement to question just from the tone of your voice. Du bist Goldberg?—I can’t believe it!
Alternatively, you can also reverse the word order: Bist du Goldberg? The implication is that the questioner is somewhat more incredulous that you, of all people, are really Goldberg.
Finally, you can preface the question with the word tzi: Tzi bist du Goldberg? The word tzi has no English translation. It’s often added to indicate that a question is on the way, especially a question that bears on a very important issue. In this case, you’re saying that Goldberg has been missing for years. Is it indeed possible that this person is the one you’ve been looking for? The phrase “Iz er a gut kind?” (Is he a good child?) is a simple question that can be asked of his teacher. By contrast, “Tzi iz er a guter man?” is a question properly put to a matchmaker who suggests that this person is worthy of your daughter.
Now that you know how to greet a Yiddish-speaking person you’ll never be at a loss for something to say. Mazel tov!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish by Rabbi Benjamin Blech