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June 10, 2008

The Word? Heimische

Roy Meachum

Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson

Bryan Fogle and Sam Wolfson

Before I spell out my personal thoughts. There's a serious problem at the Bethesda Theatre these nights and matinees. The audience laughs so hard, so frequently and so loud. I had trouble hearing Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson. Fortunately, not all the time.


(See footnotes for translations of bold-faced words.)


These talented starke created and star in a show that might be sub-titled: The glory of being Jewish. Name any exaggerated trait that goyim put into their images of Yids and the young men have it pinned precisely, prompting rolling laughter.


All during Friday evening, I felt transformed to the life when I was at Grossinger's Resort and Hotel, the now vanished queen of the Borscht Belt. Saturday night the really big stars traveled up from the City as did virtually everyone else in the hotel.


First maybe I should explain the Borscht Belt, named for a Russian beet soup. The capital was Liberty and in the main it was located in Sullivan County, a very Irish name for what started as a summer refuge for chiefly – but no means all – Jewish families that had escaped the terrible Black Hundreds and the devastating pogroms of Tsarist Russia.


Principally ladies, like Jennie Grossinger, began in rented farmhouses; by the time I visited she reigned over a virtual 27-building village, complete with its own post office. Her show stage was replicated in similar Catskills establishments.


Thanks to the advice and very hard work of a gentleman named Milton Blackstone, who started with the Grossingers while still in the University of Pennsylvania, Jennie's stage was graced with more than several big names. It was there that Eddie Cantor "discovered" singer Eddie Fisher who went on to become famous. That was before he married Elizabeth Taylor. You probably know the story.


During most of my visits to Sullivan County, Eddie and I were doing ABC, CBS and Mutual network programs for the Military Personnel Procurement Services Division, the recruiting agency for both the Army and the Air Force. The Korean War was on: PFC Fisher had been drafted. Thanks to Mr. Blackstone's contacts, the singer wound up with the United States Army Band, where I was the announcer and a staff sergeant.


Although I grew up in what my late friend Aaron Mintz termed New Orleans' "ghetto," I had learned little about my non-Christian neighbors. I had a fourth grade crush on red-headed Bertha Langer; her family escaped a Russian pogrom. We smiled and rarely talked as nine-year-olds did. The biggest boy in the neighborhood trudged behind his father Friday nights toward synagogue; three were within walking distance. Both wore skull caps that I later learned were called yarmulke.


My lacks were more than made up at Grossinger's where I ate my first bagel and lox. Escaped from the Nazis, a Lithuanian rabbi answered my puzzled questions. I was told about meat plates and dairy plates. I ate at the staff table with Lou Goldstein who invented Simon Says, the popular Jewish version of Riley Says.


Around a table in the hotel's grand ballroom I was taught Yiddish by New York Post columnist Louis Sobol and Charlie Berns. Together with Mac Kreindler, Charlie had founded Manhattan's most famous restaurant at the time: 21. Since I already spoke German, more or less, I learned from the pair assorted Yiddish words and how to say the first name of Israel's president, Chaim Weismann; it wasn't easy.


As it turned out, all this was preparation for Bethesda Theatre's "World of Jewtopia," and that means the humor of Sam Wolfson and Bryan Fogel and Friday's thunderous laughter. The boys will pack their props on a Lower East Side pushcart and go on to the next stop and other eager audiences. The departure happens June 22, a week from Sunday.


If you don't go I will rip my clothes and rub ashes into my bald head and chant Oy vey! But that's for you. Missing this Kirschtorte of a show will diminish your life for the rest of your life.


So, nu?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



heimische: literaly, home-like. In usuage it carries the connotation of anything familiar and comforting


starke: young men


goyim: non-Jews


Yids: Jews


Black Hundreds: Russian semi-official troops formed to scatter, harrass and kill Jews in the last days of the Romanoff monarchy.


Pogrom: An organized attempt to eliminate all Jewish men, women and children. The famous Yiddish author, Shalom Aleichum, was huddled on an Odessa second floor when a pogrom slaughtered every person on the first floor.


Oy vey: The best-known Yiddish phrase to Americans: Oh, woe!


Kirshtort: Cherry cake


Nu: Taken directly from Russian: "well."


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