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WOLFE'S WORDSNovember 14, 2007
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My Beard Isn't Longer, My Face is Shrinking*
by: Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
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*The title comes from a chapter in Zalman Velvel's "vunderlekh" book, "The King of Shabbos - and Other Stories of Return" (Square One Publishers). The chapter is titled, "The Care and Feeding of a Beard."

The Yiddish word for beard is "bord." In the course of history, men with facial "hor" have been ascribed various attributes such as wisdom ("khokhme"), sexual virility, or high status ("matsev"); and conversely, filthiness, crudeness, or eccentric disposition.

Who can forget the most heart-wrenching scene in "Fiddler on the Roof," when one of Tevye's daughters decides to leave her family to marry a rebel who is imprisoned in Siberia. When the couple approaches her "tate," about their plans, he responds by falling again into his typically Jewish pattern, the question:

So what do you want from me?
Go on, be wed.
And TEAR OUT MY BEARD and uncover my head.
They're not even asking permission from the papa.

And Martin Marcus ("The Power of Yiddish Thinking") c 1971 - offered a Test Your YQ--Yiddish Quotient :

Q. 5. Your teenage son wears flowers in his beard and spends his time at love-ins. Do you:
A) send him to a psychiatrist?
B) water his beard?
C) offer to set him up in the florist business?

C) is the correct answer

In Chapter 1 of "Unchosen - The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels" by Hella Winston, we are introduced to Yossi. He had made the decision to shave off his beard and get rid of his peyos for good, and if this man ["sherer"/barber] wasn't going to help him do it, he would find someone else who would.

Still somewhat bemused, the barber prepared to oblige, removing his scissors and razor from the container of disinfectant. Within minutes, the beard was gone, the side curls reduced to so many dark semicircles on the barbershop floor...Yossi stared at himself in the mirror and couldn't stop staring--in the glass panes of store windows, in the side-view mirrors of parked cars and vans, in the plastic walls of the bus shelters that lined his path to the subway stop. He was in seventh heaven. It was the greatest feeling in the world.

Getting back to Zalman Velvel's chapter on the Care and Feeding of a Beard." He writes about the food problems related to having a "bord."

I had hair around my lips--long protruding hair. I ate with these same lips. When I ate, sometimes the food was bigger than my mouth ("moyl"), things like a hamburger, pastrami on rye, or pizza, to name a few.
Result: food got all over my beard.

Zalman finds a positive side to having a "bord": "For those who like to snack between meals, a beard is a handy storage medium."

"Der zilzl"--the humiliation Velvel describes a scene which takes place in a shopping mall during the third week of "detsember":

I was sitting on a bench, minding my own business, waiting for my wife to finish shopping at J. C. Penney's. A cute little boy of about five, holding a sticky candy, climbed into my lap.

"I want a 'lectric jeep and Roller blades," he said.

His mother ran up, red-faced, and pulled him away "No, Kevin, that's not Santa Claus."

(He didn't think this incident was the least bit "komish"--funny.) He says, "Lo tashchit et-pe'at zekanecha," which means, "Thou shalt not cut the corners of thy beard."

And, finally, my favorite story is about a woman who came out of her house and saw three "alt" men WITH LONG WHITE BEARDS sitting in her front yard. She did not recognize them. She said, "I don't think I know you, but you must be "hungerik." Please come in and have something to eat."

"Is the man of the house home?" they asked.

"No," she replied. "He's out."

"Then we cannot come in," they replied.

In "der ovnt" (the evening) when her husband came home, she told him what had happened.

"Go tell them I am home and invite the men in!"

The woman went out and invited the men in.

"We do not go into a House together," they replied.

"Why is that?" she asked.

One of the men explained: "His name is Wealth," he said pointing to one of his friends, and said pointing to another one, "He is Success, and I am Love." Then he added, "Now go in and discuss with your husband which one of us you want in your home."

The woman told her husband what was said and he was overjoyed. "How nice!" he said. "Since that is the case, let us invite Wealth. Let him come in and fill our home with wealth!"

His wife disagreed. "My dear, why don't we invite Success?"

Their "shnur" (daughter-in-law) was listening and jumped in with her own suggestion: "Would it not be better to invite Love? Our home will then be filled with love!"

"Let us heed our daughter-in-law's advice," said the husband to his wife.

"Go out and invite Love to be our guest."

The woman went out and asked the 3 old men, "Which one of you is Love? Please come in and be our guest."

Love got up and started walking toward the "hoyz." The other 2 also got up and followed him. Surprised, the lady asked Wealth and Success: "I only invited Love. Why are you coming in?"

The "alt" men replied together: "If you had invited Wealth or Success, the other two of us would've stayed out, but since you invited Love, wherever He goes, we go with him. Wherever there is Love, there is also Wealth and Success!!!"


Marjorie grew up hearing the following expression: "Ven di bobbeh volt gehat a bord, volt zi geven a zaideh." (If your grandmother had a beard, she'd be your grandfather.)


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