Yiddish, we say "ahf tsores," which means "in trouble." By the time you
read this column, you've already read the news that Eliot Spitzer was involved
in a high-priced prostitution ring, and has resigned as New York's governor. Was
Spitzer a "tipesh"--a moron? Is he lacking "saykhl" (common
sense)? Or were his actions just plain "chutzpah"? Whatever his problem,
the website "Gawker" was right when they proclaimed it a "Shanda fur die
Goyim." Think: "Es iz a shandeh far di kinder." (It's a shame for the
Shown below is a Yiddish A - Z word list about Mr. Spitzer:
Perhaps Eliot Spitzer should have followed the advice of 83-year-old actor, Paul
Newman, wife of Joanne Woodward: "Why go out for hamburger ("kotlet"),
when you have steak ("bifsteyk")) at home?" "Gut gezogt!" (Well
"arumforn" (to travel)
There's a statute that prohibits travel across state lines to engage in sex.
Once it was learned that Spitzer was involved in soliciting prostitutes, they
wanted to follow "di raye" (the evidence).
According to Evan Thomas (Newsweek, 3/24/08), "Spitzer had always loved risk
hurtling down black-diamond slopes (to his mother's distress) on ski vacations.
A few years ago, during a lunch with Time magazine staffers, Spitzer bragged
about his extensive knowledge of wiretaps. They were just like the one that
caught him arranging a date with Kristen "Az me redt a sakh, ken men zikh
aynredn a narishkayt." (If you talk a lot, you might talk foolishness.)
"baytn" (to change)
Evan Thomas writes, "The question is whether Spitzer can change...this would be
a good time to start thinking about how he could do something he really wants to
do that is less grand but honorable and serves the public."
The Yiddish word for cake is "lekekh." A "cake man" is a husband who
wants to have his wife and his mistress, too.
According to Pamela Druckerman, "D-Day" is the day you discover your spouse
("man"/"froy") has been cheating on you.
"endikn" (to end)
Neil Minow, corporate expert, said, "I'm a huge fan of Eliot Spitzer, and I'll
be very sorry if this is the end of his political career."
Fran Lebowitz said, "In every generation there is a rich Jewish boy in New York
that people say is going to the FIRST Jewish president. But this is never going
to happen because people don't like Jews. You must have noticed that by now. And
I will also tell you, as a Jew, I don't want there to be a Jewish president. We
have enough problems. Imagine if they could blame this [the Spitzer affair] on
Pamela Druckerman said, "America is also the only place I found that has a
one-strike rule on fidelity: if someone cheats, the marriage is kaput."
Fortune Magazine asked Bernard Spitzer's dad, if Eliot would like to be the
president of the United States. He answered, "It's his very nature" and admitted
to musing about spending the night in the Lincoln Bedroom ("shloftsimer").
Mary McNamara, (LA Times, 3/13/08) wrote, "They may be a journalist's FIVE
favorite words: Governor linked to prostitution ring. Now that's a TV crawl
promising a very good week for everyone (except, of course, for the governor's
family) the Politician, and the call girl. It's like a Broadway musical starring
Nathan Lane...everyone's talking about it...Really, it is like the scandal was
invented by Joy Behar and the gals at 'The View,' isn't it?)"
Spitzer told The Colbert Report that he wasn't very talented as an athlete. (He
did play soccer!) But, he was useful as an "enforcer." "You play hard, you play
rough, and hopefully you don't get caught" said Spitzer.
There's definitely an element of self-destruction in what Spitzer did. There's
complete 'the rules don't apply to me'; it's very arrogant.
"gezets" (law; governing code)
Spitzer signed a law that lengthened jail time for johns from 3 months to as
much as a year.
"grunteygns" (real estate)
Spitzer's father was a self-made real-estate mogul. "Er ken dikh tsen mol
koyfn un farkoyfn." (He's a very wealthy man. He can buy and sell you ten
According to Kate Stinchfeld, Spitzer's problems may start with brain chemistry.
Israeli researchers identified what they thought of as a risk gene, a behavioral
coding that changes the re-absorption of the neurotransmitter DOPAMINE, making
it easier for some people to respond to stress or anxiety. The higher your
threshold for these feelings, the higher your tolerance of risk. However, this
doesn't mean that Spitzer was a blameless victim of chemistry. Stinchfeld says,
"Sometimes hubris is just hubris."
Pamela Druckerman wrote,"Don't be surprised if the Spitzers stay together." (His
replacement, David A. Paterson, who had his own extramarital affairs, says that
his marriage was back on track.)
Spitzer was born in the Bronx, the youngest of three children of Anne (nee
Goldhaber), a former teacher, and Bernard Spitzer, a real estate mogul. His "zeyde-bobe"
were Jewish immigrants from Austria. He is a graduate of Horace Mann School.
After scoring 1590 on the SAT exam, he attended Princeton University and Harvard
Law School. He married Silda Wall, a non-Jew, on Oct. 17, 1987. Together they
have three daughters.
Spitzer's squareness can come off as shtick. Michael Wex defines "shmad-shtik"
as shtick so wild that you wouldn't have expected it of a Jew. Spitzer wears
only white button-down shirts, which he buys at Brooks Brothers. He bought a
blue one once: "It was unnerving. Never wore it."
Nancy Lee Andrews said, "If a person's going to be in the public eye, they
shouldn't set themselves up to 'be exposed.' Marriage is very important. Spitzer
shouldn't have done what he did. It's pretty much bad manners."
Joel Stein, columnist for the LA Times, interviewed a high-end escort in Las
Vegas about what men want for $1,000 an hour. What Mr. Spitzer was really
buying, she said, was status..."It's like a five-star hotel. If you call someone
from the Yellow Pages, it's very businesslike. It's not a 'girlfriend
Spitzer's brother, Daniel, is a neurosurgeon; his sister, Emily, is a successful
public-interest "advokat" (lawyer).
Ed Koch, a former NYC. mayor, said, "I think he [Spitzer] was totally
invulnerable and could do whatever he wanted and there would be no
"moykhl zayn" (to forgive)
Silda has been described as "fiercely loyal" to her husband. Jan Constantine, a
close friend, says that Silda is a very forgiving person and that they will
John Heilemann writes about the shock that "of all people, Spitzer--that storied
crusader against Wall Street corruption, that tireless scourge against all
manner of malfeasance, that embodiment of political rectitude--could possibly
have been engaged in transgressions just so tawdry and venal, so reckless and
just plain dumb."
"nit lib hobn" (to dislike)
John Heilemann (New York Magazine, 3/24/08) wrote, "...But Spitzer was even less
popular among Democrats in Albany than he was among his constituents. The party
disliked him personally, perhaps correctly, that it's long-term outlook was
better served by his removal."
Comedians say that we didn't know anything about Spitzer's woman. "She was given
the fake name Kristen, and a vague general description--a petite brunette who
was 5 foot 5. That's all we knew. Yet reporters were able to track down her in a
day and a half. Osama bin Laden, the most famous terrorist in the world, 6 foot
6, long beard, he wears the same robe and a turban every day, and we have no
idea where he is. It makes no sense."
Several years ago, tabloids proclaimed Spitzer the new "Eliot Ness." The
reference/name was a play on Spitzer's squeaky clean image--and his zeal in
ferreting out wrongdoing. The original Eliot Ness, was the Prohibition-era
lawman who led "The Untouchables," the agents credited with binging down Chicago
mobster and bootlegger Al Capone.
"Redt nit keyn narishkayt" (Don't talk nonsense.)
When Eliot Spitzer was growing up, each of the Spitzer children was required to
hold forth and debate on worthy topics at the dinner table. Social chitchat was
frowned upon. Eliot would read copies of foreign-policy magazines to bone up for
for someone who is worse off than oneself) Silda Wall Spitzer pushed her husband
not to resign but stood by him as he abdicated.
Maureen Dowd wrote, "If you're a frugal governor who doesn't even like paying
his political consultant bills, as opposed to an Arab sheik or a Vegas high
roller, do you really need to shell out $4,300, plus minibar expenses, to a
shell company for two hours with a shady lady? Aren't there cheaper hooker
hookups on Craigslist? It makes you wonder how sharp now-ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's
pencil was on the state's fiscal discipline."
Spitzer has made many enemies by bringing down entrenched CEOs and others. His
enemies include Joseph Bruno, Kenneth Langone, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, and
"Der oreman hot veynik faynt; der raykher hot veyniker fraynd."
(The poor man has few enemies; the rich man has fewer friends.)
Spitzer was known as Client No. 9.
Hendrik Hertzberg (The New Yorker, 3/24/08) wrote, "...There was no way that
Governor Spitzer's political career could survive the exposure of his secret
life. Hypocrisy is not the worst of sins, but there is hypocrisy, and there is
hypocrisy...He vigorously prosecuted prostitution rings of the type he
patronized. And he pushed a bill--a good bill on the whole--that shifted the
balance of penalties for prostitution toward the buyer, which is to say toward
"valgeren zich" (homeless wandering) Ronald Martin, a homeless man
sitting on "der tretar' (the sidewalk) on 42nd Street in Times Square,
was holding a piece of cardboard. The sign read:
I NEED ONLY $4,300 SO I CAN MEET A NICE GIRL LIKE OUR GOVERNOR SPITZER.
"Zei mir gezunt!"
Be well, Eliot.
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of a new book titled, "Yiddish for Dog &
Cat Lovers." To order, click
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