Yiddish Word(s) Of The Week: Bei mir bistu shein


In Godfather II, Michael Corleone says of a fellow mobster – “Hyman Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years.” The same thing could be said about Yiddish, the language that refuses to die, even though it has been described as exactly that, a dead language.

Unlike Latin, which I arguably don’t know, but am going to say this anyway, Yiddish has style.

To me, the style comes not just from the incredibly humorous sounding words, but from the literal way our great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents, and grandparents sounded when they said the words. I’m referring to their voices and the style of speaking that they brought with them from the Old World.  They spoke Yiddish, and then English, with a special tone, that most of us can “do” if we really try. About a decade after they landed, linguists began paying attention. “People start noticing, huh, they speak English kinda funny,” says Rachel Steindel Burdin, a linguist at the University of New Hampshire who studies Jewish English.

So, really that is why you should love Yiddish. It’s just so simply cool.

Each week, Rabbi Ben Newman provides us with our Yiddish Word Of The Week. Newman is the founder and spiritual leader of Shtiebel a new paradigm Jewish community in the Rivertowns of Westchester, NY. He is also the author of several children’s books. Learn more here.

Bei Mir bistu shein

Bei Mir Bistu Shein” בײַ מיר ביסטו שיין = “To Me You’re Beautiful”
A popular Yiddish song composed by Jacob Jacobs (lyricist) and Sholom Secunda (composer) for a 1932 Yiddish comedy musical, I Would If I Could (in Yiddish, Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht, “You could live, but they won’t let you”), which closed after one season. The score for the song transcribed the Yiddish title as “Bay mir bistu sheyn”.The original Yiddish version of the song (in C minor) is a dialogue between two lovers who share lines of the song.