the schmooze

(The mother-in-law)

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

Quickly, what's the scariest word(s) in the Yiddish language after the "Vays Hoyz" (White House)?

"milkhome" (war)
"ibervog" (overweight)
"bankes" (cupping glasses)
"kimperton" (woman in labor)
"shadkhn" (marriage broker)
"oremkayt" (poverty)
"tsuriktsien zikh" (to retire; to stop working)
"rak" (cancer)

None of the above! It's "di shviger"--the mother-in-law.

I''m "bazorgt" (worried)! My daughter-in- law, Teri, just sent me a copy of Ilene Silverman's book titled, "I Married My Mother-In-Law And Other Tales of In-Laws We Can't Live With--and Can't Live Without." 312 pages of essays about "di shviger." I hope she didn't pay full price!

I am no June Cleaver, Donna Reed, Mary Tyler Moore or Harriet Nelson. Nor do I resemble Marie Barone (Doris Roberts) in the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond." Oh, and we can't forget Sylvia Fine (Renee Taylor), Fran's obsessive, outrageous mother. She's a Jewish mama, all gilt and guilt, who dispenses lots of smothering mothering.

Mother-in-law problems are not new. In all of Jewish humor, the "shviger" is among the most frequent butt of jokes. The "yungermantshik" (male newlywed) often trembles in fear of these formidable figures. We are led to believe that a " gezunt" (healthy) loving relationship with one's "shviger" is abnormal.

Way back in 1964, a mother-in-law wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Forward. It is contained in the book, "A Bintel Brief," Edited by Isaac Metzger.

Dear Editor, I am writing to you here about a family matter because it is very important for me to hear your opinion.

My husband and I have been married over forty years and we always got along well...We raised three decent sons who are all professionals. They have been married a long time and we have a lot of pleasure from them and the grandchildren. Our son lives near us and, though I am not very close to my daughter-in-law, we see them often.

But recently, my daughter-in-law actually insulted me when I was in her house.

I came in when she and my son were talking about their son's Bar Mitzvah, which is to take place soon. They were planning when and where to have the dinner, and since my husband and I observe kashruth, I said the party should be held in a kosher place. My daughter- in-law turned up her nose and in an insulting tone told me they'd decide for themselves where and how to arrange the Bar Mitzvah. My son didn't say a word, and I left feeling very hurt.

A few weeks later our son telephoned my husband and let him know they decided on a strictly kosher place for the Bar Mitzvah party. But since my daughter-in-law insulted me, I have no great desire to go to the shul on Saturday to see my grandson called up to the Torah and hear him chant the prayers.

My husband keeps telling me to ignore my daughter-in-law's words and says we should both go to the dinner. Must I go to the party? Please answer soon.

With thanks, A Mother-in-Law

The editor advised, "...It is possible that she was not tactful in her answer to you, but that is not sufficient grounds for spoiling the party, which is yours, too. This means you should listen to your husband and absolutely go with him to your grandson's Bar Mitzvah."

Another "maven" wrote that some mother- in- laws are neither good nor bad, rather in-between. This may be attributed to several reasons:

  • Their "korset" (girdle) is too tight.
  • "They are locked in LaLa Land without a "shlisl" (key).
  • They've consumed too much "kave" (coffee) at Starbucks.
  • They're "Denialinated"--they have ordered a high-caloric, high-fat beverage such as Caramel Mocha WITH SKIM MILK to reduce "di shuld" (the guilt).
    Source: "The Starbucks Glossary" by Brian Sack.\


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is one "shviger" who follows the Yiddish proverb, "Vos veyniker me redt, iz alts beser." (The less you talk, the better everything is.)


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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