the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

In Yiddish, a "gonif" is a thief, a crook, an unworthy one who steals outright or overcharges for merchandise.  Other spellings include "goniff," "ganev," and "ganef."

Mark Russell, who draws merriment from the pomposity of public life, says that whenever he is down in the dumps, "he opens the newspaper and immediately cheers up."

Unfortunately, reading "di tsaytung" (the newspaper) reminds me of the Yiddish word "gonif."

Ron Arons, author of "The Jews of Sing Sing," looked at the story of a "gonif," the Yiddish word for a "shady character" or "lawbreaker."  Arons says that, at a peak in the 1920s, about 1,200 Jews were locked up on the stony bluffs overlooking the Hudson River."  Arons reports, "Criminal behavior among Jews has been far more rampant than  what our parents or the Jewish community are willing to admit." (Note:  Arons' great-grandfather, Isaac Spier, spent a four-year prison sentence for marrying two women at the same time.)

His 350-page book provides biographies of more than a dozen famous gangsters and lesser-known criminals

Just this week, Bernie Madoff, the 70-year-old one-tme Nasdaq Chairman and founder of Madoff Securities, was arrested after the feds said he ran a Ponzi scheme in which he possibly mishandled $50 billion (with a "b") from investors.

Laurence Leamer (The Huffington Post) wrote, "Those with the biggest financial gains generally had their money managed by Madoff.  It was an honor having him handle your fortune.  He didn't take just anybody.  He turned down all kinds of people, and that made you want to give the man even more of your money.  When he took your fortune, he told you that he would tell you nothing about how he achieved his returns.  He was a god.  He had the Midas touch."

Who's going to lose?  Philadelphia Eagles owner, Norman Braman, New York Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, J. Ezra Merkin, GMAS Financial Services Chairman, not to mention some of Palm Beach's weathiest people.

The Yiddish word meaning "to brag" is "barimen zikh."  Since 1960, Madoff Securities won wealthy clients by delivering steady profits through markets both bull and bear.  In January, 2008, Madoff Securities boasted of an "umblemished record of value, fair-dealing and high ethical standards."

Yes, Bernie was a "barimer"--a braggart.

When employees went to his E. 64th Street "dire" (apartment), he revealed his business was a fraud ("shvindl") and that he was "finished," that he owned "absolutely nothing."  His sons, Andrew and Mark, called the SEC, which then told the FBI.

Yes, Madoff admitted he'd "paid investors with money that wasn't there," and was "broke" and knew "it couldn't go on."

The newspapers also reported that John Rowland, former Connecticut Governor, served 10 months in prison. He was convicted of corruption charges, and calls his prison term a "goverment sponsored sabbatical."

Richard E. Beard, the executive director of the Lincoln Library and Museum was arrested for shoplifting a DVD box set of the "televisye" show, "House," from a Target store.  In 2007, he also stole "kravats" (neckties) from Macy's, and Blagojevich fired him.

And, finally, the newspapers report "Corruption in the Land of Lincoln." Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been accused of trying to put a U. S. Senate seat up to the highest bidder.  The surprise: Blagojevich had the "chutzpa" to try to sell a Senate seat when he was ALREADY under federal investigation ("oysforshung"). He had a big mouth and couldn't stop yapping about it on the phone.  Didn't he know his phones were tapped?

A professor of political science at the Univ. of Illinois in Springfield, stated that three of the state's last seven elected governors have gone to prison ("turme").

There's a Yiddish expression which seems appropriate for Blagojevich, Rowland, Beard, and Bernie Madoff: "Di greste narishkayt fun a nar iz az er meynt az er iz klug."  (The greatest folly of the fool is when he thinks he is smart.)


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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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