the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

With the 2008 U. S. presidential election rapidly approaching, this word detective would like to discuss the English word, "obambulate" and the Yiddish word, "shpatzir."  This article will not be comprehended by anyone who confuses "nachos"--the corn snack--with "naches"-- proud pleasure, special joy.

With Obama and McCain in the race, the online OED suggests a possible near-match with Obama--obambulate.

As a verb, "obambulate" means to wander or walk about in an aimless fashion.  The motion of a male spouse in a "Zuntik" (Sunday) morning "Vo'Luvke" (flea market) or a female spouse in a "universalkrom" (department store).  "For heaven's sake, where's your 'tata' gone now?  He's gone obambulating again, just when it's time to go home."

Sometime the word "obambulate" refers to ghosts and spirits.  And the first print citation of the word was in 1614.

Dustin Johnson ("The Wacky World of Words") says that "this word sounds like something you might do to an egg before you cook it, or what someone might do if he or she is hurt badly; it means to wander about aimlessly.  While just wandering around without a cause is ok sometimes, but it shouldn't become a habit--that's weird."

And now let's look at a similar-meaning Yiddish word, "shpatzir."  It also means to wander around aimlessly.

As a child I heard that favorite goyishe holiday carol,  "shpatziring in our gotkes"  (walking in our winter underwear.)

Jon Moskowitz said that "shpotzir" means "a walk without a destination."  In other words:  a stroll, a constitutional, a post- prandial amble.  I  first heard the word used by a father of a close friend.  Every weekend, he hiked in the woods with a group of associates, then stopped at a roadside diner for roast beef sandwiches and coleslaw.  When some of Jon's friends started gathering for breakfast every Friday morning before work, they referred to the meal as 'The Shpotzir.'"

Mr. Moskowitz said, "In the Old Country Shpotzirs could be festive affairs, helping to celebrate religious holidays, or the birth of a family's first child.  They could also be quite spontaneous, involving whoever happens to be around that day.  Some of the best Shpozirs were solo affairs--a Yeshiva boy, say, walking through the woods ("der vald"), contemplating a passage from the Talmud. (Of course, should our young scholar run into any local Cossacks, the leisurely place of the Shpozir would immediately give way to that altogether more hectic event, the infamous Shtetle Sprint.)  Such were the dangers of rustication in the old country." (

And Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin wrote about a story which took place in the early 1970s. "A disco opened up in a window storefront building on 72nd Street and Broadway; despite the fact that it was called the Tel Aviv Disco and was owned by Israelis living in New York, it remained open every night of the year, even Kol Nidre night.  I must have placed at least two dozen calls to the owners to try to persuade them to close at least on the night of Yom Kippur, only to have finally received a message from their secretary informing me that the owners would not speak to rabbis!!

During that period, Rav Yitzhak David Grossman - a beloved and respected friend who is the Rav of Migdal HaEmek - spent Shabbat with us at Lincoln Square Synagogue.  He is a charismatic religious leader who is well-known for the many prisoners and other alienated Jews whom he has brought back to religious observance.  After a delightful Friday evening meal at my home, replete with inspiring Hassidic melodies and words of Torah, he suggested that we go for A 'SHPATZIR.'...  I tried to explain that the general atmosphere of the West Side streets of Manhattan were hardly conducive  to Sabbath sanctity - but to no avail.  His steps led us to the direction of 72nd Street and Broadway, right in front of the window revealing the frenzied disco dancers.  'Did you ever see a mosquito captured in a glass jar?' he asked me in Yiddish (our langusge of discourse). 'The mosquito is moving with all sorts of contortions, and appears to be dancing.  In reality, however, the mosquito is gasping for air.  That is the situation of those 'dancers' in the disco.  They are really grasping for air, struggling in their search for a real Shabbos.  Let's go in and show them Shabbos.'

Before I could say 'Jackie Robinson,' he was inside the disco - and as a good host, I felt constrained to follow him.  He sported a long beard and side-locks, and was wearing a shtreimel (fur hat) and Kapote (silk gaberdine), and I was dressed in my Sabbath Prince Albert, Kippa and ritual fringes out; as we entered the disco, the band of Israelis immediately stopped playing.  I immediately recognized three young men from the Synagogue - who seemed totally discombobulated; two ran out covering their faces, and the third tried to explain to me that he wasn't really there, that  his mother had had some kind of attack and he thought that her doctor might be at the disco...Rav Grossman began to sing Sabbath melodies.  Almost miraculously, the men danced on one side, the women on the other.  After about twenty minutes, he urges me to speak to them in English.  I told them of the magical beauty, the joy and the love of the Sabbath, and they listened with wrapt attention. Rav Grossman led them in one more song - and we left.

I cannot tell you that the miracle continued, it didn't take five minutes, and we could hear the resumption of the disco band music.  However, before the next Yom Kippur, the Tel Aviv Disco closed down; I don't know why, because the owners wouldn't speak to rabbis.  And for the next two years, at least a dozen young singles joined Lincoln Square Synagogue because they had been inspired by our Disco visit."

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe wishes that she had more time to "shpatzir." to "shpatzir."


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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

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