the schmooze
*In Yiddish, "tsuris" means troubles, worries, problems and "hartsveytik"
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York
There's the story of "der fraytik nakht" (the Friday night) service.  The rabbi was giving his usual sermon, and at the end of his speech, he told the congregation, "Before we continue, I would like to inform you that our shul has decided to collect goods for the most needy people in our 'gegnt' (area).  It's for a good cause and we need your help.  Please bring us this Sunday anything you have lying around your 'heym' that you can spare or have no great need for.  For example, I'm sure that you can all think of something that you have excess of."

And then came a voice of an "alt" woman saying to her neighbor seated next to her, "Yes, TSURIS!"

A second story about "tsuris":

Nat Sheinman, the dress manufacturer, swears that this happened in a Chicago dress house.

Every Friday was payday.  Consequently, on that day there was more than $15,000 in the company safe.

During the lunch hour one Friday, the payroll clerk was alone in the office when two masked robbers entered.

"This is a stick-up," informed one of the pair, pointing a gun at the clerk.  "Make a move and I'll drill you  Just open the safe and you won't get hurt."

Fearing for his life, the clerk obeyed, and the bandits scooped up all the money and put it in their pockets.

As they made for the door, the clerk shouted, "Just a minute!" 

"Whadaya want?" barked one of the masked men, fixing his gun again on the clerk.

"Please take the payroll books, too!  The auditors are coming tomorrow!"   (Source:  "Laughing Out Loud" by Myron   Cohen)

Yes, "tsuris" can sometimes be a blessing.

When I think of "tsuris," Tevye "der milchiker" (Tevye the Dairyman) from "Fiddler on the Roof" comes to mind. No character from Yiddish literature is more universally recognized than Tevye. Whether it's  Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, or Chaim Topol, Tevye is a true "mensch" who gives  himself to each new challenge, and makes each difficult decision with a strong mind and a big "harts" (heart).   "Anatevka hasn't exactly been the Garden of Eden," says Yente.  Teyve has lots of "tsoris" with his five daughters.

I recently had the pleasure of reading, "Three Times Chai - 54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories" by Laney Katz Becker.  Some of the stories are light and quite "komish" (funny), others invite more reflection.  My favorite story is titled, "Yukel the Water Carrier" by Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen.  She reminds the reader "that just about everything we complain about in life can be reframed and understood in a different light.  There are blessings hidden even in drudgery.  Yukel is in each one of us."


It was a very hot day, and the rebbe needed some air.  He interrupted his studies, opened the door of his yeshiva, and walked into the village street, where he was surrounded by several of his devoted students.

   Across the street, the rebbe and his students noticed Yukel the water carrier. As usual, Yukel had his heavy pole draped across  his shoulders.  Two huge pails of water hung down from the pole, and as Yukel walked through the village street, the water in the pails sloshed from side to side.  Yukel was complaining--not so softly--as he made his way through town.

   "Say, Yukel, my friend," hollered the rebbe from the far side of the street.  "How are you today?"

   "Oy, rebbe, not so good, not so good.  My shoulders, they ache from carrying this water.  Year after year, until I cannot even count the years, I have been schlepping water.  And my children?  Not one of them wants to go into the family business.  They are too busy studying Torah and the good books; they have no time to help me.  And my wife?  Oy, she nudges me to do this and to do that.  As soon as I get home, she is after me to do one thing or another.  Oy, rebbe, not so good, not so good."

   And off Yukel walked, water sloshing from his pails.

   "Blessings to you, my brother," the rebbe shouted after him.  The rebbe's students intoned the same phrase:  "Blessings to you; blessings to you."

   Time passed, perhaps a few weeks, and once more the rebbe opened the door of the yeshiva so that he and his devoted students could take in some fresh air.  And what do you know but who was across the street just at that moment?  Yukel the water carrier.

   "Shalom Aleichem, Yukel.  May peace be with you.  How are you today?" asked the rebbe.

   "You know, rebbe, not so bad, not so bad. You know my shoulders?  They have served me well and continue to do so.  They are strong, and as a result I can bring water to all the people of our village.  And my children?  The Holy One has blessed them all with bright and inquisitive minds.  They are bringing me such naches, such pride and joy, from their learning.  Their knowledge fuels my soul.  And my dear wife of so many years?  If not for her asking me to do things around our house, I wouldn't know how much she needed me.  She does need me, and I need her.  Rebbe, I am blessed.  My life is blessed.  And thank you for asking.  Baruch HaShem, Praise to God."

   The students gathered around the rebbe, rushing to ask him if this was the same Yukel, the one who just weeks before had been so miserable.

   "Yes, it is Yukel the water carrier," said the rebbe.  "Only this time he has come to see his tsuris--his troubles--as a blessing."


"Three Times Chai:  54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories"  is available from Behrman House, Inc., Springfield, New Jersey.   What a "vunderlekh" book!


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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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