the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

In the Playbill for the Tillis Center, C.W. Post,  Fall 2008, we read that whenever entertainer, Mark Russell, is down in the dumps ("dershlogn"), he opens the news- paper and immediately cheers up.  Mark plays off the day's headlines, performing stand-up comedy while accompanying himself on the piano.

He is frequently asked the question, "Do you have any writers?"  His reply, "Oh, yes... I have 535 writers.  One hundred in the Senate and 435 in the House of Representatives."

I, too, read the headlines:

  "After 9/11 There Was A Jump In The   Peace Corps"

  "President Clinton Names Mark L. Schneider As Director of the Peace Corps"   (Dec. 22, 1999)

  "Peace Corps Draw Hundreds from Binghamton University"
  (1/22/08)  Binghamton University was recognized by the Peace Corps on its list of the top 15 volunteer-producing colleges, along with other institutions including Yale University and the Univ.of Notre Dame.

  "Want To Join the Peace Corps?  Plan To Wait" (9/15/08)

  "Tucson, AZ, is a Popular Destination for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. "Tucson has a chapter of about 50 former Peace Corps Volunteers who meet every month and conduct community-service projects.

The Peace Corps started in 1961 as part of John F. Kennedy's exhortation of "yung" Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

The Peace Corps is one of the world's most successful and respected organizations. Part of the Peace Corps' success ("hatslokhe") is due to the dedicated people who work behind the scenes to support the agency and the thousands of  volunteers serving overseas.

700,000 people lost their [U.S.] jobs last year.  As a result, there are fewer spots in the Peace Corps.  Many people wishing to join the popular humanitarian assistance programs may find that there isn't a spot for them.  Rosie Mauk, the Peace Corps' associate director of volunteer recruitment and selection says that there are more people waiting this time than in years past.

What's the motto of the Peace Corps: "the toughest job you''ll ever love."

In 2007, the Peace Corps was named one of Business Week magazine's Best Places to Launch a Career--jumping from No. 38 to No. 23 in the annual ranking.

There's a Yiddish term, "Balebatisheh yiden"--respectable Jews.  This term applies to Mark Schneider, who became the first practicing Jew to head the Peace Corps (1999-2001).

Schneider is a humble man who says his mother motivated his career in public service.  At his swearing-in, Schneider said his mother "taught me what is fair, what is just and how to treat others with empathy, concern and kindness ("guthartsikayt")." He credits his "tateh-mameh" and their Jewish values with propelling him to undertake the grueling conditions of life in the Peace Corps.

He continues, "I actually do think that the ethics and values that come out of my religious background are reflected in what the Peace Corps does and what the Peace Corps is."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says that "Materialism is becoming a cancer to the American Jewish community.  Our children feel entitled.  They are often spoiled.  They take and do not know how to give back. They are part of a "me" generation where self-absorption is lifetime's calling."

In Boteach's article titled, "Combating Jewish Materialism - A Jewish Peace Corps" [8/6/08], he states that "It's a simple equation.  The more you give out, the less you soak in."  He feels that we should impress upon Birthright alumnus the importance of volunteering.

Today, Peace Corps volunteers range in age from college students to retirees. They could teach English to elementary school students in Zambia or launch a computer learning center in Moldova. (Sarah Palin, take note:  Moldova is located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south.  Its capital is Chisinau, pronounced kishy-now. The name "Moldova" can be heard in a Marx Brothers movie.  Try renting it!)  Or, they could promote HIV/AIDS awareness in South Africa or work on soil conservation in Panama.

And now to the humorous side of the Peace Corps.  In Art Buchwald's 1961 book, "How Much Is That In Dollars?" he writes, "I'd like to volunteer for the Peace Corps if I could choose my own assignment.  One of the most urgent areas requiring technical skills and help is the French Riviera.  There are people on the Riviera walking around half naked, lacking shelter, and many still don't have their own yachts.

In the underdeveloped towns of Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo, long lines of unemployed and untrained people stand around roulette wheels and chemin de fer tables hoping for financial aid and the technical assistance that will give them a better way of life.

As a volunteer of the Peace Corps I would be willing to drop everything and go down to the Riviera to help them.  I would live the way they do, eat the food they do, share their homes, and show them that an American is not too proud to become one of them, no matter what hardships he has to face...

I would instruct the women how to make the most of their Diors and Balenciagas and how to develop their natural resources.  With the latest American cosmetic equipment they could earn diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds which they could eventually exchange for rice, meat, and other staples...

I would set up gin-rummy schools to take advantage of the local skills, and I would show the natives how to get twice as much use out of their water skis without having to use any more water.

The Riviera folk have been kicked around by everyone.  They are very suspicious of anybody who wants to change their customs.  They see nothing wrong in wearing bikinis in the daytime and black ties at night...

Yet, despite the fact that they cling to their old customs, I think that if I, as a member of the Peace Corps, could have just one summer with them on the Riviera, I could teach them the American way, and by living with them and showing them how we do things back home, they would be a happier and more contented people.  It's worth a try, and it's better that we get to them before the Russians do."  

I'm Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe, and I approve this message.


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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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