BW Picks » A&E Extras

Yiddish with Dick and Jane: Not your average dreck (see page 87)


When I get a free dreidel in the mail, I pay attention. This one came attached to an innocent looking, mustard-colored book with two children, a spaniel and a giant dreidel on the cover. Orange plastic dreidel to spin incessantly on desk during working hours ... fist-sized dreidel on the cover ... could this be a Jewish children's book? I wondered.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that Dick and Jane had given up their endless game of jacks to kibbitz, fress and tell alter kockers to stop kvelling over their meeskite latkes (a.k.a. chat, eat excessively and tell old farts to stop beaming with pride over their horribly ugly potato pancakes). That's right, kids, Dick and Jane have left the white-bread suburbs for the mean streets of little Israel--an imaginary world of hand-painted retro scenes that smack of tongue-in-cheek, '50s mentality and act as perfect foils for the satirical captions that beg to be read silently in the voice of Ben Stine. (See Jane schlep. Schlep, Jane. Schlep. Schlep, schlep, schlep.)

This brilliant piece of modern spoofery came from the minds of two mavens of Jewish culture and humor. The first is Ellis Weiner, who has been editor of National Lampoon, a columnist for Spy and a contributor to many magazines, including The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. He is also the author of several books, one of which is an obvious tribute to the quintessential "Jewish mother" called The Joy of Worry. His accomplice is a woman named Barbara Davilman, a television writer who began in advertising and worked her way to greeting cards (perhaps the root of her knack for pithiness) and wrote material for "sitcoms that, thankfully, no one remembers." Together, they have created a farcical journey through the lives of Dick and Jane involving sordid affairs, sexuality, midlife crises, getting fat and growing a mustache. Everything is absorbed with the same willful ignorance, and the 35 watercolor drawings (including the one of young Sally toking a fat spliff) only add to the rich lessons we can all learn from Yiddish.

Aside from the delightful narrative, there is a glossary with a fine selection of useful terms, including Mu Shoo--A popular Chinese dish consisting of shredded vegetables and meat wrapped in a thin flour pancake spread with Hoisin sauce, and, as such, a sort of honorary Yiddish term. (Really? No. Not really.) :