June 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“They are all meshuggeneh” is the way Noam Laden of WABC radio described those waiting in line to receive an owl tattoo in memory of Flaco, a New York City owl who had over this last year become a neighborhood fixture. However well-intentioned Noam Laden was in relating the “tattoo tale,” he erred with his usage of the word meshuggeneh. Meshuggeneh is either a feminine singular or gender-free plural adjective. A meshuggeneh myseh (a crazy story) or meshuggeneh mentshen (crazy people) is proper usage. So too is Zee eez ah meshuggeneh, “She is a crazy person.” What Noam Laden should have said is “They are all meshuggeh.

Thanks to Mr. Laden, his remark served as an impetus to write the following:

LAYKEH DEE MESHUGGENEH (Laykeh—a nickname for Laya the kook). I don’t for a moment believe that my family was suis generis. There’s a strong likelihood that many a family had a member who either earned or deserved the moniker “dee meshuggeneh.” If it wasn’t Laykeh, then it was “Sorkeh” or “Bayleh.” Because most families were “blessed” with such an individual, whenever you received an invitation to a family simcha, you fervently prayed “I hope they don’t sit me beside Laykeh dee meshuggeneh!”

MESHUGGEH OIF TOIT (lit. crazy to death). If my mother were alive to witness the riots that have taken place over these past several months, where access to bridges were blocked and roadways were shut down, she would have described the rioters as being meshuggeh oif toit (stark raving mad). My mother would have been right on target, because most of these rioters couldn’t point out Gaza on a map. Nor do they have the slightest knowledge of how the citizens of Gaza have been abused by Hamas for years. Where were they when injustices, human abuses, and torture were inflicted by Hamas on their own?

MESHUGGENEH GENDZ, MESHUGGENEH FEDDER (crazy geese, crazy feathers). “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree” is most often meant as a compliment and it refers to the “wonderful” attributes the parents were able to pass along to or inculcate in their children. Employing the aphorism “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” doesn’t do the situation justice. Meshuggeneh gendz, meshuggeneh fedder does.

MESHUGOYIM (lunatics). As a child, I thought meshugoyim were non-Jews. After all the word “goyim” formed the last two syllables. Little did I realize that it was the Eastern European pronunciation of the Hebrew word “meshuga’im.” Meshugoyim summed up my parents’ reaction 60 years ago when the television cameras panned the audience of the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Television viewers saw teenagers going meshuggeh seeing the Beatles perform for the first time in this country.

MESHUGAHSS (madness, insanity). Rather than employ the Yiddish term idiosincrahzia, I choose to use the Yiddish word meshugahss to mean idiosyncrasy. Although I lack support from well-established Yiddish dictionaries, it seems to me that “madness” or “insanity” are far too strong to describe a rare or peculiar behavioral trait. “Everyone Is Entitled to a Meshugahss” was a sign I always wanted to have made so that I could hang it on the wall in my office. I never got around to following through with it.

Whether or not you would term those receiving an owl tattoo as meshugoyim is totally up to you. There are those who would agree that walking around with a tattoo of Flaco smacks of meshugahss. In no way, however, does it render you meshuggeh oif toit. It doesn’t even condemn you to living a life where you are now known as Laykeh dee meshuggeneh or Layzer dehr meshuggenehr. Remember, however, that quite often such behavior leads one to realize meshuggeneh gendz, meshuggeneh fedder.


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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