who's in the kitchen

Jerry’s childhood tales: ‘Wook out fo de rebbi’


A few years a ago, when Jerry became reconnected with his childhood friend Leslie Kellner a’h, he couldn’t believe the depth and breadth of Leslie’s power of recall. Leslie seemed to remember the details of his childhood, as well as a myriad of stories from his yeshiva Rambam/BTA days. Like a comic archeologist, he was able to unearth layers of their past experiences that were long buried and forgotten. Of course for Jerry, Leslie was the most accurate and credible witness of growing up with Jerry in Yeshiva Rambam and at Turkin’s bungalow colony.

As I wrote in an earlier article, I actually got angry with Jerry when I learned of his younger-day shenanigans. Jerry felt terrible as he realized that Leslie spoke the truth and called Leslie to apologize but Leslie replied, “You were just a little kid back then, you must let this go.” Leslie was a great guy and Jerry was forgiven. However, Leslie also related, in full color and clarity, a dimension from Jerry’s past which I didn’t fully appreciate or understand. Leslie told me that Jerry called Leslie “Wesswey.” Jerry couldn’t pronounce L’s.

Jerry also experienced technical difficulties in pronouncing “Th.” Thus, for example, “the girl” in Jerryeese sounded like “de guyl.” So, “look at the girl” sounded like “wook at de guyl” in Jerryeese.” “Weswee wook at de guyl”

“Wook out fo de Webbi, weswee” (look out for the rabbi, Leslie) could be heard in the halls and classrooms of Yeshiva Wambam. You get the picture. During a parent-teacher  meeting, one of Jewwy’s teachers asked his mother, when did Jerry came to America. His mom proudly asserted that “Jewwy was born in Amewica.” The teacher replied that it’s impossible that Jewwy was born in Amewica. And so it went.

Turns out his brother Seme also spoke Jewwyeese or perhaps Joszefeese at Wambam. The school effectuated an “intervention” to rehabilitate Jewwy and Seme as they were each failing all subjects. The school determined that a speech pathologist be introduced into their home environment to perhaps uncover the root of Jerry and Seme’s linguistic anomalies. An expert speech pathologist who was a decorated professor at Brooklyn College was hired and met the family in their one-bedroom apartment on Elm Avenue. After listening to the family merrily and naturally converse with one another, the problem became evident as they spoke Yiddish at home speckled with an amalgamation of Hungarian Czechoslovakian Russian and some pseudo English.

Jerry couldn’t pronounce L’s and had great difficulty with R’s with the combination of RL fully defeating him and whoever was trying to understand what he was trying to say. It was as if Jerry was on a game show with contestants trying to formulate in English the arcane sounds he was making.

The speech pathologist determined that the family must speak English at home. Of course this was easier said than done and the family commenced a lengthy rehabilitation process which began to bear fruit after Jerry and Seme continued failing all courses at Wambam. Seme began to master English and American culture in high school at the Yeshivah of Flatbush and became a more than capable high school student while Jerry continued the family legacy of failing substantially all courses at BTA. He did make up for it in college, law school and grad school, thankfully!

As Jerry began to reminisce about his acculturation process to English and to America he remembered an episode from kindergarten when he attended public school which was on Elm Avenue between Coney Island Avenue and East 12th Street, basically across the street from Jerry’s apartment on Elm Avenue. He was five years old and had no friends in his class as neither the teachers nor the other kids in his class could understand what Jerry was babbling about. He felt lonely and miserable every day as he was left out of basically everything.

Eventually one good-hearted boy in the class, Robert, befriended Jerry and this changed everything for him. He had an American friend who, he felt, welcomed him to America. One day Jerry asked Robert if they could change names for the day, as Robert was popular and had many friends. Robert generously agreed and Jerry loved being called Robert by his friend. Jerry felt as if this new identity might attract other kids to befriend him.

On that day the parents of all the kids were invited to the classroom to witness their children enjoying themselves in class. The children were doing their thing in front of the parents and Robert called Jerry Robert in front of the other kids. At which point one girl who incessantly made fun of Jerry sternly retorted, “He’s not Robert he’s just Jerry.” Jerry stammered close to tears, “I’m not Jewwy, I’m Wobet.” She corrected him angrily, “You’re not Robert, you’re Jerry.” Jewwy angrily insisted that he was Wobbit. Things heated up and Jewwy eventually punched the girl in the nose in front of the parents who all gasped in horror. Jerry had forgotten that the parents and teachers were watching the idyllic scene that Jewwy destroyed.

Jewwy saw his mom looking embarrassed and angry. He was forced to decide whether he would freeze or take flight. Jerry implemented a Forest Gump “Run Forest” maneuver, which to Jewwy sounded like “Won Fowest,” and he raced out of the classroom down the school steps and out the door to Elm Avenue. He then began to race full throttle, like Fowest Gump, as his mom was pursuing him and closing in fast as he approached Elm and East 12th.

Jewwy’s kindergarten experience was a precursor to many colorful experiences in and out of school during Jewwy’s childhood as he discovered Amewica from his starting gate at 1213-1223 Elm Avenue.

Talking about words that are mispronounced, I came across many names of foods that people have problems pronouncing — quinoa, acai, nicoise, edamame, and tzatziki, to name a few.

Here’s a often mispronounced recipe that is quick to make and delicious with anything you want to pair it with.

Tzatziki dressing or dip

2 8 ounce containers plain yogurt

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

3 frozen Dorit garlic cubes

In a food processor or blender, combine yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill and garlic. Process until well-combined. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour for best flavor.