Animal Life in the Yiddish World

        May 2014    
Search the Jewish Magazine Site:     

Browse our




The World of Chaiyes

By I. Kinek

Upon reading the title, you may ask, what are chaiyes ? A good question. Chaiyes usually refers to wild members of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately there have also been human chaiyes such as Haman, Hitler and Ahmadinejed – may their memory be destroyed - but that's a topic for another time. We're discussing chaiyes with more than two legs although the beginning of this narrative includes the two footed winged variety . You may wonder- Voss draist doo mihr ihn kopp? (why are you confusing me? ) So let me explain.

When we were a few years younger, we lived in an East Baltimore not far from Patterson Park. Kids in the area owned pets, so if Mendel had a dog, and Beilah had a cat, why should we be different? Did we get a dog, a cat or perhaps a hamster? None of these popular chaiyess but instead we ended up with a baby chicken!

From where did we get it? vehr gedenkt? (who remembers?) but there it was, a little yellow chick joyfully flapping its wings. We named him (or her) Peeper, placed it in a large cardboard box and fed the tiny chaiyeh bread crumbs and water.

We joyfully went to school looking forward to returning home and enjoying our new pet. We removed Peeper from his little cardboard hyskeh (house) and let him jump around . His amusing antics included hopping over toys and popsicle sticks that we assembled. Remember, this was prior to the T.V. era and children's entertainment included games, riding scooters or bikes and teaching tricks to pets. .

In those days Shabbat (Saturday) was celebrated by eating, reading and visiting other people in the neighborhood. . .

For example, On Shabbat we visited the Snyder family and Mrs.Snyder always had a delicious chocolate cake for her guests. So how did we fahrbreng? (celebrate) The senior members of the family schmoozed (chattered) and nashed while the younger set nashed and nashed .

When the Snyders visited us, my mom served outstanding almond cookies called amaretti and everyone continually nashed until only one cookie was left. Why was one cookie spared? Perhaps it was a form of derech erets - (manners) .

My aunt, Pessa Lichtenstein baked delicious lemon meringue pies that had authentic ingredients - eggs were eggs (not powder!) and lemon juice was squeezed from real lemons. (not lemon concentrate!) So what's the comparison with today's purchased pies?

It's like comparing fresh gefilteh fish to an oysgedahrteh (thin) piece of herring!

One fahr tumult (confusing ) day Rabbi Knaidle (not his real name) and family visited us. The good Rabbi had a son who was overweight - to put it mildly. Nu, the discussion with his number one son and my brother, went something like this:

#1 Son: Gut Shabbos,

David: Guht Shabbos.

#1 Son: How's your brother?

David: O.K How is your brother?.

#1 son: How's your father?

David: O.K.

How is your father?

David: O.K

#1son: How's your cousin?

David : O.K. And so it continued. . Finally #1 son decided to tour the house and as luck would have it, our little pet chick was hopping around flapping his wings, enjoying one of his jumping tricks. Little did poor Peeper know that this was his last act on earth and that he would have a meesehn soff (bad ending) for suddenly, two hundred pounds flattened his once round shape, and he emitted a final peep before becoming flat as a pancake!

Nu, we were flabbergasted! In our youthful minds, we considered the chick flattener

a " rawtsayach. "(killer) However, since the fatal mis-step was "beshogeg" (unintentional) we eventually forgave him but as you can see, never forgot about it.

Next day there was a "levayeh" (funeral) for Peeper which consisted of wrapping his pancake form with tape and burying him under a tree in Patterson Park. A mahtsayvah (monument) in the form of a rock was placed over the site and we waved goodbye. Was it legal to bury him in the park? We reasoned that if they could bury an elephant in Druid Hill Park, burying a tiny chaiye in Patterson Park was nisht gefehrlich. (not terrible)

Our next pet, was an alley cat named Cheechee. Why such a name? Was it an American Native's cat? Was it named after a famous feline? Vais ich voss (no such thing) So why such a name? Hair zich tsue (give a listen) and you'll understand.

To begin with, the cat wandered from who knows where to our back yard and began meowing repeatedly. The meowing sounded like a form of krechtsing ! (sighing) and since Yiden are beney rachamim ( compassionate people) we placed food in an old dish and placed it in the yard. Before you could utter "nishmahs kol chai" the food was all gone ! Naturally the cat reappeared every day so leftovers were saved for her. If she was on an urgent cat mission and did not arrive, we uttered the sound :"tch, tch, tch," and pronto the cat appeared! . If you gave a geshray (yell) "here kitty, kitty kitty"( like some cat owners call their felines) she did not respond. Fahrvoss nisht? (why not) Your guess is as good as mine. Anyway, now you know the origin of Cheechee's name.

One day Cheechee chased a moizel (mouse) into the house, annihilated it and searched for a place to hide it. So where do you think she placed the geharget (killed) mouse - in a vinkel? (corner) behind the refrigerator? Neither Cheechee opted to hide the moizel in my brother David's shoe!

You've heard of the shot that was heard around the world? .When David put on his shoe and discovered what was inside, he gave a geshray (yell) that was heard around the neighborhood!

Cheechee remained in the area for several years and "married" an oyver buttle (senile) nearsighted tomcat named Oliver. Why did we think that he was myopic ? Because on some occasions he darted towards the house, bumped his kepple (head) on the porch and laid on the ground for a few minutes. We believed that he paygerd (died) but he soon got up, shook his head and began a slow crawl before walking.

Today he would be referred to an animal psychologist or eye specialist!

One day we heard new cat calls and discovered a litter of kittens under the porch steps.The neighbors may have wished Cheechee a mazel tov but as the kittens matured they changed their tune. Vahroom? (Why?) The young cats became food fussy chaiyess and each went to their fress sponsor. Some preferred fish sherayim (left overs) while others were meat fressers- regular carnivore gluttons and to the dismay of the neighbors the cats gave early morning "concerts" until they were fed..

Do you recall how to determine personality –as described in Pirkey Avot? (Ethics of the Fathers) Correct! " bekiso (generosity) , bekoso (drinking control) and bekaso. (anger control)" As for bekiso most of the neighbors were generous . Regarding bekoso, I don't recall any shikurim (drunks) in the neighborhood. There was a marked difference in "bekaso" for when the cats began their concerts, responses ranged from "zey zollen dertrunken vehren!" (they should drown!) to the gentler "hawb rachmonos." (have pity)

Our next door neighbor had a dog named Snukoms. Why such a name? The rumor was that he reminded his owner of a radio show starring Fanny Brice (?) as Baby Snooks and her dog (Anyone remember?) so they derived the name Snookums from Baby Snooks. .

Anyway, Snookums appeared to be a non-violent chaiyeh but barked like a meshigener hoont (dog)-which he probably was. It was rumored that his hoontisher mahmeh (mother) was owned by the Baltimore mayor's cousin and that his barking was a way of advertising his yiches!. (ancestry)

Periodically Snookems had a gefehrlich (terrible) barking fit which lasted for hours. What initiated the barking? Gay freg ah hoont! (go ask a dog!)

Unlike other dogs, Snookems happened to be a big nasher and loved cookies. We tossed him a few cookies hoping that he would fahrmach (close) his pisk (mouth) Did it work? Ah fieg ! (no) because he fressed the cookies faster than you can say "maraschino cherries" and resumed barking.

Do chaiyes have a yetzer hawraw? (evil inclination) It seems that they do because one day Snookum's yetzer hawraw got control of him by convincing him to enter our yard. How did he accomplish such a feat ? By shoving his snout between two sections of the wire fence that separated the yards and squeezing through. .

Once in the yard, he began doing what dogs do when they explore- sniffing around the area. When he reached the bottom of the porch steps his yetzer hawraw took control as he darted towards Cheechee and her kittens. It was a big mistake because the cat perceived it as an act aimed at harming her mishpacha (family) so she stood on her hind legs poised like Cassius Clay (alias M.A.) (remember him?) and swung her clawed paw across the dog's nose!

Snookums gave a loud yelp, (a dog gevald) darted back to his yard with the speed of a greyhound , and continued whining. Besides suffering hoontish (dog) psychological damage, he had a large gash across his nose. He was taken to a veterinarian who treated the damaged nose and was the talk of the neighborhood. His reputation as a dog was nebech damaged as people discussed the canine that was hurt by a feline- and such a thing is not done! Snookems never again rentered our yard and if he saw Cheechee he darted into his dog house and cringed in fear. Cheechee seemed to sense that the dog feared her and did not hesitate to stroll besides the dog house with a victorious gaite

There have been comparable situations with nations! .

We resided in East Baltimore for over ten years and as the area regressed because Yiden were leaving, we followed the tsibur (community) and moved to a neighborhood known as Forest Park. There is much to be written about this outstanding neighborhood and that's a miseh for another time.

There is an old melody which begins: "Enjoy yourself it's later than you think " and continues: "the years go by as quickly as a wink"-- and that's exactly what happened! The years flew and once again "vayisue vayachnue." (they traveled) Beautiful Forest Park was abandoned by the Yidelach as we found niyeh gliken (new fortune) in another area Park Heights. How and why the migrations began is a gahnseh miseh (a long story) also for another time.

Years later we moved to a new developing area called Randallstown. So where is Randallstown? Oich mihr ah gahng! (distant) Many believed that the Randallstown area would develop Judaically. Nu, "mentch tracht, Gott lacht." (people plan, Hashem laughs) Eventually Randallstown's Yidelach said bye bye to the area.

We resided on Brenbrook Drive which initially was a peaceful street. Soon there were rumors about a major road planned for our quiet street and before you could complete Tolstoy's "War and Peace," Brenbrook Drive was widened and connected to other traffic channels becoming a major thoroughfare. Neighbors could yell "chai vekahyom!" to the county planners-it did not help.

We were displeased but decided to remain in the area—until a new neighbor moved next door. What happened? Hair zich tsue: (give a listen)

The nice people that initially lived next door moved out of state so who do you think moved in? a bahl habayis?(good homeowner) good Yiden? Good nochrim? (non-Jews) None of these but in moved a couple of human chaiyess that made hillbillies look like kings! In addition, they possessed a huge Siberian Husky named Tiger. Every morning the "lady" of the house gave a geshrey (yell) "Tiger!" We awoke to that yell early in the morning and my vibel went ballistic-so to speak. If that wasn't enough, the shryers (yeller's) husband was a shikur (drunk) who one day stood in his yard, faced our bedroom window and repeatedly blurted "Hey Jew." At first I thought it was imagined- perhaps he said "Nue" or "How you?. " However, when my vibel heard it and asked "do you hear what I hear?" I was sure that it was happening. Nu, what would you do?

To neutralize the offense, I began singing the tune: "Shikur iz ah goy" which didn't bother him for he believed that he was being serenaded! Next I verbalized some unflattering expressions used in the army and he left the area……

It appeared that their chaiyeh Tiger was a relatively calm animal while they acted like chaiyes – a reversal of classification………

Afterwards we were highly motivated to leave the area so we searched for another place to live noch ah mawl (again) vayisue vayachnue - the story of our people……….

There was another hoont (dog) in the neighborhood named Bagel who periodically howled like a wolf. At times he fought with other dogs and his owner would keep yelling "Bagel." For some reason we thought of a bagel with cream cheese and lox to boot……….

Possibly because of all the canine commotion our children began fearing "man's best friend". When we took a walk with the kids they would cringe if they heard a dog barking. .

We quoted President FDR's famous words : "There is nothing to fear, but fear itself." But as we approached the dog - ihn drerd (into the ground) went FDR's saying for they would begin to panic ! . .

Discussions about overcoming fear did not help so what would you do? We decided to obtain a puppy and searched in the classified section of the newspapers and detected an ad offering to freely give a puppy to a "proper household." Nu, what did we know about a good home for a chaiyeh? Giving him a fancy doghouse? Special gourmet meals? A proper shidduch? What? I responded to the ad and was invited to pick up the puppy- but first these four questions were asked:

Can you provide a proper home for the hintel?(dog)

Do you have a qualified veterinarian?

Are you fit to own a dog?

Can I visit him in a month?

The dog owner concluded that we were possible bahl habatim (home owners) to own a dog soI went to his residence and picked up the tiny puppy. A month later he visited our house and inquired where the dog was sleeping, what type of food he was getting and the name of the veterinarian. Finally satisfied that his chaiyeleh was in good hands, he left and never again called us.

How did the girls react to the puppy ? They were ecstatic! Soon they lost their fear of dogs as they held and pampered their new pet who was named Feefee. .

Why such a name? Vehr gedenkt? (who remembers?)

Initially Feefee was a healthy chaiyeh but after a few years she developed a chronic cough that could wake up the dead! . The veterinarian prescribed medication in the form of huge pills which had to be shoved down her throat and whenever she swallowed the pills her eyes would gleam with anger and your hand was in danger !

As she got older, the puppy cuteness dissipated and her true chaiyeh nature emerged. Feefee had interesting yichess (family heritage) as part Manchester Terrier- a dog with a short temper! Thus she would growl and periodically grab the pants cuff of the mailman or anyone she suspected of being a soneh chayess. (animal hater). Nu, ess hawt mir gefelt tsoress! (I needed more problems?) .

However, the dog loved our daughters Dorie and Sherry and in the evening, would vacate her residence, sneak up the stairs and sleep under their beds. How she managed to open doors is still a mystery-unless the girls were accomplices……..

Nu , you may ask, what other incidents are there about this chayeh. There were many but one afternoon, while in the yard, the huntishe yetzer harah of the dog, overcame her and she suddenly darted across the street. An oncoming vehicle struck her and that was the bitter end of Feefee.

A good neighbor that lived nearby, saw what happened and offered to act as the burial assistant. We placed Feefee in a wheel barrow, solemnly walked to the nearby woods and buried her. .

The girls were in camp for the summer and even before they got home somehow sensed that their dog was gone.

They were shocked and dismayed when told about the umglick . (misfortune) and grieved over Feefee for a long time.

So what to do? We purchased a white rabbit which did little to appease their mourning for the dog. Rabbits, unlike dogs, do not really relate to people. They eat, sleep, carry on-so to speak and have the world ihn bawd.(they could care less) So what did we name this latest pet? Bugs –of course.

We went on a brief vacation and a neighbor agreed to take care of the chaiyeh Nu, he took care of Bugs like Stalin took care of the Yiden for upon returning home we discovered that Bugs was placed in a cage with another rabbit. Nu, you would think that a pair of rabbits would get along right? However, they got along like the Greeks get along with the Turks! What happened? The other rabbit gave Bugs a large gash on the side of his belly. Bugs was taken to a veterinarian who stitched and inquired about the wound. the origin. When told that it was from another rabbit, he shook his head in disbelief.. We took the chaiyeh home and eventually set him free in the woods. .

In those days, I was teaching learning disabled children and some of them would not communicate with others. A suggested method to initiate communication was having them observe and touch animals.

I visited a pet shop whose owner had a learning disabled child. We discussed how his child communicated with one of his pets, a monkey named George. He then introduced me to George –bichvodo uveh ahtsmoe (in person) George was in a large cage scratching himself and apparently content- a mahlpeh (monkey) living a chazerisheh leben ! (overly comfortable-like a pig)

After listening to the communication problems faced by some children, he agreed to loan George to the school. Upon taking him home, his calm demeanor ended and he turned into a vilder chaiyeh (wild animal) furiously shaking his cage and making strange sounds. So what to do? Giving him a banana of course. He skillfully peeled it and fressed (gulped down) the banana before you could utter Awdum Uvehaymah !

The next morning, I brought the caged monkey to school and placed it on a table. Initially the pupils were astounded-to put it mildly. Soon they warmed up to him and he was given more attention than any staff member!

You may ask how a mahlpeh can help kids socialize, after all, the students were receiving speech and other therapy. As if by magic, youngsters that never smiled began smiling! If you were within range of his long arms George would remove eyeglasses, pens and whatever was within his grasp. He then made facial expressions followed by mahlpeh (monkey) groans and behold the kids began laughing and commenting about the monkey's antics. Here was a monkey doing therapy!

Later I obtained other chaiyess for the classroom such as white mice, Peruvian Guinea pigs, hamsters, turtles, tropical fish and vair vais (who knows) what other animals. Kids would adopt a pet and it was beneficial for them. The animal therapy sessions ended when a harmless snake named Wilma who constantly made an effort to escape from her cage succeeded and who knows, she may still be wandering in the walls of the school……………

Are there advantages to having a pet and are there any problems?

Some of the advantages of having a pet include learning and caring for other living things and more fully appreciating God's vast world.

Of course there are problems. Listen, life is like a see-saw, there are ups and there are downs.

We certainly can learn from animals - even from insects.

The wisest person that ever lived, the great King Solomon taught that we can learn from tiny ants.

So what can we learn from ants? you may ask.

Here is your chance to begin some fascinating research regarding the world of chaiyes.


from the May 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.



All opinions expressed in all Jewish Magazine articles are those of the authors. The author accepts responsible for all copyright infrigments.