Friday, November 5, 2010

the first of the Yiddish curses

hey team,
as some of you may know, for my long-term project in Viktor Koen's book seminar class I am doing a book of Yiddish curses.
For the class, we were given a short story Ostracon by Alex Rose to serve as the starting point for the project. It's a short story about elderly Jews in Brooklyn living with Alzheimer's. Some of us stayed closely with the story and are directly illustrating the text, while some of us are doing books that have literally nothing at all in the world to do with the story (I'm looking at you, John Malta).
I fall somewhere in the middle. My project is connected only tangentially to the story. In the short story there are some interjections of Yiddish, some of which are translated in the text, others I had to look up. One of them was the phrase un choleryeh ahf dir! which means a plague on you! While I was researching this I found a wealth of Yiddish curses, which were all very interesting to me as pieces of language and culture, and there was a lot of strong imagery in them as well.
So I proposed to the boss a book of these curses, with illustrations of the literal victims of those curses, and the proposal was accepted and I've been working on it ever since.The pieces have been copiously critiqued and art-directed and revised and retouched and on and on and on, but for you today I have the first of them: zol vaksen tzibellis fun pipek
(may onions grow from your belly button)

There were a lot of mentions of onions in the curses. Not sure what the particular significance of onions may be in Eastern European Jewish culture, but they keep coming up. This curse is a good representation of the Yiddish curses, because most of them are very indirect ways of wishing harm on someone. It would be immoral to directly say that you want someone to die, so the Yiddish curses say that in a backdoor way. What is really meant when one says that onions should grow from your belly button, is that you should be dead, in the ground, decomposing, with plants growing from your remains.

More Yiddish curses to come as the semester goes, but I will only be posting a few of them, so that you will be obliged to come see the book as a whole when it goes on display in February.

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