Author Archives: Jessica Stempel

Saying – Yiddish

Yiddish saying

“For Gezunt”

“Fort gezunteheyt”

“travel in good health”

This is a yiddish saying that has been in my family on my mother’s side for some time. I heard my grandma and my mom say it since I was little before we went on a plane. The person that is traveling is the one that you are supposed to say this to. Literally, fort, in yiddush, means travel, and gezunteheyt means in good health. Gezunteheyt is also said after someone sneezes. I knew I wanted to share this saying for my folklore project but I was not sure if it really was true yiddush or if my family just made it up. But with some research, I found that in fact it is a real saying. I was skeptical because I had never heard anyone outside of my mother’s family. However, only TWO results turned out when I “Googled” it. One of them was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddush.

For some reason, along the way in our family, we shortened it to “for gezunt” or sometimes just “for”.  According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish, however, “for” is the yiddush command for travel, so it makes sense to say “for” instead of “fort.” I guess my family’s saying is legitimate after all. My Great Grandfather was, after all, an orthodox rabbi, so I guess I underestimate our knowledge of this ancient Jewish language. In fact, since I could only find two results in Google, maybe our family is one of the last to use these two yiddish words together to form a saying. The other reason that so few results were yielded, though, is maybe because I typed in the English- sounding version. This is because I have no clue how to type yiddish characters.  I hope to discover more about this saying, as my mom has said it to me since I was a little girl, and in return I find myself saying it to her when we/she travel(s).


Blech, Benjamin. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish. Alpha Books, 2000. Google Book Search. 30 Apr. 2008 <,M1>.

Folk Holiday

Guy Fawkes Night

“Guy Fawkes Night is on the 5th of November. It is celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and burning ‘guys’, figures that look like Guy Fawkes- He plotted against Parliament and the king- he was going to blow up the Houses of Parliament”

This is the first time I have ever heard of Guy Fawkes Night, and Jayne has been my nanny for 18 years. From this, I conclude that Guy Fawkes Night is not that important of a holiday.

However, it is unique. There are no other celebrations alike to this of my knowledge. Instead of celebrating a hero, they celebrate the burning of an evil man. This holiday is not religious, but instead is intended to give a strong sense of national pride and understanding of the history of England.

As I further researched Guy Fawkes Night, it becomes clear that the reason for bonfires and fireworks is due to the way in which Guy Fawkes planned to attack the Parliament. He and his conspirators had stored gunpowder in the basement of the parliament. The fires and explosions set forth by the celebrations symbolize the gunpowder, and the burning of “guys” as Jayne describes seems to be a ritual that allows the British people to symbolize making his plan backfire year after year. They are almost throwing it in his face even though this happened in 1605 and he is long gone.

There have been seventeen assassination attempts on US presidents and none of them are celebrated with a national holiday. This is why I find it strange that such a day exists. Although it is portraying Guy Fawkes in a bad light, it is almost making him a national household name and I do not know if I think that he deserves to be recognized so widely.

Regardless, this is a very unique holiday that is very different from the celebrations that we use fireworks for in the US. But, we share this in common, the idea of firework displays during national holidays. The bonfire burning is almost cult like and not readily accepted in the US. The burning reminds me of old European counts of people burning at the stakes. Though this happened in colonies as well, I do not feel that the US would accept such an act to take place as part of a modern day ceremony for inappropriateness it would convey to children. It might also raise the crime rates if the US allowed such acts to be recognized.


“The Traditions of Guy Fawkes Night.” Hall of Festivites. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

“List of United States Presidential Assassination Attempts.” Wikipedia. 21 Apr. 2008. 30 Apr. 2008 < assassination_attempts>.

Folk Speech – Haverford, Pennsylvania

Elbow Grease:

“I was at my friend’s house and we had dinner and they always had to do the dishes, the mom made them do chores. They didn’t have a maid or anything like that. After dinner, my friend went to do the dishes and I said I would help. I was with a sponge at the sink wiping a pot and her mother saw me and said ‘you have to use some elbow grease on that’ and I looked under the sink trying to find it said ‘where do you keep it?’”

This story symbolizes my mother’s ignorance towards anything domestic. Growing up, my mother was privileged and had a maid to clean up after her and her five siblings. “Elbow grease” is a common term used to emphasize the forceful way in which someone performs a laborious task, usually involving scrubbing and cleaning. However, my mother Linda thought that elbow grease was an actual physical object, perhaps a cleaning agent.

Her ignorance shows that she was not used to putting “elbow grease” into much of anything, as she had people to do that for her. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my mother had an African American maid and driver. Though it is not to say that she was stuck up. She did, after all, offer to help with the dishes.  Perhaps she even had cleaned dishes before, but was unfamiliar with the term “elbow grease”.

The term is a folk saying that originated some time in the mid 1600’s. I tried to research its origins and only found one questionably credible source that gives

multiple theories for the use of the term. says that elbow grease may have originated as another word for sweat. Another theory the website provides is that perhaps the word comes from the fact that if joints are not moved, they become stiff. But if they are in motion, the synovial pads in the elbow joints produce lubrication, or “elbow grease”.

No matter where the term derived from, this story shows how the lifestyle was for privileged kids growing up in suburban Philadelphia, which is my hometown (my mother never moved out). I must say that I can relate to her, as growing up I too was privileged to have someone working for me that cleaned the dishes. When I got to college, however, I am now forced to use “elbow grease” to clean my own dishes, although the dishwasher does most of the work.


“Where Does the Term, Elbow Grease Come From?” EduQnA. 2007. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

Food – Jewish

Jew Food

“Food was very important in out lives. There were always great smells coming from our kitchen. Our table was round and when all 8 of us sat around it, there was a lot of reaching and grabbing the platters. We were 6 kids and had pancake eating contests sometimes for breakfast. There was a blackboard in the kitchen and we would keep score on it. Our Sunday morning breakfasts were legendary.  There would be bagels, lox, smoked salmon, herring, kippered salmon, and whitefish.”

The above describes the food my mother ate at home growing up. She grew up in a privileged Jewish household and a cook was employed to prepare meals for the family. The story about the pancake eating contest surprised me because my mother as I know her today is not one to participate in any eating contest.

The contrast between my mother’s eating then (plentiful and taste-based) versus today (health conscious and small portioned) can be explained due to a few circumstances. She grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when health technology was not as advanced. There were a lot fewer worries about cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity was not as prevalent. Perhaps this is why her family’s lifestyle was not that of what my family’s presently is. Also, however, my mother was a child and children do not have as much sense of eating right for health reasons or aesthetic reasons. Also, the thinness that is “in” today was not nearly as dramatic back in those days. Fashion models were not the stick figures that they are today, but yet beautiful, curvy, and healthy looking. Finally, my mother did not have the influence of my father, who is extremely health conscious and runs seven miles a day. Instead, she had the influence of my late Grandfather who loved eating the most fattening foods and later developed diabetes. However, he lived life to the fullest and I doubt he would ever regret eating all those delicious meals.

The latter part of her account of eating is relatable to many Jewish people in the United States, if not around the world (to which there are very few). The typical ethnic Jewish foods are smoked fish and bagels. To an outsider it might sound strange and perhaps not be appealing upon trying it, but growing up with lox and bagels, as I did, makes it a delicacy for many Jews. Still today, our extended family gets together once in a while to share a meal of fish and bagels. To Jews, as it is for most ethnicities, food is an agent for bringing people together.

Folk Belief – Jewish


“I don’t like to give a “kinehora..” I don’t say things like “I have never had a broken bone.” I feel that would be to tempt fate.”

Kinehora is a yiddush word that means “a curse in reverse”. It is something to which many people would “knock on wood” for; or to which an audience would reply, “never say never”. There is of course, no conclusive scientific proof to verify that if someone makes a remark about, for example as my mother said, never having a broken bone, that all of a sudden they will indeed break one just for cursing themselves. It is a superstition that many people use while going about their everyday lives. My mother describes avoiding saying the “curse” altogether, while others “knock on wood” (although many people end up knocking on any surface around them which usually is not wood) to redeem themselves. This avoidance of “kinehora” is probably one of the most popular superstitions in the US. From my experience, I find educated, wealthy, and even naturally skeptical people not wanting to curse themselves. I find people knocking on wood if they reverse curse themselves or loved ones. It has become a very popular gesture in American culture, and probably worldwide. I know that in England they often say “touch wood.” Of course, as well, “kinehora” is a common yiddush saying describing the same superstition.

Regardless of its lack of validity,  I think that people find themselves avoiding cursing themselves or “touching wood” to redeem themselves because it is a little gesture that, if by any stretch of the imagination it does happen to prevent the terrible from happening, is worth little effort that is required to be set forth. It is just one of those things that if it helps people get through their day, then all the power to them.