*My mother told me these stories about her father, my grandfather, specifically, but also mentioned that most of them were common among older Jewish men in general, specifically Jews who identified with the Yiddish aspect of Jewish culture.
INFORMANT: “One of [the jokes] was he would make a bet with you about almost anything, and he would say, ‘I bet you…’ Oh shoot, what was it called? … It was called a ‘brass figliggy with an oak leaf cluster,’ and he would always bet us, ‘I’ll bet you can’t… I’ll bet you a brass figliggy with an oak leaf cluster,’ and we were like ‘OH OK THAT SOUNDS COOL,’ and we would do whatever he wanted, and I guess it wasn’t until we got older that one of us said, you know, ‘Well, where’s my figliggy with an oak leaf cluster?’ And then, as soon as you say it out loud you’re like… a figliggy? What even is that? He just made the whole thing up! But it sounded all official because of the, you know, the oak leaf clusters on military medals. But he played us for years!”
“Also, he used to do this thing with us that his mother used to do with him when he was a baby. And it was a little Yiddish folk song with a… he would put you on his knees, and I’m sure he did this to you, he would bounce you up and down, and he would sing [note: these are Yiddish words I have absolutely no idea how to spell, so I’m just going to write them as phonetically as possible. Yiddish isn’t really a written language, so this is the best I can do, my apologies!] ‘Ya shelipta guy yinkus voren raftsa lata tigala, tigala y yazala na yashava, HOOT MAHN!’ What it means in Yiddish is, basically, Yoshala, who’s this little guy, rode to the market on his sheep or on his goat, and then on the way back, the goat rode on Yoshala. I know, so stupid. But then he would… oh wait, but then the ‘hoot mahn,’ we have no idea where that came from because that’s Scottish. His parents just threw that in. But the very last thing they would say was ‘Coo coo la fligala’ and they would point somewhere else. In Yiddish it means ‘Look, look! A little bird!’ And then when you looked, they would tickle you under the chin. Stupid little games like that.”
“He also used to make this thing he called a ‘hibbity-gibbits.’ He would take an apple and he would make… like a zigzag like Charlie Brown’s shirt around, and he would open it up and take the core out of the apple, and then he would put it back together so you could barely see that it had been cut at all. And then he’d give it back to you like it was a regular apple, and you would bite into it and it would fall apart and there was no core.”
My grandpa was a notorious prankster, and apparently these pranks and pranks like them were pretty common among Jewish grandfathers. They’re all along the lines of the classic grandpa joke “Pull my finger,” but with distinctively Yiddish twists. I can remember my grandpa sitting me on his lap and singing that strange Yiddish song about Yoshala and the goat, so these pranks have a lot of personal significance.