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“For Harvey Gotliffe, it’s not enough just to speak Yiddish. You have to put your whole body into it. That’s what his new book, “The Oy Way: Following the Path of Most Resistance,” is all about.”
October 18, 2012
Book shows Yiddish speakers how to advance to posers
For Harvey Gotliffe, it’s not enough just to speak Yiddish. You have to put your whole body into it.
That’s what his new book, “The Oy Way: Following the Path of Most Resistance,” is all about. A cheeky photo-illustrated mock manual, it pairs 36 Yiddish expressions with corresponding yogalike movements.
Call it Downward Plotzing Dog.
The Santa Cruz resident and retired San Jose State University journalism professor is doing his part for the revival of interest in Yiddish. Growing up in Detroit, he heard his relatives speak Yiddish all around him. As an adult, he tried to teach himself more formally, practicing with members of the Silicon Valley Holocaust Survivors Association and South Bay Yiddish clubs.
A few years ago it dawned on him he could fuse Yiddish, Jewish spirituality and that whole “talking with your hands” shtick peculiar to Jews. That’s how “The Oy Way” came to be.
For the book to work, Gotliffe had to pick just the right expressions out of his extensive Yiddish vocabulary.
“I went through 300 expressions,” he recalls, “and I asked myself which are the words people can incorporate in their language and which would lend themselves to photography.”
The list includes phrases everybody knows (oy vay, meshugge and nu) to lesser-known expressions, such as “As got vil, shist a bezem” (If God wills, even a broom could shoot).
Each left-hand page of the book features a Yiddish term along with a definition and description of the proper accompanying movement needed to say the words properly.
For example, to say the phrase “shtark vi ayzn” (strong as iron), Gotliffe suggests, “Raise your right forearm and clench your fist.” For “oy vay,” smack the left side of your head, lean over and give it the full “Tevye” treatment.
Linking body movements with Yiddish came easily to Gotliffe, who looks a little like Tevye himself. He posed for the book’s photos along with his friends.
At 76, the guy is in shape. He studied the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi for several years, and he travels the country participating in table tennis tournaments for seniors.
What took more concentration was writing the spiritual insights that accompany each Yiddish phrase on the right-hand pages of his book.
For example, here are his thoughts on the phrase “hu ha” (I am amazed): “When you open your eyes, your heart and your soul to the unlimited possibilities of discovery, life’s beauty and richness will not pass you by.”
“The Oy Way” is not Gotliffe’s first book. A professional writer for 50 years, he founded the magazine journalism program at SJSU, wrote entries for the Encyclopedia Judaica, and is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
His love of Yiddish inspired him to take lessons, subscribe to the Bay Area Yiddish newsletter Der Bay, and attend the annual Northern California Yiddish Culture Festival every year.
“Yiddish is alive and well,” he says, “but it’s never going to be like it was when you had 9 million speaking it, including 2 million in the United States up to [World War II].”
“The Oy Way” by Harvey Gotliffe ($14.95, Cogitator Publications, 115 pages). Info: http://www.theoyway.com.
Washington Square Magazine
“Need a little mekhaye (joy) in your life? Want to brush up on your Yiddish? Harvey Gotliffe’s The Oy Way is sure to tickle as much as teach. A hilarious combination of Yiddish expressions and restorative Tai Chi-like exercises, the book will help you “follow the path of most resistance.”
The Midwest Book Review
“Sure, the English language is fine, but there's always room for a bit of extra flavor to it. The Oy Way: Following the Path of Most Resistance is a humorous delve into the Yiddish language as author Harvey Gotliffe writes how to use the language's unique expressions to spice up one's languages, with a touch of meditative exercise in the process. The Oy Way is a unique addition to any language or humor collection, much recommended.”
“The Oy Way is a cheeky mix of old-world tradition and West Coast self-improvement, always with a nod to humor.”
April 5, 2012
Tai chi meets Yiddish in Harvey Gotliffe’s
The Oy Way: Following the path of most resistance
Harvey Gotliffe has done what Californians are famous for doing. He has taken old ideas and created something entirely new by combining them.
Gotliffe is the author of the humorous new book The Oy Way: Following the path of most resistance, in which he brings together two abiding passions — tai chi and Yiddish.
He’s been practicing the ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi for more than twenty years. The Oy Way is his illustrated guide to tai chi gestures coupled with Yiddish words and phrases.
“It’s a meditative book,” said the veteran Santa Cruz journalist, who will read from his book at the Capitola Book Cafe on Monday. “I’ve been working with Holocaust survivors and they’ll often say Yiddish words or phrases, and I just felt it would fit right in with tai chi.”
The Oy Way is a cheeky mix of old-world tradition and West Coast self-improvement, always with a nod to humor. It is divided into thirty-six “movements,” slow-motion exercises associated with a Yiddish phrase, such as No. 16, bisl meshuge, translated as “a little bit crazy.” The exercise is, you guessed it, pointing to your ear and rotating your finger in a counterclockwise motion.
Gotliffe may be a kidder, but he’s dead serious about Yiddish, which sprung up about a thousand years ago from Ashkenazi Jews living in what is today Germany. The language thrived among the Jews of eastern Europe, from where it came to the United States in the great migrations of the twentieth century.
As a child, Gotliffe heard Yiddish from his European grandparents. It was, he said, the language of adults, what grownups would use when they didn’t want the children to overhear their conversation. But it wasn’t until he himself was an adult that he developed an interest in Yiddish while traveling through Lithuania, the homeland of his grandparents.
“It came to my attention that Yiddish was mostly dying off, except in heavy Hasidic households,” he said. Gotliffe is a journalist by trade, having earned a PhD in radio, film and television. He taught at San Jose State University, where he founded and directed that university’s acclaimed magazine journalism program.
It was through his work that he first started interacting with Holocaust survivors.
“I got to be friendly with a lot of survivors,” he said, “and they would talk to me in Yiddish.”
In mainstream American culture, Yiddish is often associated with comedy since it was often used by Jewish comedians trained in vaudeville. Well into the age of television, Jewish comics would use Yiddish words or phrases as part of their shtick, itself a Yiddish-ism for a comedian’s gimmick. As a result, many of the Yiddish words well-known in the Gentile population tend toward the vulgar.
Still, English has incorporated scores of Yiddish words, including bagel, chutzpah, schmooze, kibitz, mensch, glitch, zaftig and bupkis.
In recent years, however, there has been a growing interest in preserving Yiddish as a language in its own right, Gotliffe said. Clubs and classes have boomed, particularly in regions such as the Bay Area.
“The challenge is still to get the younger folks interested,” Gotliffe said. “They still associate it with old-timers and what happened in Europe [during World War II]. The younger generation just is not that interested.”
In the meantime, Gotliffe and other Yiddish enthusiasts long to see another Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate short-story writer, the last prominent American writer who considered Yiddish his primary language.
Until that time, Gotliffe can turn to one of his “movements” in The Oy Way, featuring an arm raised to the heavens. Vos vet zayn, vet zayn: “what will be, will be.”
“When things in life don’t go as planned, Harvey Gotliffe can get rid of bad energy. He simply steps back,
closes his eyes, breathes deeply, extends his palms and whispers gey avek, the Yiddish phrase for ‘go away.’”
April 3, 2012
“Oy Way” Master Exercises Cultural Pride
Santa Cruz writer Harvey Gotliffe offers tips on working out mind, body, and spirit
Harvey Gotliffe knows a good sense of humor can keep spirits high.
When things in life don’t go as planned, Harvey Gotliffe can get rid of bad energy. He simply steps back, closes his eyes, breathes deeply, extends his palms and whispers gey avek, the Yiddish phrase for “go away.”
Gotliffe, who will be holding a book signing at Capitola Book Café on Monday, April 9, recently wrote and published The Oy Way: Following the path of most resistance. The book is his collection of thirty-six mind-clearing tai chi–like exercises, each with its Yiddish phrase. Gey avek is just a personal favorite.
“It’s both a psychological and a physiological thing,” says Gotliffe. “When somebody or something is bothering you, you can mentally or physically get them out of there. Just say, ‘I don’t need you.’”
Gotliffe’s new book, which may sound like a bit from a rejected Seinfeld episode, has three distinct goals behind it, Gotliffe says. One is to maintain a sense of cultural pride in the Yiddish language, which has been slowly disappearing since World War II. Another is to allow for the psychological benefits from movement and exercise, and a third is to provide a little bit of entertainment to his readers, audiences and a few followers — some of whom are Holocaust survivors.
“When I taught, I found that people learn more if they’re looser, if they’re not worried they’re going to upset their professor — or [else] they sit there very tense,” says Gotliffe, who founded the magazine journalism program at San Jose State University. “So I try to put a little bit of levity in all that. If you’re a professor, you entertain along with educate.”
Each Oy Way exercise starts in one of two shrugging stances — the shteyn (standing) or the beygn (bent). The stances, which are very similar, both have a “what-are-you-gonna-do” look about them.
To complete his book, Gotliffe combined his experience in slow-moving Chinese martial arts with a wry brand of humor normally reserved for cinematic Jewish stereotypes — as evidenced by some of the names of his workouts. The routines, each one complete with its own photograph to demonstrate the exercise, include makhn a tsimis (making molehills into mountains), oykh mir a lebn? (this you call a living?) and zitsn oyf shpilkes, which translates to “sitting on pins and needles.”
Along with directions, each exercise comes with a rather comical section for “thoughts” and another for the workout’s “benefits.” The kum aher!, for example, employs a beckoning motion using the finger that not only brings people together but also “improves digital dexterity in the digital age.” But the movement’s “thoughts” section is equally helpful. “You can command others by making the right moves,” Gotliffe writes.
Gotliffe is a busy man, even now that the 600-plus hours of shlepn he says he put into his book are behind him. He’s begun work on his memoirs, which will cover the five years after his parents died and he traveled the world meeting relatives he didn’t know existed. When he isn’t writing his next book, he says he’s “hustling” to sell and promote his more recent one, which has already made it into bookstores around the country as well as into libraries Santa Cruz, San Jose and Detroit.
For Gotliffe the publicity game is a difficult one, with unfortunate setbacks along the way. Last month someone broke into his car and stole a wealth of his press materials. Luckily he had a Yiddish exercise in his arsenal to help him cope with the situation. “You get angry, and you use a certain language,” Harvey explains.
So, did you use the gey avek?
“I think I used something more profane, which isn’t in the book,” Gotliffe says.
If there is a unifying thread in Gotliffe’s work, it is his mission to find meaning in an often senseless world. Gotliffe’s Yiddish exercises are his path to find reason and truth.
“Narishkeyt is my favorite word, which is the nonsense in our lives,” Gotliffe says, “all the BS, whether it be the robbery, whether it be the Afghan war. It’s part of our lives all the time. And the gey avek helps to push it away.”
“While few members of the Japanese American community were able to speak Yiddish,
Harvey has published a book that might help resolve that situation.”
March 5, 2012
Bridging Communities the Oy Way
Long-time JAMsj supporter Harvey Gotliffe organized several Gathering of Friends events that brought together former Japanese American internees and Holocaust survivors so that they could discuss their own personal stories. At the first Gathering of Friends event in 2005, a Holocaust survivor was sitting next to a former Japanese American internee, and held up a sign and said, “This is my name in Japanese.” Her newfound friend held up a sign that the survivor had made, and proudly proclaimed, “This is my name in Yiddish.”
While few members of the Japanese American community were able to speak Yiddish, Harvey has published a book that might help resolve that situation. The Oy Way is an entertaining book that helps readers learn thirty-six Yiddish expressions while engaging in a restorative, meditative, moving exercise experience.
Be prepared to speak a bisl (bit of) Yiddish by the next Gathering of Friends.
“Whether you grew up speaking and hearing Yiddish or the language is completely foreign to you,
it is inevitable that chuckles will arise as you discover the phrases and stances proposed
in this lovable piece of literature.”
Book Review: The Oy Way
An ideal nod to the Yiddish heritage so many of us treasure, The Oy Way manages to combine Jewish history and humor in a manner that brings much delight to the reader.
Whether you grew up speaking and hearing Yiddish or the language is completely foreign to you, it is inevitable that chuckles will arise as you discover the phrases and stances proposed in this lovable piece of literature.
Gotliffe brings to life such phrases as gey avek (get out of here) and gib a kuk (give a look). Many of these phrases are ones I’ve heard hundreds of times and thought little of it, but to fully understand the history and meaning behind them has brought great joy to my day and an even more in-depth understanding of the language spoken, even today, by my grandparents.
“As a person of non-Jewish background, I thought The Oy Way was a humorous,
yet introspective book that dives into the rich history of the Yiddish language and culture.”
February 28, 2012
The Oy Way blends Yiddish jargon with Eastern flair
Harvey Gotliffe, a former SJSU professor, wrote a book titled The Oy Way, which pays homage to his Yiddish background and his interest in Eastern meditative exercise.
“I was inspired by teaching a class at SJSU that dealt with American media coverage of the Holocaust and the Japanese-American internment in World War II,” Gotliffe said.
Gotliffe taught at SJSU from 1986 to 2008 as the head of the Magazine Journalism Sequence, but had prior experience working as a freelance writer for 40 years.
Raised in Detroit in the 1950s, Gotliffe learned Yiddish expressions in his home, but only knew a little bit of the language itself.
“A lot of Jewish people on campus are unfamiliar with the language but know the expressions,” Gotliffe said.
According to The Oy Way, the term “Yiddish” derives from the German word for Jewish, jüdisch, and a person of Jewish descent was called ein Yid.
In addition, Gotliffe noted that there was a difference between the Yiddish languages compared to Hebrew.
“Yiddish is known as the mame loshen (mother tongue) and it’s spoken in the home.” Gotliffe said. “Hebrew is the language of the synagogue.”
Yiddish originated in Eastern Europe around a thousand years ago, and it’s a combination of Romantic languages, Slavic languages and Hebrew, according to Gotliffe.
In his book, various Yiddish expressions are combined with movements derived from tai chi.
“I’ve been taking tai chi for twenty years,” Gotliffe said. “There’s a Yiddish expression to go with each movement and there are a lot of similarities.”
One such expression portrayed in the book depicts Gotliffe extending his left hand outward while placing his right forefinger near his right eye and wriggling it.
The movement in the book is titled keyn eyn hore, or “no evil eye.”
“It’s keeping the bad influences away,” Gotliffe said.
The origins of The Oy Way came to fruition in 2000, but Gotliffe became more involved with the book around last year, spending about 650 hours in total writing the book.
According to Gotliffe, about 14 to 15 hours were spent doing research in addition to 10 hours per day writing the book.
However, Gotliffe wasn’t alone in the creation process of The Oy Way — his daughter and wife were some of the subjects in the book’s photos as well as his daughter providing pictures.
Some of the locales featured in the book ranged from Oakland to Gotliffe’s home in Santa Cruz, with his friends doing some of the exercises.
According to Gotliffe, the positive aspect of working on the book was spending time with his family.
Although the book is written for the Jewish demographic, Gotliffe said half of the book’s sales were from people of non-Jewish descent.
As a person of non-Jewish background, I thought The Oy Way was a humorous, yet introspective book that dives into the rich history of the Yiddish language and culture.
The addition of the tai chi movements to each Yiddish expression provides a visual treat that illustrates the little complexities of Yiddish jargon.
The Oy Way is currently available at CreateSpace.com as well as the Spartan Bookstore.
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