You’ve probably heard the words “schlep” or “nosh,” but there are lots more wonderful words in Yiddish, a hybrid of Hebrew and German. L.A. actress and author Ione Skye has incorporated more than a dozen of them into “My Yiddish Vacation” (Henry Hold/Christy Ottaviano Books, ages 5-8), a fond fictional childhood reminiscence based on her own life.
The book, illustrated by Scott Menchin, follows the adventures of Ruth and Sammy, siblings who travel alone to Florida for a weekend with their retired grandparents. The kids go swimming and act like “meshuggeners” (silly people) in the pool and play shuffleboard like “alter kockers” (crotchety old men), all the while giving their grandparents great “nachas” (pride).
Growing up, Skye had a bohemian childhood that contrasted with the “old-world coziness” she experienced visiting her grandparents in the Sunshine State. I was curious about her current family life as a mom of two daughters.
Do you find yourself using Yiddish expressions with your kids?
I don’t use Yiddish as much as my grandparents did. I do use sayings like “oy vay,” “mazel tov” (to congratulate someone) and “futz,” which means to fool around with something. Any other Yiddish words I seem to use with the awareness that I am choosing a Yiddish word for fun.
Your characters are six years apart. Are your children closer in age and does this make a difference in the family dynamic?
I based the characters in the book on my brother and myself, who are three years apart. My daughters are eight years apart and with their age difference, they end up having to make plans to play together because it so rarely happens naturally. It’s wonderful to see my older daughter (who is 12 ) make an effort to play with my 4-year-old, now that it’s registered she might regret not spending quality time before the little one grows up. I don’t force them to play together, I want my oldest to still be a kid and enjoy being with her sister and not feel like a babysitter.
What do you do to encourage family closeness?
I try to have the family eat at the table every night, although, my oldest would probably rather have a tray of food in her room. It is really nice to sit around the table and chat, it gives the kids “the floor” and they can speak while everyone listens around the table. Car rides can also be bonding and I love our conversations first thing in the morning in bed or before bed. The etchings that come out of the little ones’ mouth first thing in the morning are fantastic!
What do you find different today about raising a family compared to when you were a child?
When I was a kid, it seemed like nannies were only for rich kids and I also remember there being a lot more “latch key” kids in those days. I think a lot more families employ nannies these days. I think as a whole, parents are a lot more sheltering than they used to be and this has both a negative and positive side to it. When we shelter our kids emotionally it might not teach them to tolerate feelings well or trust themselves in life. But sheltering our kids when it comes to a child’s safety and less neglect is a positive turn. It’s tremendous when our family has the chance to let the kids run around by themselves like in the “old days.” Certain small towns we have been to are perfect for this freedom. Communicating with kids honestly has grown more popular. Back when I was a kid the idea ‘to be seen and not heard’ was just being phased out. The concept that kids are people too was growing back then and has continued to grow.
What has been your family’s favorite vacation?
We have been fortunate enough to take some amazing family vacations. Some of our favorite vacations have included Australia, where my husband is from. It has this wonderful, tropical feeling, the food is delicious because of the amazing fresh produce and some amazing beaches that are all for public use, unlike the private beaches of the California coast. We loved our visit to Merida and Tulum in Mexico, the warm water, historic Mayan ruins and the wonderful Colonial town Merida! Lastly, we have taken a few trips to India and that was fun for all of us. Stressful for me as the mother, not because I feared the girls would get sick but just the shlep (Yiddish word for long haul) and the newness of the place for my kids concerned me. They loved India, both journeys. Both trips to India we met up with friends, which added to the experience (and helped with babysitting when we needed it).
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