Participants at a Yiddish language and cultural gathering in New York had plenty to say about Trump
The event happened to be taking place just days after Trump said Hillary Clinton was 'schlonged'
Donald Trump – talk about chutzpah.
That was the reaction of many participants at a Yiddish festival in New York City on Thursday, where scholars and lovers of the Yiddish language were buzzing about the latest Donald Trump controversy.
Attendees at the Yiddish New York cultural event hosted at the 14th Street YMHA had choice words – in English and Yiddish – for the Republican presidential candidate, expressing a mix of outrage and amusement at Trump’s use of the word “schlonged” on the campaign trail.
“It’s really perverse. It’s a filthy word in this context,” said Bob Blacksberg, a clarinetist who plays Klezmer music along with two of his sons.
“Everything he says is disgusting and he intends it to be disgusting,” said Miriam Isaacs, a Yiddish professor and linguist who is teaching a workshop at the festival.
Most of those interviewed by CNN were well aware of Trump’s recent attempt at Yiddish – some said they’d never heard the word used as a verb the way he had – and had been sharing stories about it on social media and discussing it with friends.
Joanne Borts, a singer and actor who is a faculty member at Yiddish New York, quipped that Trump doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of “schlong.” Nevertheless, “if he was trying to be offensive and pejorative, then he sort of did a good job,” Borts said.
Trump, a Queens, New York, native, found himself at the center of yet another controversy this week when he aimed the vulgar Yiddish term at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“She was favored to win, and she got schlonged. She lost,” Trump said at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Monday night, as he made a reference to Clinton’s 2008 defeat by Barack Obama.
Derived from the German word “schlange,” meaning snake or serpent, the Yiddish word “schlong” is widely interpreted as slang for a man’s penis.
Facing widespread ridicule and condemnation, Trump fired back, accusing the media of giving the term “schlonged” a false meaning. The word connotes a person getting “beaten badly,” Trump insisted on Twitter, writing: “‘Schlonged’ is not vulgar.”
But that explanation didn’t fly among many of the attendees of YNY, an event aimed at promoting Yiddish culture including music, language, film and dance.
“It’s a vulgarism that’s never used in public by people who are Jewish and speak the language. It’s a disgusting move on his part,” said Josh Waletzky, who is overseeing vocal and film programs at the festival. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Avia Moore, who teaches Yiddish dance, said she found Trump’s use of a non-native English word ironic, given what she views as his “anti-immigration” stance.
“Yiddish is an immigrant language in the U.S., right?” she said. “Why is he, as an anti-immigration candidate, using words that come from an immigration culture?”
Particularly in the aftermath of Trump bringing fresh attention to Yiddish this week, Yiddish New York festival attendees said they hope to bring greater awareness to the rich traditions attached to the language.
“So often Yiddish is the butt of jokes or silly words,” said Isaacs, the Yiddish professor. “I have little patience for that anymore.”
Aaron Blacksberg, an accordionist who is performing Klezmer music with his father at the festival, welcomed the chance to respond to Trump’s recent comments with a popular Yiddish phrase of his own: “Gai kakhen afen yam.”
It means, “go defecate in the ocean or the sea,” Blacksberg told CNN, before adding: “It’s not a nice thing to say, just to be clear about that.”