February 7, 2016 / 28th of Shvat, 5776
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To Make a Tsimmes or Not to Make a Tsimmes, That is the High Holiday Question !

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur right around the corner I thought I would turn my attention to two of my favorite aspects of Jewish life – Yiddish language and food. As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been making my way through the book “Born To Kvetch, Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods,” by Michael Wex, so as I sit and contemplate the joyous meal I will have on Rosh Hshanah and the food I won’t eat on Yom Kippur, I turn once again to Mr. Wex’s book.

As I read through his chapter on food, I came to the place I was looking for, his discussion of tsimmes.  Even as I write the word tsimmes I can smell a big pot of it boiling, giving off the unique aroma that I associate with Jewish holidays. Wex notes the pride of place reserved for tsimmes on the dining room table, writing “… the classic tsimmes, the tsimmes of record as it were, is the carrot tsimmes. As the almost inevitable side dish at every Rosh Hashanah family dinner – think of it as the High Holiday cranberry sauce – the carrot tsimmes is familiar even to those who do not make it a part of their regular Friday-night meal…”

Even more so than potato latkes or knishes, I love tsimmes, so I was even more excited to discover in Wex’s book that this is not just the name of a delicious food, but also a word that can be used in other contexts as well. Wex writes: “Makhn a tsimmes, ‘to make a tsimmes,’ is a very common idiom meaning to make a fuss, a to-do, a big deal out of something that doesn’t deserve it.” 

This is a phrase I am definitely going to start using from now on, and I think it contains a useful concept to ponder as we head into the yomim noraim (High Holidays), which is that there are things that are worth getting upset over and thinking about, and there are things which are not. As I enjoy my holiday tsimmes this week that’s something I’ll try and keep in mind – there are times when one should literally make a delicious tsimmes ( a stew of vegetables and meat) to celebrate, and there are  times when you just have to realize that in the end, to “mahkn a tsimmes”, really isn’t worth the effort.

The trick is knowing when it’s a good idea to sit down with a big pot of bubbling stew, and when  you’re better off  walking away from something that isn’t worthwhile. Either way, I’m sure there’s a Yiddish phrase out there somewhere, for this kind of indecision, but personally, I’m not inclined to makhen a tsimmes over it.

l'shanah tova,

Daniel E. Levenson

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

The New Vilna Review



The New Vilna Review is a Boston-based online journal dedicated to exploring ideas about modern Jewish identity from an individual and communal perspective. We publish essays, fiction, poetry, interviews and other media by new and established writers and artists from around the world.

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