Gey, red tsu der vant, “Go, talk to the wall”—Israelis and their enemies alike seem to feel misrepresented by one or another sector of the media, who are toyb vi di vant, “deaf as the wall,” to their particular point of view.

The Yiddish wall does so much more than keep the insides of buildings off of streets and lawns. It figures in many idioms, a surprising number of which have to do with futility. Shlogn zikh kop in vant, “to bang your head against the wall,” means exactly that, while krikhn af di glaykhe vent, “to climb the perpendicular walls,” describes someone who’s doing everything possible to do something that can’t be done.

The association of walls with futile negotiation reaches a climax in a phrase that has its origins in matchmaking. The shatkhn is said to firn tsunoyf a vant mit a vant, “to bring one wall together with another,” a phrase rooted as much in the Talmud as in the reality of Jewish negotiation. With respect to marriage arrangements, Rashi—the foremost commentator on the Bible and Talmud—observes that “the man is alone [i.e., on one side], the woman is alone [i.e., on the other] and He [God] brings them together and establishes a house.” The Yiddish expression seems to be derived from Rashi, with the shatkhn replacing the Lord as the agent of togetherness and the couple’s fathers replacing the couple. There’s a jocular version of this which says that der shatkhn firt tsunoyf a vant mit a vant, “the shatkhn brings one wall together with another,” un zogt dernokh, shlogt zikh kop in vant, “and then says, ‘Bang your head against the wall’”—which could serve as the U.N.’s new motto.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.

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