I wish that I could say that I’m kvetching in the country, but no––that would be too much of a luxury, that might come too close to entertainment. And God forbid I should have any of that. No, it isn’t I who’s kvetching out here: I’m the victim, I’m the one who’s being kvetched about.

Here’s what happened. I was invited to speak at a rustic kosher retreat as part of a larger program of klezmer music and Yiddish culture. Over the course of my introductory talk, I happened to tell a joke about my efforts to sneak out of Torah camp in 1969 in order to go to Woodstock. “Look,” said the crowd, “he’s making fun of observant people,” having forgotten that the only observant person described or even mentioned in my story was me, busy doing what I do best: not getting what I want.

Nu, what can you do? The audience’s reaction is a perfect illustration of one of the best-known expressions in the Yiddish language. Me’ ken lebn, you could live, as they say. The problem is not at all metaphysical. Life in the fullest sense of the word is indeed possible in this sublunary, material world. Me’ ken lebn––life is what the world is here for––ober me’ lozt nisht, but they won’t let you. It isn’t life that’s to blame, it’s the living. Just about all of them. There are a lot of them, they’re all out to get you–and worse, as far as they’re concerned, it’s your fault.

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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