Traveling from town to town on the Jewish Book Fair circuit, I’m beginning to feel like part of the great collective known as orkhe-porkhe–hoboes, vagrants, yidishe bindlestiffs like Stuffy Derma, the tramp on the old Milton the Monster Show. The term comes from the Hebrew oreakh poreakh, “a flying guest,” one who’s here today and gone tomorrow.

Unlike those of us who collect royalties, real orkhe-porkhe lebn fun vint, ” they live on wind,” fun nisim, “on miracles,” and fun rukhniyes. Rukhniyes means “spirituality,” but that doesn’t mean that they’re subsidized to perform religious works. They simply have no visible means of support. You could even say that they lebn fun shvientem dukhnem, “live from the holy spirit, the holy ghost.” which is not only invisible, but, so far as Jews are concerned, doesn’t even exist.

The wind, the rukhniyes, the holy spirit are all elaborate versions of the much more well-known luftmentsh, an “air man” full of ideas that never fly. He tends to be busy enough, always rushing hither and yon, never not on his way to a meeting, but no one can figure out just what it is that he does for a living. A little of this, a little of that; and always the hope that something will soon turn up. He tends to be engaged in one luft-eysek, “air business, business with no foundation,” after another. He’s usually portrayed as impractical, but desperate is probably a more accurate description––until such time as he’s voted into office.

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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