if you can't say something nice

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably well aware that I’m running an Indiegogo campaign to try to fund a translation of Joseph Opatoshu’s classic Yiddish novel, In Poylishe Velder.  Crowdfunding of this sort can generate a peculiar relationship between the person seeking money and the people asked to give it; while I’ve received a great deal of heartening and supportive e-mail, the online nature of the enterprise lets people whose telephone habits have been curtailed by the spread of caller-i.d. send insulting e-mails from addresses I haven’t written to.  I’ve been called an asshole and even a fraud, all by people who don’t seem to have surnames  and whose e-mail addresses can’t be found on any of the lists compiled for this project.

But the biggest disappointment I’ve run into so far was a personal encounter with an ex-student of mine, a man about my own age who still sends me e-mails with questions about Yiddish. He came up to me in shul on Shavuos and, in a still halting Yiddish (for which I guess I deserve at least some of the blame), said, “You want me to give you money so you can translate this book? Ikh ken shtarbn on leynen dos bukh, I can die without reading the book.”

The Yiddish isn’t idiomatic, but I had to work with what I’d been given. “Nu, So,” I said to him, “shtarb-zhe shoyn avek un leyn, drop dead already and read.” You don’t want to contribute, don’t contribute; I’d like it if you did, but I don’t take it personally if you don’t–until you decide to turn it into an insult. All I can do now is wait for my former student e-mail me again for help.