[NOTE BEFORE READING: names and names of organizations have been changed. This is one teen-at-risk’s take on the first night of planning for the movie of Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish (which actually was posted on Youtube that night). Tuna-Bygel is the street slang word for ex-Chassids.]
Many folks knocked themselves out “helping” Tuna Bygels like him, oozing pity and condescension. Very few, he had discovered, were sincere. You had those who made a career and a killing in helping kids like him. They got grants and private donors to put up thousands and thousands of dollars. For a while, in fact, Yoilish’s father was being charged $5,000 per month for someone to “help” him. $50,000 later, everyone realized that the arrangement was only helping the person being paid.
Then there were the assimilated Jews who offered their help. They did not ask for money, but boy, did they have an agenda. They were excited about being able to help these kids “out of the ghetto” as they termed it. If the kids weren’t angry enough and did not bash their childhood values enough, these guys knew how to bash even better. There are only so many times you can hear your community’s values trashed and pretend to agree or laugh even though you don’t agree with the bashing. To hear insinuations of the unhygienic, stinky nature of Chassidim day in and day out from folks who obviously had a beef with G-d and not with Chassidim grated on Yoilish’s nerves. Most of the Tuna Bygels were not as honest about their problems as he was, so while they could laugh at it all, he hated the false portrayal of his community. Yoilish had no illusions at this point about what had gone wrong in his life. He knew the mistakes his family and community had made. But he also was not out to deny their strengths. So he kept away from Step-Up people, the irreligious folks who started an organization to “help” Tuna Bygels like himself. Yet, he could not avoid them totally, as his friends were heavily involved with the organization, and oft times, when he would come over to visit his cousin Schwartz he would meet them all.
“Okay, we’re going to try a new thing,” introduced Julie, the woman who supposedly was here to help them. “We have a Yiddish language script of a play – wanna be actors?” After the Natalie Portman debacle in Williburg that might be debatable; but they were far gone and could afford notoriety.
“Sure ting,” said one young man who was just starting his Tuna Bygel descent and had not yet learned that the “th” sound is crucial to sounding more polished.
Yoilish was standing against the wall, watching all the guys sitting on the floor of the living room. “Bohemian” Temima had said the word was. Pigsty is what he thought. Cig butts and empty pizza cartons littered the center.
Julie introduced the plot. “So he killed himself?” asked Schwartz after he got the plot down straight.
“Yes,” said Julie.
“That’s stupid. Kill himself over a girl. Meshige”
“You were married?”
“Yes,” Schwartz admitted, his eyes down on the floor.
“An arranged marriage?”
“NO!” with vehemence.
“So if you really loved her, can you see love being so strong as to kill yourself.”
Schwartz backed down, embarrassed, not wanting to admit cocaine had killed his marriage, that he had lost the best thing that ever happened to him, his wife, and his two kids, because of drugs. Yoilish saw his retreat and rolled his eyes, “You put it that way, maybe I see it,” said Schwartz.
“Yeah right,” muttered Klein, “he just wants to seem like he got it.”
They began reading and as they did, they snapped their heads up and looked at each other with huge grins. The Yiddish was archaic. “Who wrote dis crap – nobody speak like dis,” said Weber.
“The Yiddish is an old Yiddish,” admitted Julie
“Old?! Its just not Yiddish.”
“Okay, so we’ll fix up the Yiddish as we go along.”
Someone had posted it to Youtube and Temima was watching it when he walked in. “Man, they sound so stupid,” she burst out. “Do they know how stupid they sound?”
He wished he could erase himself from the clip. He reassured himself that at least he hadn’t opened his mouth. His cameo role was silent observer.
And it made no difference when they finally polished themselves enough to produce the film or when they partied at screenings. They were losers in his eyes, ready to sell themselves and their issues like prostitutes, with the helpful pimping of those with agendas to make Chassidim look bad and crass. Not one was honest enough to admit their real issues. They hid behind “we were so sheltered we never saw movies” lines instead of discussing real issues, such as their own propensity to drug addiction or what had really happened to make them hit the streets.
Keep running, he thought, keep running away from yourselves. I, for one, intend to face my issues head on. Yes, I’m a Tuna-Bygel, but I intend to be a whole-wheat one, wholesome and nutritious even with my issues. A Tuna Bygel, mit a shmear of substance.