by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
WHAT, ME WORRY?
Note: The Yiddish word meaning “to worry” is “umry.”
Worry and fear can make our life miserable.
Who can forget Alfred E. Neuman, the fictional mascot and cover boy of Mad Magazine. Neuman has jug ears (“oyern”), a missing front tooth (“tson”), and one eye lower than the other. It’s a face that didn’t have a care in the world (“di velt”), EXCEPT mischief (“shtiferay”).
Mad Magazine has combined Neuman with a slew of guises, including Santa Claus, Darth Vader, George Washington, King Kong, Baby New Year, Batman, Spider- Man, George S. Patton, and even the Fiddler on the Roof (“Fiddler afn dakh”).
Neuman’s favorite motto is “What, me worry?” This was changed in one issue to “Yes, me worry!” after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
Artist, Andy Warhol, said that seeing Neuman taught him to love people with big ears.
Michele Klein brings her training in “psikhologye” (Psychology) and love of all things Jewish to the notion of worry—the normal everyday angst that we feel to varying degrees. She explores the way in which Jews have experienced, expressed, and coped with it since biblical time up to the post-9/11 present.
Klein is the author of “Not To Worry - Jewish Wisdom and Folklore.” This book was written whle her children (“kinder”) served in the Israel Defense Forces. The book addresses such questions as:
What is worry? Why, when and how do all of us do it? Is it a Jewish thing? Is it avoidable and is it all bad? How can we turn our tendency to worry into a positive force in our lives?
She shows us how Jewish wisdom and centuries-old, fine-honed coping skills—including prayer (“tfile”), wisdom (“khokhme”) from the Sages, meditation (“klern” means to meditate), mysticism and dream interpretation, music and humor—can give us the courage (“mut”) to face the world that often appears uncertain or threatening.
And The Rev. Otis Nixdorf, Pastor, East Side Baptist Church, Independence, MO, tells a story of a real worrier.
There was a lady who died in 1916 named Hetty Green. She was called America’s greatest miser. When she died she left an estate valued at $100 million, but she was so miserly that she ate cold oatmeal in order to save the expense of heating the water. When her son had a severe leg injury, she took so long trying to find a free clinic to treat him that his leg had to be amputated because of advanced infection. I am sure she was worried about losing her wealth, so she didn’t even enjoy her life!
Tom Darcy had a wonderful cartoon many years ago in Newsday. It contained a conversation between a father and a son. The son is about to leave their suburban home for Jones Beach, Rockaway Beach, Long Beach, or some other beach (“plazhe”):
Son: “So long, dad—I’m off to the beach party.”
Dad: “Hold it, son—keep your mouth shut when you swim so you don’t swallow the raw sewage and swim around the bloody syringes, AIDS vials, stomach linings and diseased, dead lab rats!”
“And with AIDS, pack condoms and sunscreen lotion to prevent skin cancer, step clear of dumped toxic chemicals in the dunes, keep under the umbrella if there’s any acid rain and pack a deer rifle in case you run into a pack of crazed crack druggies!”
Son: “Don’t worry, dad—I even packed my ski jacket in case there’s a freak snowstorm!
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