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The foundation of the characters in The Wanderers is Judaism and their relationship to it. This is reflected in their language. Schmuli and Esther are enmeshed in a conservative, religious community and as such use many Yiddish words and phrases as well as Hebrew prayers. To be clear, Yiddish and Hebrew are not one in the same. Hebrew is an ancient language that traces back to the 3rd century. It has evolved from its earliest form to what scholars refer to as Modern Hebrew, borrowing and integrating aspects of Greek, Spanish, and Arabic. Yiddish is a much younger language – only about 900 years old. It is a blend of roughly 80% German and 20% Hebrew, though over time it has incorporated many words from the Romance and Slavic languages, and, in the last hundred years, from English. The reason for its varying influences is that it is a language that has had to evolve to meet the needs of a repeatedly displaced people. Anytime the diaspora extended, new influences were incorporated. For those in the Satmar sect, like Esther and Schmuli, Hebrew is the language of religious texts and prayer while Yiddish is the primary spoken language.

A “real life” version of the couple would have more than likely spoken Yiddish exclusively, as there is little emphasis placed on learning English in Satmar education. Meanwhile, non-religious but culturally Jewish Abe uses Yiddish phrases occasionally, and, at an emotional moment, attempts to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer in Hebrew - Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba…b’alm (Magnified and sanctified is the great name of God throughout the world), to cope with a death in the family.  

The following glossary covers the words, phrases, and some references used throughout The Wanderers that might be unfamiliar to audiences of the play. Please note, there are sounds and letters in the Hebrew alphabet (which is also used in Yiddish) that don’t exist in the Roman alphabet that English uses. To that end, some of the words and phrases below might have alternative spellings due to differences in translations.


Aleinu: Literally, “it is our duty”; concluding prayer of each of the daily services.

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנו

Avinu Malkeinu: “Our Father, Our King!” A prayer recited/sung during Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year) and other days of fasting.


Bashert: Destiny or what is destined. Colloquially used to describe one’s soulmate.

ְתָּא דִּשְׁמַיָּא

B'esras Ha-Shem: “With the help of God” or, “God willing.”

בְּרִית מִילָה

Bris: Also known as Brit Milah; circumcision ceremony which generally takes place eight days after birth. The tradition is traced back to the Book of Genesis in which God commands Abraham to circumcise himself and sons.


Cheder: Elementary school for Jewish children.


Daven: Prayer


Gemara: A rabbinic commentary on and interpretation of the collection of Jewish law.

עט גארנישט העלפן

Gurnisht helfn: Beyond help, hopeless.


Goyim: Plural of goy, people who aren’t Jewish.‎

השם‎‎ hšm

Ha-Shem: Hebrew term for God that literally means “the name” used because of the belief that God is too holy to be spoken.


Hineni: In Hebrew “Here I am.” It is used in prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar – a day of atonement and repentance, to ask for God’s help in accessing the desire and ability to pray.

הֹדוּ לַה׳ כִּי טוֹב, כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּו

Hodu L’Hashem Kitov Ki Leolam Chasdo: The first line of Psalms 107 meaning “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness is everlasting.”


Kudoish: Holy


Khazer: Literally, pig. Colloquially, a greedy person.

לדור ודור

L’dor vador: From generation to generation.


L’ech l’cha: “Go forth”; a name given to a portion of the Torah in which God tells Abraham to leave his home in order to find a new land God will show him.


Mishegoss: Nonsense, craziness, mess, etc.


Mimeh: Aunt.


N’shumela: Term of endearment meaning “little soul.” From “Neshama,” a Hebrew word meaning soul or spirit. -ela indicates a diminutive.


Nebech: An unfortunate person, or someone who has not had much success.


Nei’lah: The last of five services held on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.


Nu: Meaning can fluctuate from “so?” or “well.”

פדיון הבן

Pidyon haben: Known as “redemption of the first born” it is a ceremony that takes place 30 days after the birth of a first born male in which the father gives 5 pieces of silver to a kohen (Hebrew word for priest).


Rekel: Coat worn by Hasidic men.


Sheitel: Wig used by married women who, according to Jewish law (Halacha), must cover their hair.


Shoyte: Fool.

שלום זכר

Shulem Zucher (also seen as Shalom Zachar): A get together the first Friday after a baby boy is born.


Shver: Difficult; also, father-in-law, though it has different etymological roots.


Tehillim: Psalms.


Vach nacht: Literally, a night of watching. The night before a bris when community members come to the family’s home and stay up to study religious text.

וְנֶאֱמַר: וְהָיָה יְיָ לְמֶלֶךְ עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

Ve’ne’emar. Ve’haya Adonai le’melech al kol ha’aretz,bayom hahu yihiyeh Adonai echad, u’shemo echad: And it is said, And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall the Lord be One, and his name One. (The final phrases of the Aleinu).


Yeshiva: Jewish school of higher or advanced study of religious text; can also be used to refer to Orthodox elementary schools



Note: Several sources provided definitions and context for multiple entries. My Jewish Learning,, and were wonderful assets for the curation of these definitions, especially the following articles:


Chapter 107
Pidyon Haben - Redeeming the First Born Son
Tehillim - Psalms
What is Prayer?
What is a Soul (Neshamah)
Why Stay Awake the Night Before a Brit Millah?


A Nebbish is Born
Just Say ‘Nu?’: Nu!


Avinu Malkeinu
Brit Millah Bris Ceremony
Hair Coverings for Married Women
Hineni: A Prayer for the Ability to Pray
The Mourners Kaddish
Neilah Service


Borovitz, Neal. “When God Says ‘Get Going’: Parashat Lech Lecha.World Union for Progressive Judaism, 18 Oct. 2018.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. "Hebrew language". Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Oct. 2022.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. "Yeshiva". Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Oct. 2012.

Bunis, David M. “Adjectives of Hebrew and Aramaic Origin in Judezmo and Yiddish”. Journal of Jewish Languages, 01 Dec. 2020.

Corwin, Dorrit. “L’Dor V’Dor: A Legacy of Love”. Jewish Women’s Archive, 11 Jan. 2018.

Humes, Immy. Boundaries and Separation” A Life Apart: Hasidism In America. 1997. JUF: Jewish Learning Glossary.

Levin, Sala. “Jewish Word: BeshertMoment Magazine, Sept. - Oct. 2013.

Miller, Yvette. “7 Jewish Expressions to Start Using Today.” 7 Sept. 2020.

Moss, Aron. “What is a Shalom Zachar?Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania. Chabad, 23 April 2006.

Student, Gil. “What is a Goy?Torah Musings, 4 Nov. 2013.

Tassel, Janet. “What is Yiddish? Harvard Magazine, 1 July 1997.

Weiss, Avi. “The Meaning of the Word Kadosh.YCT Torah Library, 11 May 2016.

Wex, Michael. Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods. United States, St. Martin's Press, 2007.

"מומע" – WordSense Online Dictionary. 5th January, 2023