The Yiddish FBI

The Forward's Allan Nadler favors us with a biting overview of the most decadent of history's rebbes. (Note that not all rebbes are decadent, and that Nadler speaks from a Misnagdishe viewpoint. He is biased, to put it mildly.) In the middle he says:
And so, Mayseh Ushits might be viewed as a cautionary tale for the alleged informant at the heart of today’s scandal. The Russian despots who persecuted the Hasidim and imprisoned their leaders were motivated by a lethal hatred of both Jews and Judaism, while the FBI is quite simply enforcing the laws of a just and uniquely philosemitic land (with the assistance, by the way, of a small team of FBI Yiddish translators, as a fascinating little footnote in the Bureau’s transcripts revealed). But this distinction is lost on the Spinker Hasidim, to whom the very idea of historical evolution is entirely foreign and whose main concern, now that the Rebbe is “free,” is to wreak God’s bloody vengeance upon the despised informant.
I could have been one of the FBI's Yiddish translators. Now the tale can be told (because no one cares at the Department of Justice whether I breach my little corner of confidentiality). There was a Web advertisement for free-lance Hebrew and Yiddish translators, so I bit. There was a written test (inexpertly typewritten, then mimeographed), featuring reading-comprehension questions based on passages that read like they were taken from pre-spelling-reform Forverts about how many troops were massing against what enemy on the northern front. ("Question 23. How many tanks does the enemy have rolling towards us right now? A. 1,000. B. 250. C. Those are not tanks. They are horses painted to look like tanks.") Then a telephone interview with a pleasant speaker of Polish Yiddish.

And then the lie detector test. At one point, the interviewer looked crossly at me and said, "Look, I really want to help you get this. I want to help you land this job. But you have to help me out. Why aren't you telling me the truth?" I think the problem was that I was associated with "foreigners" (e.g., the foreign-born editor of the Forverts) and so my answers to some questions ("Are you in cahoots with the Russkies?") might have been suspect. So I failed.

I'm not an FBI Yiddish translator . . . because I'm a liar.

1 comment:

  1. This post is going to be included in the upcoming edition of Haveil Havalim.