Gut yontof a tutti

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On occasions such as Christmas Day and Easter day when the streets were teeming with dressed up gentiles full of good will and there was an aura of festivities in the air, while going for a walk, my father would greet the gentiles he would encounter with a cheery and forceful "gut yontof". I expect that they rarely realized he was not speaking English. In any case I recall their all reacting positively.

The phrase is Yiddish. It literally means "good holiday". "gut" means "good" and is a cognate of the German "gut" and the English "good". "yontof" means holiday; it comes from the Hebrew "Yom Tov". "Yom" is Hebrew for day and "Tov" is Hebrew for good. So an etymologically literal translation of "Gut Yontof" is "good good day". In fact it's an idiom and is a greeting that Yiddish speakers exchange with each other on Jewish holidays, very akin to "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year". I don't recall ever discussing this with my father. But I think the habit had three interacting motives:

1. A genuine feeling of of well being and friendliness to the world, being caught up in the general good will that permeated the atmosphere. That is, he was being nice to the goyim.

2. A sort of insider's joke, because he knew and they didn't that the phrase was from his culture and not theirs.

3. An act of defiance and courage. He was saying to his fellow walkers "I am a Jew, whether you like it or not". He was speaking not just to Chicago gentiles in the 1940's but also to their contemporary German counterparts, to Ukrainian peasants of
1910, and to 20 centuries of persecutors.

What ever the reasons I have taken it upon myself to carry on this tradition as a sort of memorial to him. Every Christmas day I go out to say gut yontof to the goyim. The response is always positive. Usually something like "and Merry Christmas to you too" or "The same to you".

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La foto è di Brian Grigsby

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