Thursday, June 18, 2009

Around Town: Schlemiel! Schlemazel!

We were on our way to the LCHS awards night. Len drove. We were there for the 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant Memorial Scholarship award. We go every year. Afterward, we gather to remember Todd.

So, we were on Foothill Boulevard already when Len asked, What’s the difference?

What do you mean? I replied.

Len turned the corner. He asked, what’s the difference between a schlemiel and a schlemazel?

I was impressed. Even Rashi, the great Medieval commentator, couldn’t tell a schlemazel from a schmegeggy. Why? Because Rashi spoke French.

I paused to think before my reply. I said, I think schlemiels are usually taller than schlemazels. I’m not sure why, but I read it somewhere.

What do you mean? asked Len.

I began to quote the great Yiddish writer, Leo Rosten, who once explained that the schlemiel is the waiter who is always spilling hot soup down the neck of his customer. The schlemazel is the customer.

Seriously, however, the fact that the Class of 2009 is so accomplished (music, art, molecular simulation!) is most likely the result of a government program. As La Cañada goes, so goes the nation.Rumor has it that the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has invested heavily in education both as a way to provide jobs now and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity, also includes $5 billion for early learning programs specifically to eradicate the root causes of schlemiels and schlemazels. Early learning programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start and child care, have alerted children to the dangers of being labeled as schlemiels and schlemazels.

Since the Act also provides $77 billion for reforms to strengthen elementary and secondary education, including $48.6 billion to stabilize state education budgets (of which $8.8 billion may be used for other government services), many local schlemazels have gone undercover. They try to blend in. They don’t serve soup. They don’t even order soup.

Not so with the schlemiels, who figure no one will notice the difference now that the economy has slowed down.

Meanwhile, many experts outside of La Cañada suggest this four point program:

• Make improvements in teacher effectiveness and ensure that all schlemiels have highly-qualified teachers;

• Make progress rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning;

• Improve achievement among potential schlemazels, through intensive support and effective interventions; and

• Gather information to improve performance, and college and career readiness by tracking schlemazels through enhanced data systems.

The Act provides $5 billion in competitive funds to spur chart ambitious reform to close the language gap and improve access to higher education, which is critical to our economic future.

Now, if we could only eradicate the schmegeggies, life would be grand.


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at

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