Dust off your Yiddish, take it to the deli, and get yourself a free bagel

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Photo: STAN HONDA (Getty Images)

Do you know the word “bagel”? Do you know the word “schmear”? Congratulations! You know two words of Yiddish! You are on your way to becoming bilingual. And if you can master a few more words by next Tuesday, April 6, and say them to the nice person behind the counter at one of five delis nationwide, you can get your bagel and schmear for free. The full sentence is—say it with me—“Ken ikh hubn a baygl mit shmirkeyz,” which translates to “Can I have a bagel with schmear?”

The free baygls mit schmirkeyz are actually being provided by the language-learning app Duolingo in celebration of Yiddish, its 40th language. According to a Duolingo press release, Yiddish is still spoken by 600,000 people worldwide, down from a peak of 13 million about a century ago. (Note: this is not entirely a bad thing. Yiddish was spoken by Eastern European Jews who were forced by law to live in specific areas where they couldn’t own property or join craft guilds or enjoy any benefits of citizenship, although the men could be drafted into the nation’s army as machine gun fodder. When those Jews left Central and Eastern Europe and moved to other countries, they had to learn the local language to assimilate and didn’t bother to teach Yiddish, language of segregation, to subsequent generations, aside from a few colorful expressions and curses. In exchange—with the extremely large exception of the Holocaust—they were treated as human beings, mostly.)


The five dispensers of free bagels are Katz’s Deli in New York, Factor’s Famous Deli in LA, Manny’s Cafeteria & Deli in Chicago, Zak The Baker in Miami, and Pigeon Bagels in Pittsburgh. Food & Wine has the exact addresses and hours. Again, the magic words are “Ken ikh hubn a baygl mit shmirkeyz.” The “kh” in “ikh” should be pronounced like you’re clearing your throat. To get the right intonation, imagine yourself as an argumentative minor character on Seinfeld. And, as the Yiddelach say, הצלחה צו דיר, “good luck to you” (hitzalcha tzu dir—and yes, I had to look that up on Google Translate).