Navigate to News section

Notes on Haimish

What is and what isn’t

Marc Tracy
August 30, 2011
A hamish thing of post-its.(Wikipedia)
A hamish thing of post-its.(Wikipedia)

In a Semitic twist on the traditional August rite of mining your vacation for a column, David Brooks expounds today on the difference between the bare-bones places he and his family stayed while on safari and the nicer ones: “I know only one word to describe what the simpler camps had and the more luxurious camps lacked: haimish.” He continues: “It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality. It occurred to me that when we moved from a simple camp to a more luxurious camp, we crossed an invisible Haimish Line. The simpler camps had it, the more comfortable ones did not.” He notes that restaurants, neighborhoods, and hotels can be haimish or not. He says Hillel Houses are not haimish but Chabad houses are. He reports that contemporary sociologists believe the concept of haimish evolved as a way for Jews to regulate and systematically justify spending less money (okay, I am making that up, but that has to be it, right?). For the perplexed, a guide by example follows.

Haimish: Tennis.
Not haimish: Golf.

Haimish: The Upper West Side.
Not haimish: The Upper East Side.

Haimish: A good internist.
Not haimish: A good specialist.

Haimish: Gin.
Not haimish: Poker.

Haimish: Catholics.
Not haimish: Protestants.

Haimish: Sending your kids to summer camp.
Not haimish: Letting your kids have TVs in their rooms.

Haimish: Italy.
Not haimish: France.

Haimish: French.
Not haimish: German.

Haimish: Post-its.
Not haimish: Stationery.

Haimish: Wine.
Not haimish: Liquor.

Haimish: Bill Clinton.
Not haimish: Barack Obama.

Haimish: The Chicago Cubs.
Not haimish: The New York Yankees.

Haimish: Navy blue.
Not haimish: Teal.

Haimish: Club Med.
Not haimish: The Bahamas.

Haimish: Commentary.
Not haimish: The Weekly Standard.

Haimish: Decaf.
Not haimish: Regular.

Haimish: Tom Hanks.
Not haimish: Richard Gere.

Haimish: Backpacks.
Not haimish: Briefcases.

Haimish: Law and Order.
Not haimish: The Wire.

Haimish: The Catskills.
Not haimish: The Hamptons.

Haimish: Re-using tea bags.
Not haimish: Not re-using tea bags.

Haimish: New Jersey.
Not haimish: Connecticut.

Haimish: iPhones.
Not haimish: Macs.

Haimish: San Francisco.
Not haimish: L.A.

Haimish: The Harry Potter books.
Not haimish: The Harry Potter movies.

Haimish: The New York Times.
Not haimish: The Wall Street Journal.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.