Have you noticed the Haimish Line?

My dictionary.com app kindly informed me this morning that the word of the day is haimish[HEY-mish]. Upon saying it silently in my mind, I immediately envisioned some sort of thick Middle Eastern porridge, but alas that wasn’t quite right. The Yiddish term actually means “homey; cozy and unpretentious.” Let’s give it a try…

  • “This house’s interior decor is extraordinarily haute with a haimish twist – a very rare find,” said the well-rehearsed realtor to the unknowingly naive newlyweds.
  • The convivial vibe around that  dinner table of extended family (complete with whacky Uncle Louie and his dear Aunt Sue) was remarkably, and most unexpectedly, haimish.
  • Marked by frequent good-hearted, high-volumed toasts and multiple random outbursts of Irish jigs, the aura at that dive bar was haimish to an irresistible degree.

Perhaps none of these sentences use this cool word correctly, but regardless, its a cool word. I think I’d like to be haimish.

Google says that about a year ago New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a widely-read piece entitled The Haimish Line.  I won’t tell much (because I hope you’ll click and read it), but in short Brooks visited seven African safari camps and found some to be extravagant yet cold, while others were modest yet offered a rich, communal warmth. This experience made him acutely aware of a “Haimish Line” that shows up throughout our societal structures:

I know only one word to describe what the simpler camps had and the more luxurious camps lacked: haimish. 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.

This is a generalized phenomenon, which applies to other aspects of life. Often, as we spend more on something, what we gain in privacy and elegance we lose in spontaneous sociability.

In his article, Brooks goes on to discuss how our spending habits reveal our priorities (relationships? reputation? comfort? simple pleasures? status?), as well as which side of the Haimish Line we each tend to migrate towards. He closes with some wise “kernels of consumption advice” — like I said, his column is worth a quick click.

Have you noticed the Haimish Line?

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