To kvell is to experience pride and satisfaction from seeing others (particularly one’s children and grandchildren) excel. Kvell is a verb, so it would be accurate to say to your friend, “I am sure that you were kvelling when you watched your son graduate yeshivah.”

Kvell vs. Shep Nachas

Although kvell is extremely popular among English-speaking Yiddish dabblers, most Yiddish speakers would probably describe the same sensation as to shep nachas (pronounced SHEP NOKH-is). Shep means “draw” (like drawing water from a well). Nachas is Hebrew for “calm” and “serenity,” but its Yiddish iteration implies the glow that comes from the success of the people you care about.

Thus, when your friend updates you on her prodigious son’s success (“He is now married and has a houseful of sweet children”), you can tell her to shep nachas, to lap up bucket-loads of satisfaction from those super-cute grandkids.

Joy vs. Suffering

If you are of Lithuanian extraction (Jewish Lita is, of course, not limited to the borders of modern-day Lithuania), you might point out that kvell has a homonym that means “to torment.” Huh? How can the same word have such different meanings?

According to a respected authority on Yiddish (a former editor at the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward), the two words are unrelated. In fact, among Polish Jews, the two words are pronounced differently. “To swell with pride” is to kvell, and “to torture” is to kvayll.

Now, that’s a factoid to make your bubby kvell (but not kvayll, we hope).

A Final Note

Nachas, joy from our children and grandchildren, is among the sweetest pleasures a Jew can hope for. It is common to bless people with “true Yiddishe nachas.” Jewish nachas is not generated by material wealth, academic accomplishments or social climbing. Rather, it is the joy that comes from seeing another generation of Jews living lives inspired by Torah, shaped by mitzvah observance, and focused on helping others.

This is something worth investing in. Make sure your home is founded on Torah, give your kids a stellar Jewish education, teach them to love Judaism, and, with the help of G‑d, get ready to kvell!