In connection with my uncle Mordkhe Schaechter‘s (MS, 1927 – 2007) yortsayt a couple of weeks ago, I am featuring a short children‘s song, “Oy, kh‘bin gegangen eyns‟ (“Oy, I Went One”) that he sang for the collector Leybl Kahn in 1954. (see the earlier post of another song performed by him).
Mordkhe Schaechter at Yiddish Vokh, Circle Lodge, NY 1985.
Photo by Itzik Gottesman
A longer version of this cumulative song involving animals “Tsimba-rimba‟ was recorded on the CD Di grine katshke (Living Traditions 1801) in 1997 produced by Living Traditions. Lorin Sklamberg is the lead singer and according to the notes, he learned this song from “Inna Slavskaya, a Soviet immigrant singer now living in Berlin, Germany. Inna learned the song from her mother‟.
Unfortunately, MS only sings three verses because, as he says later in the recording for Kahn, he only wanted to make sure he got the melodies down before he forgot them, and wasn‘t concerned with the words.
It is possible that in a 1953-54 issue of Der seminarist, a journal of the Yidisher lerer-seminar in NYC, he printed all the words. I hope to find the issue and if the words are found, we will add them to the blog.
Researching “Cabaret Warsaw,” a cd of music created and performed by Jews in Warsaw between the wars, I was pointed to a 1929 book called “35 letste teatr lider fun Azazel un Sambatiyon” (Azazel and Sambatiyon being two kleynkunst venues popular at the time). I found the book at Brooklyn’s Chasidic “Library Of Agudas,” along with six tiny books of theater songs and monologues (lyrics only) published in 1933 and 1934 by bookseller and record shop owner Itzik Zhelonek (Zielonek). I decided to track down the melodies for as many of these songs as possible (for more information click here); Itzik Gottesman sent me a version of one of them sung by Jacob Gorelik - this week’s Yiddish Song of the Week, known as “Dos fleshl” (the bottle) or “Tshort vos’mi” (The Devil Take’s It).
Gorelik learned the song from a guy in Central Park – back when it was a place people went to “sing and play” (he contrasted that to its present reputation as a place to buy drugs). He didn’t know the man, or where the song came from, but he said it shares its melody with the Russian song “Kare Glaski” (“Brown Eyes,” see Russian lyrics below).
The words Gorelik sang were quite different from the lyric printed in “35 letste teatr lider” (texts to both versions are below). Sometimes singers “folk process” what they’ve heard, or they forget the words and re-imagine them from scratch.
Here is the song as sung by Jacob Gorelik, recorded in his NYC apartment, 1985, by Itzik Gottesman:
Gorelik’s spoken introduction, transcribed and translated by Itzik Gottesman:
A special genre of songs are about drunks. Because, basically, the background of every drunk is a sad one: a person is not born drunk – troubles, bad habits, bad family; the father was a drunk. And here we have a song of a drunk, and he tells us, more or less, of his life. I don‘t know the father, the mother [of the song]; I don‘t know who wrote the song and who created the melody. Possibly it‘s an old theater song, very possiblew but it has the taste of a folksong. I heard it my first years in America in Central Park. I lived then at 110th street, near the park. And in those years the park was not just a place to sell drugs, or for other deviates. The park was the for the youth. We came and sang, played, sang. We were not afraid. We even slept there till 2:00 at night near the reservoir. And there I heard someone sing this song of a drunk. I don‘t remember his name.
The song of a drunk – ‘Tshort Voz’mi’, which means – The Devil Take It. Gorelik’s version, transcribed and translated by Jane Peppler:
Yo, hob ikh in der velt alts farlorn
A yosim geblibn bin ikh fri
Mayne fraynt hob ikh, hob ikh shoyn lang farlorn
Mayn fraynt iz nor dos fleshl, tshort voz’mi
I’ve lost everything in this world,
I was orphaned at an early age.
I lost my friends long ago,
Only my bottle is my friend
The devil take it.
Ikh hob a mol a nomen gehat
azoy vi di greste aristokrasi
un haynt hob ikh im shoyn lang fargesn
vi ruft men mikh, freg baym fleshl, tshort voz’mi
I used to have a name like the great aristocrats
Now I’ve forgotten my former reputation,
What people call me now, ask the bottle
The devil take it.
Ikh hob a mol a heym gehat
Ergets vayt, ikh veys nisht vu
Haynt gey ikh arum na venad
Vu iz mayn heym?
Freg baym fleshl, tshort voz’mi
I used to have a home somewhere
Far away, I don’t know where.
Now I go around without a homeland.
Where is my home? Ask the bottle.
The devil take it.
Ikh hob a mol a gelibte gehat
Iz zi dokh tsu a tsveytn avek
Un haynt hob ikh fil, un lib nisht keyner
Mayn gelibte iz nor dos fleshl, tshort voz’mi
I used to have a sweetheart,
She’s left me for someone else.
And now I have so much, but I don’t love anybody
My sweetheart? Just this bottle.
The devil take it.
Here is the text printed in the 1929 collection:
Geven bin ikh a mentsh eyner
Bakant geven in der gantser velt
Haynt iz far mir alesding farlorn
Tsulib dir, mayn fleshele, okh! Tshort vosmi!
I used to be well known in the whole world
Now everything is lost to me because of you, my bottle,
The devil take it
Gehat hob ikh a kale Gitele
Antlofn iz zi, der tayvl veyst vu
Zi hot mir geton mayn lebn derkutshen
Tsulib dir, mayn fleshele, okh! tshort vosmi!
I had a bride, Gitele,
She’s run away, the devil knows where
She tormented my life thanks to you, my bottle
The devil take it
Men varft mir shteyner nokh in di gasn
“Shlogt im!” shrayt men, “dem bosyak.”
Zogt mir, menshn, farvos tut ir mikh hasn?
Tsulib dir, mayn fleshele, okh! Tshort vozmi!
People throw stones at me in the street.
“Hit that bum,” they cry,
Tell me, people, why do you hate me?
Because of you, my little bottle,
Oh, the devil take it.
Vu iz mayn foter? Vu iz mayn muter?
Vu iz mayn heymat, zogt mir vu?
Fun vandern iz mir shoyn mayn lebn farmiest
Tsulib dir, mayn fleshele, okh! Tsort vozmi!
Where is my father? My mother?
My homeland? Tell me, where?
My life is ruined by wandering,
Because of you, my little bottle
The devil take it.
S’vert mir erger in di letste tsaytn
Kh’bin shoyn alt un krank un farshmakht
Un, ikh shtarb avek, mayne libe laytn,
durkh dir, mayn fleshele, oy, a gute nakht!
Lately things have gotten worse for me,
I’m old and sick and languishing
I’m dying, my dear people,
Because of you, my little bottle,
oy, good night!
Yiddish text – Gorelik’s version:
Карие глазки (Brown Eyes)
Карие глазки, где вы скрылись.
Мне вас больше не видать.
Куда вы скрылись, запропали,
Навек заставили страдать.
Выньте сердце, положите
На серебряный поднос.
Вы возьмите, отнесите
Сердце другу, пока спит.
The Yiddish Song of the Week is glad to be back after a brief hiatus caused by a hurricane-related telecommunications breakdown.
“Dos Daytshl” (“The German Guy”) as sung by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] (see previous posts for her biography) is linguistically the most complicated song yet posted.
The comic ballad is international and found in many languages and is known in the Child canon as “Our Goodman” (#274). The texts have remained remarkably similar through time and languages. My folklore professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Kenneth Goldstein, played us a field recording he had made of African-American kids in West Philadelphia singing a rap version of this ballad and the words were almost the exact ones as the Yiddish lyrics LSW sings.
In The Folks Songs of Ashkenaz (pp. 139 – 142) edited by Philip V. Bohlman and Otto Holzapfel (2001), the editors make an interesting comparison of a Yiddish version found in the Ginsburg-Marek collection to a German version collected in German colonies in southern Russia. Unfortunately, they only compare the texts, though several Yiddish versions with melodies have been printed (for example, one melody of a Yiddish version exists in Yidisher folklor, YIVO 1938). Their brief history of the ballad indicates that the German versions of the song came from a Scottish variant in late 19th century, and after it was published in a German almanac in 1790 it circulated much more widely.
There are many printed Yiddish versions of the song, most recently in Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive (p. 30-31) edited by Chana Mlotek and Mark Slobin. Their introduction refers to other printed Yiddish versions. On the Yiddish ballad in comparison to other international versions read Chana Mlotek’s “International Motifs in the Yiddish Ballad” in For Max Weinriech on his Seventieth Birthday. The Yiddish ballad was still popular into the 1930s in Eastern Europe.
Since LSW comes from the Bukovina, where Jews were fluent in Yiddish and German, the German element in the song has to be analyzed not just as Germanisms in a Yiddish text, but as to what these German words evoke when sung by a Yiddish folksinger who is performing a comic song making fun of a German. Does the singing of ”Eyns, tsvey, drey” and not “dray” which would be the correct form in both Yiddish and German, indicate a funny hypercorrection of a German based word in Yiddish?
Of course, it’s not just any German being made fun of here, but a German peasant or farmer. The Germanisms also imply that such a song about a cuckold would “never” be sung about a Jewish husband and wife. Since LSW usually sings slow mournful songs it’s refreshing to hear her sing a comic song with such gusto and drama.
The author of the text to “Nakhtishe lider”, Herz Rivkin was born Herzl Heisiner in Capresti, Bessarabia (today Moldova) in 1908, and died in a Soviet gulag, November 14, 1951. The poem is taken from his only printed poetry collection “In shkheynishn dorf” [From the Neighboring Village], Bucharest, 1938. Reprinted in Bucharest, 1977.
The composer of the melody is unknown. The performer of this week’s posting, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (my mother), learned this song in Chernovitz in the 1930s. The only recording of the song is by Arkady Gendler on his CD “My Hometown Soroke”, 2001. That version is incomplete with two verses by Rivkin, and a third by Gendler. Gendler titles the song “Nakhtike lider” which is the original title in Rivkin’s book.
Singer Michael Alpert has initiated and directs a concert program with singer/bandura player Julian Kytasty which brings together Jewish and Ukrainian singers and musicians in a collaborative program, the title of which “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village” was inspired by this song.
I recorded my mother’s performance of “Nakhtishe lider” at home in the Bronx in the 1980s. The audio quality of the recording is unfortunately not stable (be careful when listening – the volume increases significantly at 0:27), but Schaechter-Gottesman’s singing here is a wonderful example of what I would call urban interwar Yiddish singing and contrasts powerfully with the older plaintive, communal shtetl-style of her mother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman.
Nakhtishe lider fun shkheynishn dorf farblondzen amol tsu mayn ganik. Zey leshn mayn troyer; zey gletn mayn umet. Zey flisn vi zaftiker honig.
Night Songs from the neighboring village. Lose their way to my porch. They extinguish my sadness; they caress my melancholy. They flow like juicy honey.
Lider khakhlatske, muntere, frishe. Vos shmekn mit feld un mit shayer. Zey filn di luft un mit varemkeyt liber, vos shtromt fun a heymishn fayer.
Ukrainian Songs, upbeat and fresh that smell with field and barn. They fill the air with a loving warmth, that streams from an intimiate fire.
Nakht iz in shtetl, ikh lig afn ganik. Ver darf haynt der mames geleyger? Iz vos, az s’iz eyns? Iz vos, az s’iz tsvey? Iz vos az shlogt dray shoyn der zeyger?
It’s nighttime in town; I lay on my porch. Who needs today my mother’s place to sleep? So what if it’s one? So what if it’s two? So what if the clock strikes three?
Her ikh un ikh veys nisht iz yontif in dorf. Tsi es hilyen zikh glat azoy yingen. Az vos iz der khilek? Oyb s’vet bald, mir dakht di levone oykh onheybn tsu zingen.
I listen and I don’t know if it’s a celebration in the village, or just some kids are singing. But what is the difference? If soon, it seems The moon will also start to sing.
Azoy gisn amol zikh fun skheynishn dorf heymishe, zaftike tener. Biz s’heybt on frimorgn tsu vargn di nakht un ez heybn on kreyen shoyn di heyner.
In this way pours out, from the neighboring village intimate, juicy melodies. Until the early morning begins to choke the night and the roosters start to crow.
A print version of Bay der fintsterer nakht can be found in I. L. Cahan “Shtudyes vegn yidisher folksshafung” YIVO, 1952, NY, in an article given the title for this volume “Peyrushim af 24 lider” that his student at the YIVO institute in Vilna, Shmuel-Zanvil Pipe, had prepared for publication. This article consisted of Cahan’s comments on Yiddish songs that Pipe had collected in his hometown of Sanok [in Yiddish "Sunik/Sonik"], Galicia. Pipe had collected a version of “Bay der fintserer nakht” in 1934 from a singer who said it was sung 30 years earlier. The song is in Cahan, 1952, page 185, and has three verses, rather than two verses and one refrain, as Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (1894-1974) (LSW) sings it.
According to interviews with LSW conducted by Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, NYU, in 1972-73, the song was sung by the plagers/plogers (sufferers). The plagers were young Jewish men who were about to be inducted into the Austria-Hungarian army and wandered from town to town, usually in groups, so they would intentionally fail the draft because of their poor health. See my article “Plagers: a folkloristishe shtudye” [Plagers: a folkloristic study], Forverts, January 7th, 2010, page 4, which refers to the literature on plagers in Yiddish.
Lifshe Schaechter-Widman’s Hometown of Zvinyetchke, Bukovina, Ukraine Photo by Itzik Gottesman, 2010
In this recording of LSW made by Leybl Kahn in New York City in 1954, she clearly sings the song too high in this performance, as can be heard in the last verse.
Bay der fintsterer nakht is unusual textually – it doesn’t fall into the usual categories of men’s songs – not religious, not political, not a work song, not humorous, not nationalist. It’s partly a lament on how miserable life is, and partly a love song; topics we would usually hear in women’s songs.
Bay der fintsterer nakht lig ikh mir bayshtendik*, oy, un trakht. zayt ikh bin fin mayn heym avek. ikh ken shoyn nit kimen keyn kayn tsvek. Ver se vil nit, dertsapt mir mayn blit.
In the dark night, I lay constantly, oy, and think, since I have left my home. I cannot reach any goal. Who ever wants can bleed me.
Oy, oy, oy, oy Vi farbitert iz mir dus harts Oy, oy, oy, oy Ver ken den film mayn shmerts. Derekh ayn imgliklekher libe Imtsugeyn in di gasn aleyn, Tsu zayn fin mayn heym fartribn. Oy elnt bin ikh vi a shteyn.
Oy, oy, oy, oy How bitter is my heart. Oy, oy, oy, oy Who can feel my pain? Because of an unfortunate love, I wander the streets alone. To be driven from my home - Oy, lonely am I as a stone.
Mayn mame hot mikh gelozt shtudirn. Zi hot gevolt az fun mir zol zayn a lat Fun deym alemen hot zikh gur oysgelozt. Ikh ti mir blind arimshpatsirn. Elnt bin ekh, in na venad.
My mother allowed me to study, She wanted something to become of me [lit - she wanted me to become a respectable person] From all of this, nothing turned out. Blindly I wander around, lonely am I and homeless.
Oy, oy, oy, oy Vi farbitert iz mir mayn harts Oy, oy, oy, oy Ver ken den film mayn shmerts? un derekh a finsterer libe arimtsugeyn in di gasn aleyn, Tsu zayn fin mayn heym fartribn. Oy, elnt bin ikh vi a shteyn.
Oy, oy, oy, oy, How bitter is my heart Oy, oy, oy, oy, Who can feel my pain? Because of a dark love to wander in the streets alone. To be driven from my home - Oy lonely am I like a stone.
*bayshtendik – though I am unfamiliar with this word, my mother, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (LSW’s daughter), and I assume it means the same as „shtendik‟.
Lillian (“Libby”) Manuel née Schwartz was born in or around 1910 in the town of Sukhovolye (Polish: Suchowola), now northeastern Poland by the border with Belarus (a.k.a. White Russia), where she was originally known as Libe Shvarts or, among her townspeople, “Libe Yankl dem shvartsns” – ‘Libe, Black Jake’s [daughter]‘). She immigrated to Philadelphia in 1926 and later lived with her family in New York City and northern New Jersey. She died in 1990.
“Yiddish-vokh” at the Workmen’s Circle “Circle Lodge”, NY 1987. Libby Manuel is in the middle of the front row. Shirley Manuel top row at left. Dovid Braun is in the second to last row in a striped shirt.
Photo courtesy of Itzik Gottesman (click to enlarge).
She would reminisce about having sung all the time with her two elder sisters, Maryashe and Khay-Sore, who raised her, as their mother had died when Libe was in her very early childhood and their father was rarely home during the week, instead on the road in neighboring villages trading in hemp and other fibers which were used for rope and pig hair which was used for brushes. From what she recounted, the sisters kept a home-made songbook into which they’d write the lyrics to songs they’d learned.
I am her grandson. As I was growing up, I recorded her singing in the late 1970s through the late 1980s. In 1980 she suffered a stroke which significantly affected her pitch and the strength of her voice, but her melodies were still generally discernible and her memory of long texts remained prodigious. Her love and habit of singing inspired her daughter, Shirley (Yiddish: Zelde-Leye) Manuel, to a musical career as a violist and teacher of string instruments, just as her attachment to Yiddish language, lore, and letters inspired her grandson.
I recorded my grandmother performing Di gantse velt iz hevl-havolim(The Whole World is Vanity of Vanities) in the latter half of the 1980s. Variants can be found in the folkloristic literature, sometimes under the name based on a slightly differing first stanza, “Hevl iz havolim” (‘Vanity is vanities’) or “Un Hevl iz Havolim‟ (‛And Vanity is Vanities‛). One version was typically performed, as her signature song, by the late activist for secularist Yiddishism Gerry Revzin of the Chicago area (thanks to the late Max Rosenfeld of Philadelphia for this information). A particularly long version appears in print in Ginzburg-Marek (song #124, no melody); others are in Beregovski-Fefer 1938 (pages 384 – 385 with melody), Ruth Rubin’s Voices of a People (pages 54-55). I. L. Peretz cites the song in his essay ‟Dos yidishe lebn loyt di yidishe folkslider‟ (Jewish Life As Reflected in Yiddish Folksongs), YIVO-bleter 13:1-2 (1937). In volume 9 of Idelsohn‘s Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies, page 178, a verse with a different melody is printed.
All versions of this song are introduced by the Hebrew and Yiddish phrase that corresponds to those words beginning and ending the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, namely, “Vanity of vanities!” (or in other translations: ”Absurdity of absurdities!”, “Futility of futilities!”, “Utter meaninglessness!”, ”Sheer emptiness!”).
According to Mrs. Manuel’s account, this song was beloved by her next-door neighbor in her shtetl, her sickly Aunt Itke, who would frequently warm herself by the oven and would have Libe entertain her with this song. Mrs. Manuel believed there was a continuation to the song but didn’t know any more of it herself. In the recording presented here, the melody of the first two stanzas is slightly different from how she sang it on other recorded and unrecorded occasions, and in hevl-havolim, we hear a diphthong in the first syllable ([eyvl]) which, again, was not her typical way of pronouncing or singing that first word – it was usually [evl]. Her dialect lacks [h].
Di apikorsim (“The Heretics”) was the first song that Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) sang for collector Leybl Kahn in NYC in 1954. He recorded approximately 100 songs sung by LSW over the next few weeks or months. LSW is my grandmother and the child one hears in the background is my then 4-year old sister Taube. At one point during her singing, she gets up and runs after her. The spoken dialogue between LSW and Kahn is transcribed in the Yiddish text.
In Shloyme Prizament’s book Di broder zinger (Buenos-Aires, 1960), he has a version of this song with the music on pages 110-112. He writes that he wrote the words and music, and states that Pepi Litman recorded it. There is indeed a recording of Pepi Litman performing the song. This book can now be read and downloaded at the Yiddish Book Center website.
Shloyme Prizament was born in 1889 in Hibinev, Galicia and died in Buenos-Aires in 1973; his biography appears in the third volume of the “Leksikon fun yidishn teater”, pages 1873- 1876. Prizament was an amazingly prolific composer, songwriter, but I am not convinced that he wrote the song that LSW performs. The more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that he based his song on the popular current version that LSW sings.
The song itself, a maskilic song mocking the Hasidim but sung in the voice of true believers, was a common genre. However, in Apikorsim the humor is quite vulgar. In songs such as “Kum aher du filosof” the irony is much more subtle. Ruth Rubin’s book Voices of a People has a nice section on maskilic songs (chapter 10). Rubin also prints Velvl Zbarzher’s song “Moshiakh’s tsaytn” (pp. 255 – 257) which is on the same theme as di apikorsim.
A couple of comments on the words and rhymes of Apikorsim: “Daytshn” literally means “Germans”, but in the Yiddish of the 19th century, early 20th century, it referred to the Maskilim, the Jews who were assimilating and dressing like Germans – that is, as modern Europeans.
You will also hear that in the refrain which begins “Folgts daytshn…” there is no rhyme for gikh. LSW sings sheyn. The implied rhyme should be rikh – the devil, and my mother remembers LSW singing it vet ir oyszen vi a layt or oyszen vi a rikh so i put those options in brackets. The listener would have understood the implied rhyme gikh and rikh.
Di apikorsim, di voyle-yingen es vet in zey ale trasken lingen zey veln ale tsepiket vern ven zey veln shoyfer-shel-moshiakh derhern.
The heretics, those loose fellows, Their lungs will all rattle. They will burst apart, when they hear the shofar of the messiah.
Far kol-rom vet vern gehert der rebe vet lernen toyre. Di apikorsim veln faln tsu dr’erd far shrek un far moyre.
Loudly for all, it will be heard the rebbe will teach Torah. the heretics will fall to the ground, out of fear and alarm.
Folgts datshn mekh, un verts khasidemlekh gikh. Tits un a yeyder yidishe kleyder vet ir oyszen sheyn [vi a layt] [vi a rikh]/
Listen to me Germans [assimilated Jews] and become Hasidim quickly. Each of you dress in Jewish clothes, so you will appear – beautiful [vi a layt - presentable] [vi a rikh - like a demon]