Arye-Leibush Laish’s Backwards March Nigun

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This week for the first time we present a nigun with no words instead of a Yiddish song. The nigun and the custom connected to it was learned from the singer and writer Arye-Leibush Laish (אריה ליש, also spelled “Arie Leibisch Laisch”) and became the basis for the annual backwards march tradition at Klezkanada on the eve of the sabbath.

LaishArye-Leibush Laish

Laish’s original field recording 1998, Bnei Brak, Israel:

Klezkanada Backwards March 2011 (one of many clips on YouTube):

Laish was born in 1929 in Stanisesti, in the Bacau district of Romania, and attended kheyder and talmud toyre. During the Second World War he worked in hard labor camp for the Germans. After the war he acted in the Romanian Yiddish theater before immigrating to Israel in 1963. He has written several autobiographical works in Hebrew as well as plays and scenes in Yiddish. He recorded an album of the songs of Zelig Barditchver (“Freyen zikh iz gut”), and has been featured in documentaries on Yiddish culture, including one on Itzik Manger directed by Radu Gabrea “Itzik Manger” 2005). He lives in Bnei-Brak, Israel.

I recorded Arye Laish singing Yiddish songs in his apartment in Bnai-Brak in 1998 and he told me about a rare custom from Stanisesti,

The Jews of the shtetl would gather at the river where the Friday night sun was setting and the Sabbath would arrive. Walking backwards so as not to dishonor the Sabbath, the entire community accompanied by two or three local Jewish musicians sang and played this nigun until they reached the shul where they left the instruments, and began the Sabbath prayers.

In 2001 the theater director, writer and performer Jenny Romaine led a theater workshop that summer at Klezkanada on the theme – “How do Jews Walk?”, and upon hearing about this custom and nigun she introduced them into the Klezkanada program preceding dinner Friday night. Frank London transcribed the music and taught the nigun (parts A and B) to the music classes, asking them to prepare the melody. Here is Jenny Romaine discussing the Backwards March recorded by the Yiddish Book Center:

Since then, Arye Laish’s Staniseti nigun and backwards march have been integrated into the Klezkanada program by the entire community.

The spoken parts of Laish in the original recording are:

Un dos khazert zikh iber di gants tsayt. Farshteyt zikh mit variatsyes.” [And this repeats the whole time. Of course with variations.}

Me kert zikh um tsu bidibidmmm…” [Then you return to the bidibum, bidibum, bidimbum...]

A mol hert men stam ge__(?)hay! hay! hay! hay!” [Every now and then you could hear - hay! hay! hay!]

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“Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye” Performed by Chaim Berman

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This weeks’ Yiddish Song of the Week, “Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye” (“To Sing a Song is a Joy”) by Chaim Berman (d. 1973) was recorded by Rabbi Victor Reinstein, now of Boston, in late 1960s, early 1970s. Rabbi Reinstein writes:

Chaim Berman, ‘Hymie,’ was short and of slight and wiry build. Born and raised to early adulthood in Proskurov in the Ukraine, he lived most of his life in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York. His eyes twinkled with life, and there was almost always an impish smile on his lips. Hymie was a Jewish type that is no more. He was a self-described atheist and a card-carrying communist, a worker and an organizer in the ladies’ handbag industry, who in one moment would quote from Lenin or Marx and in the next, from Sholom Aleichem or Yud Lamed Peretz.

chaim berman

Steeped in Jewish tradition, he exuded Yiddishkeit from every pore of his being. Bridging the worlds and times of his life, he would put on a yarmulke and lead the Pesach seder with a profound and poignant depth of feeling. Hymie loved to sing and would perform for family and friends ‘in der heym,’ and to larger audiences at Yiddish summer camps. He was a man in whose veins coursed both joy and sadness, a reflection of the realities of his life, of Jewish history, of human reality. He worked and sang from the depths of his being to help bring a better world for all.

Certainly the first song we have chosen from the recordings of Hymie Berman for the Yiddish Song of the Week reflects that last sentiment – singing for a better world.

The melody is well-known:  it is used for the Yiddish song to honor guests “Lomir ___bagrisn” and for the Purim nign “Utsu eytsa” (עצו עצה, “Take counsel together”, Isaiah 8:10), which is attributed to the Chabad/Slonim tradition (thanks to Hankus Netsky and Steven Greenman for this information).

From my mother, who belonged briefly to the leftist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatsair, I know a one-verse song with the same melody from Chernovitz, circa 1930s:

Lebn zol Bistritski mit zayn hora.       
Lebn zol Bistritski mit zayn hora.       
Nisht keyn rekhter, nisht keyn linker, nor a Mizrakhist a flinker.
Zol lebn Bistritski mit zayn hora. 

Long live Bistritski and his hora.
Long live Bistritski and his hora
Not a right-winger, not a left-winger, but a clever Mizrakhist
Long live Bistritski and his hora

Other field recordings in the Israeli National Sound Archives (NSA) in Jerusalem confirm that this was a ditty from the East European Hashomer Hatzair movement (NSA call #Y/05890,  #Y/05898 – I was not able to listen to the NSA recordings to hear the lyrics in these versions).

In the Kremenits Yizkor book (1965) [Kremenits is in the Volin/Volhynia region] page 152, there is a description of the end of a Zionist youth meeting which actually connects the ditty to the dance hora, here written hoyre: (my translation from the Yiddish)

Finally someone yells out – ‘Enough of this chattering’ or ‘Leave the academy alone’. At that point someone would start singing “Lebn zol Bistritski and his hoyra” [!]. It seemed that this is what the gang was waiting for and everyone stood up, hands and shoulders interlocking and the circle got bigger and bigger. And so we danced a hoyra till the break of day. We danced so long that some people started to faint away.

Someone more familiar with Zionist history please clarify. Are they singing about the Hebrew writer, editor Nathan Bistritsky?

Please see the comments below for a number of additional points on the melody.

Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
Hoft di (?) zun geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.

To sing a song is a joy.
To sing a song is a joy.
So sing brother, sing with cheer
Hope (?) the sun never sets.
To sing a song is a joy.

A nign – an olter [alter] tsu a nayer.
Zingen – vet ir filn frayer.
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
Hoft di (?) zun geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.   

A melody – an old one or a new one.
Sing and you’ll feel more free.
So sing brother, sing with cheer,
Hope (?) the sun never sets.
To sing a song is a joy.

Hostu fardrus tsi hostu dayges?
Oder bistu kholile broyges?
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
Hoft di (?) zun geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.

Do you have regrets? Or have worries?
Or God forbid angry at someone?
So sing brother, sing with cheer
Hope (?) the sun never sets.
To sing a song is a joy.

zingen a lid berman

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“Rosh-yeshivenik” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman.

This week’s Yiddish Song of the Week, Rosh-yeshivenik, is sung by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, from Zvinyetchke, Bukovina. She was recorded by Leybl Kahn in 1954 in the Bronx.

It is a song to pass the time, using the alef-beys (Yiddish alphabet), as its structure. The first son’s name “Avreml” starts with an alef, the second son’s name “Burekhl” with a beys, the third son’s name “Getsl” with a gimel and so on. In other versions, after the naming of ten sons, ten daughters are then named. 

In Folklor-lider, Volume Two, edited by Z. Skudutski (Moscow, 1936) pages 374-375, we have a Yiddish song text with no melody on a similar theme:

Yisgadal veyisgadash shmey rabo, [opening of the kaddish prayer]
Vos amol iz geven iz haynt nishto. [What was is no more]
Taytidl, didl, didl, didl, didl, didl, day.

Amol iz geven a yid a oysher, [Once there was a rich man]
iz er geven a kaptsen a groyser,  [who was very poor]
Taytidl, didl, didl, didl, didl, didl, day.

Hot er gehat tsen tekhter  [He had 10 daughters]
Di ershte hot geheysn Osenyu [The first letter is an alef]
Di tsveyte hot geheysn Beylenyu [The first letter is a beys]

This is followed by a similar Ukrainian song text.

I have only heard the word “Rosh-yeshivenik” in this song. The usual word is just “Rosh-yeshive” (director of a yeshiva, or religious school for boy) and I have to wonder whether in an earlier version it was not “Yeshuvnik”, a simple village Jew who was often made fun of.

What I enjoy about LSW’s singing here is how the “oy” ornamentation, of which she is the master, is used for a humorous effect. In a way, she is parodying her own singing style: the words are bringing us only good news, but the “oys” and “oy veys” are comically telling us the opposite.

Der rosh-yeshivenik
S’iz a mul iz geven a rosh-yeshivenik.
Oy, oy, a rosh-yeshivenik,
Oy, oy, a rosh-yeshivenik,
Oy vey, oy vey, a rosh-yeshivenik.

Once there was a Rosh-yeshivenik [Director of a Yeshiva]
Oy, oy, a Rosh-yeshivenik
Oy, oy,  a rosh-yeshivenek
Oy vey, oy vey, a rosh-yeshivenik.

Der rosh-yeshivenik hot tsu mazel khasene gehat.
Oy, oy,  khasene gehat.
Oy, oy khasene gehat.
Oy vey, oy vey, khasene gehat.

The rosh-yeshivenik, with good fortune, got married
Oy, oy got married.
Oy, oy, got married.
Oy vey, oy vey, got married.


Der rosh-yeshivenik hot tsu mazl kindelekh gehat.
Oy, oy, kindelekh gehat.
Oy, oy, kindelekh gehat.
Oy vey, oy vey, kindelekh gehat.

The rosh-yeshivenik, with good fortune, had chidren.
Oy, oy, had children.
Oy, oy had children
Oy vey, oy vey had children

Dos ershte hot geheysn Avreymele.
Oy, oy, Avreymele.
Oy, oy, Avreymele.
Oy vey, oy vey, Avreymele.

The first one was called Avreymele.
Oy, oy Avreymele,
Oy, oy Avreymele,
Oy vey, Oy vey Avreymele.

Dos tsveyte hot geheysn Burekhl.
Oy, oy Burekhl.
Oy, oy, Burekhl
Oy vey, Oy vey, Burekhl.

The second one was called Burekhl,
Oy, oy Burekhl,
Oy, oy Burekhl,
Oy vey, Oy vey Burekhl.

Dos drite hot geheysn Getsele.
Oy, oy, Getsele
Oy, oy, Getsele
Oy vey, oy vey Getsele.

The third one was called Getsele.
Oy, oy Geltsele.
Oy, oy Getsele
Oy vey, Oy vey Getsele.

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Shmad Ballads Performed by Zelda Roif and Libe Manuel

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

When ballads have been presented on the Yiddish Song of the Week we have sometimes emphasized the parallels with other international ballads. This week we present a ballad type that is not to be found internationally, certainly not in the Anglo-British-American tradition – a ballad that describes the conversion of a child to the Christian faith; a shmad-ballad. The verb shmadn in Yiddish means to convert to Christianity.

This week’s entry has two versions of the same shmad-ballad. There are a number of others and judging by the geographic spread of the singers, we could conclude that it is at least as old as the 19th century.

1) The first version Zitst di mome (As Mother is Sitting) comes to us courtesy of the AHEYM (Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memoirs) project at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. This project has been directed by professors Dov-Ber Kerler and Jeff Weidlinger. Special thanks to AHEYM project manager Anya Quilitzch who prepared the video clip.

The singer Zelda Roif  of Kishinev (Chișinău), Moldova, sings in her Bessarabian dialect, marked especially by her toto-mome-loshn. Tate (father) in her dialect becomes tote, mame becomes mome and geshmadt becomes geshmodt (converted). Her version has a distinctly Romanian flavor since the daughter Sonyele falls in love with a shepherd (cioban).

In classic ballad form, the first few verses set the action then turn into a dialogue between mother and daughter, in which the mother tries to convince her daughter not to convert. The mother fails and the last two lines spoken by the daughter – “I can’t stand the Jewish faith” is quite a powerful (unhappy) ending.

2) The second ballad Bentsik der shoykhet (Bentsik the Ritual Slaughterer) is sung by Lillian Manuel of Suchowola in northeast Poland, and the recording and comments were provided by her grandson, the Yiddish linguist Dovid Braun.

By comparing the two ballads we see the similar dialogue structure though in different settings. The ending of Bentsik der shoykhet is also quite shocking.

The Yiddish shmad-ballad song type deserves a longer analysis than is possible here. Among other versions collected is one in Sofia Magid’s work printed in “Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin” edited by Elvira Grozinger and Susi Hudak-Lazic (Harrasowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2008) – “Rokhele” (pages 288-289) recorded in Volyn, 1928. The Magid version is a variant of the two presented today and recounts how Rokhele ran away with the priest’s son. In the longer text provided (page 555) a similar dialogue between parent and daughter can be found. A recording of the song is included in the DVD that comes with the volume.

Please find Yiddish texts at the end of this posting.

ZITST DI MAME (Performed by Zelda Roif, Kishinev, Moldova)


Zitst di mame un
arbet a zok.
Kimt men ir zogn,
az ir tokhter Sonyele hot zikh geshmodt.


Mother is sitting and
mending a sock,
when they come to tell her
that her Sonyele has converted.

Loyft zi zi zikhn,
tsvishn ole shkheynim.
In ir tokhter Sonyele
iz nishtu bay keynem.

So she runs to search her
among all the neighbors.
And her daughter Sonyele
is not found by anyone.

Loyft zi zi zikhn
tsi tshubanes tir.
In ir tokhter Sonyele
shteynt akeygn ir.

So she runs to look for her
at the door of the shepherd.
And her daughter Sonyele
is standing across from her.

Sonyele, Sonyele
kim tsu mir aheym.
Ikh vel dir gibn
vus di vi’st aleyn.

Sonyele, Sonyele
Come home to me.
I will give you
whatever you want.

Ikh vel dir gibn
kleyder un dan..
in a yidish yingele
far ayn man.

I will give you
clothes and then..
and a Jewish boy
for a husband.

Bay mir bisti ‘gan
mit shikh un kaloshn.
Vest khasene hobm far tshuban (In Romanian= cioban)
vesti oysgeyn far a groshn.

At my place you wore
shoes and boots.
If you marry the shepherd
you will die for a penny.

Bay mir bisti ‘gan
mit a vas, zadn kleyd.
Vest khasene hobn far Tshuban
vesti vashn yidish greyt.

With me, you wore
a white, silk dress.
If you marry the shepherd
you will wash Jewish laundry.

[Spoken]
Hot zi geentfert der miter:
She answered her mother:

Trabt avek man miter
ikh ken zi nisht ladn.
Di yidishe nemune
Ikh ken zi nisht farladn.

Drive away my mother,
I can’t stand her.
The Jewish faith
I can’t stand it.

BENTSIK DER SHOYKHET (sung by Lillian Manuel, known in her shtetl Suchowola, NE Poland, as “Libe Yankl dem shvartsns”, to her grandson David / Dovid Braun, in the Workmen’s Circle Home for the Aged, Bronx, NY, ca. 1988)  *see comments by David/Dovid Braun at the end of this translation.

Bentsik der shoykhet mitn zaydenem khalat;
Feygele zayn tokhter hot zikh opgeshmadt.

Bentsik the [kosher] slaughterer with his silken robe;
Feygele his daughter has converted to Christianity.

Bentsik der shoykhet shpant ayn ferd-un-vogn
kedey er zol kenen zayn Feygelen deryogn.

Bentsik the slaughterer hitched up his horse and wagon,
So that he could catch up to his Feygele.

Bentsik der shoykhet geyt arayn in a kvartir.
Gefunen hot er Feygelen bam kloyster fun tir [in kloyster bam tir].

Bentsik the slaughterer goes into an inn.
What he’s found is Feygele in church by the door.

“Kum aher mayn tokhter, kum tsu mir aheym.
Ikh vel dir gebn vos du vilst aleyn.”

“Come here my daughter, come home to me.
I will give you whatever you want.

Ikh vel dir gebn gelt un nadan
un tsu dertsu a sheynem yungn-man.”

I will give you money and dowry
and on top of that a handsome young man.”

Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di fis
un im af tselokhes dem sheygets a kish.

Bentsik the slaughterer, he falls to their feet
and to spite him, [she gives] the gentile boy a kiss.

Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di tishn [griber]
un im af tselokhes tseylemt zi zikh iber.

Bentsik the slaughterer falls to the tables [graves, pits],
and to spite him she crosses herself.

Feygele iz gegangen in zaydene zokn.
Az zi vet peygern vet klingen di glokn.

Feygele was wearing silken socks/stockings.
When she croaks, the [church] bells will ring.

Af morgn bay tog:   a yomer, a klog!
Bentsik der shoykhet iz geshtorbn in mitn tog.

The next afternoon:   alas and alack!
Bentsik the slaughterer died in the middle of the day.

Notes by David Braun:

In the Yiddish original, I have placed in square brackets [ ] a few words Mrs. Manuel sang on an occasion a few years earlier when in better health and with a yet crisper memory. It is clear how those words make better sense and/or form a more satisfactory rhyme. Also, the final two stanzas were reversed in that earlier rendition, which makes more sense: walking neither with shoes nor barefoot but in socks or stockings is a sign of mourning. So first her father Bentsik has died, then she has donned traditional Jewish mourning garb, and finally we are warned that when the end comes for her, the apostate, mourning will be signaled by church bells.

After first becoming acquainted with this song in her repertoire, I compared her version to others in the folkloristic literature and discovered that in some, the gentile youth who is the object of Feygele’s romantic interest is named. With that information, I jogged her memory and ended up eliciting this additional stanza that she doesn’t sing on the recording – it clearly belongs after the stanza following Bentsik’s promise of dowry and all other good things. Feygele insists:

Kh’vil nit kayne kleyder, kh’vil nit kayn nadan.
Aleksandern hob ikh lib un er vet zayn mayn man.

‘I don’t want any clothes, I don’t want any dowry.
Alexander is who I love and he will be my husband.’

With this stanza, we’re enlightened as to what’s behind Feygele’s conversion from yiddishkayt, and religious philosophy doesn’t seem to be the motivating factor.
zitstdimome

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“A lid vegn Bentsi der geshtokhener” Performed by Leyke Post

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Thanks to Henry Carrey for this fascinating recording of his mother Leah Post Carrey (1908 – 2005), a well known Yiddish singer and actress, singing a 15 verse murder/underworld ballad from Zhitomir entitled “A lid vegn Bentsi der geshtokhener” (“A Song about Bentsi who was Stabbed”). Frahdl learned this song right after the actual event and Leah says in her Yiddish comments after the song that her mother attended the trial and saw the bloody knife.

What follows is 1) information on the singer Leah Carrey, followed by 2) notes on Leah’s mother Frahdl, from whom Leah learned this song, and finally 3) a few comments on the song itself.

1) Obituary sent by Henry Carrey:

Leah Carrey (Leyke Post), 97, Yiddish Radio Star

Leah Carrey, singer, actress and star of Yiddish radio in Boston passed away last week in New York. Known to her fans by her maiden name of Leyke Post, Leah was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine into a family that loved to entertain. She and her mother Frahdl joined her father Shloyme in the West End of Boston when she was 5 years old.

Her stage debut was as a boy singing “Heyse Bapkelekh” in a touring Goldfaden operetta starring Michal Michalesko. On that occasion, she suffered her first and only bout of stage fright. She performed in shows at the Grand Old Opera House on Dover Street, at the Shawmut Theater and the Franklin Park Theater, working with some of the greatest stars of the Yiddish stage. Later, she toured all over New England and in the Catskills, performing Yiddish folk, art and theater songs.
Leyke Post

Photograph of Leah Post Carrey courtesy of Henry Carrey

She sang on Boston radio for over 25 years on stations WCOP, the Mutual and Yankee networks. She was a regular on “The Kibitzer” with Ben Gailing and “Der Freylekher Kaptsn“. She also concertized for many Jewish organizations – most frequently at the Workmen’s Circle camp in Framingham and Center.

In 1933, she married Al Carrey and had two sons: David, who eventually worked in the New York Yiddish theater and Henry. She joined her son in New York in 1978 singing on WEVD, at Circle Lodge and off-Broadway in “The Roumanian Wedding”. After her son David’s untimely death, she was cheered up by the chance to play Grandma in Woody Allen’s film “Radio Days”. In the early ‘90’s, she impressed her audiences at “Klezkamp”.

She is survived by her son Henry of Manhattan and her sister Rose Andelman of Nyack, New York .

2) About his grandmother, Frahdl Post, aka Fannie Post, Henry Carrey writes:

My bobie was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine in 1881 and died at the Workmen’s Circle Home for the Aged in the Bronx, New York in 1976. She grew up in a lower-middle class home, one of four sisters and two brothers. Her father Dovid-Hersh Herman had a shop where grain was sold. His wife, Rivke Kolofsky worked in the shop.

As young girl, she always liked to sing and dance (her father was said to be a part-time lay khazn [cantor] with a pleasant voice.) She and her brother, Pinye, teamed up to sing and dance at local simkhes (family celebrations). As she was never taught to read and write, she used to learn everything by heart. She once said that she learned her vast repertoire of many-versed songs by going to a store with friends every day, where newly written songs would be purchased and then shared by the girls (at least one of whom had to be able to read music). She also used stand in the street outside the local jail and learn revolutionary songs from the prisoners who could be heard through the windows. Although she remembered attending revolutionary meetings in the woods, she was not an activist. She also took part in occasional amateur theatricals near her home.

One day she went to a fortune-teller, who told her that her future husband was waiting at home for her. When she got home, she saw my grandfather Shloyme, who had been boarding with her aunt. Even though she was supposed to be the prettiest of the girls, she was relatively late in getting married for a girl at that time. In 1907, they married and within a year, her husband Shloyme was off to America to seek his fortune. He may not have known that his wife was pregnant when he left. I don’t know if he left for any other reasons, but I do know that there were pogroms in Zhitomir in 1905 and 1907.

In April 1913, (from Halifax) they left for Boston, where my grandfather had settled. Frahdl had two more children Rose and Hymie. My grandfather worked as a welder and a blacksmith and eventually owned two small apartment building where he was the landlord and super. At one point, they left their Jewish neighborhood of the West End of Boston to move to Arlington so that my grandfather could open a tire store with a friend for Model T’s.

Being one of four Jewish families in Arlington, my mother and siblings were influenced by the gentile kids around them. My aunt and uncle once brought a “Chanukah Bush” home and put up stockings on the mantel. My grandmother threw the tree out and filled the stockings with coal and onions from “Sente Closet“. My mother, who even at a young age, was a singer, had been secretly singing with the Methodist choir. One day, the minister came to the door to ask my grandmother’s permission to allow my mother to sing on Christmas Eve. That was the last straw for my grandmother and they moved back to the West End.

I was always amazed that my grandmother managed to bring up three children in Boston without ever learning to read or write. She could recognize numbers and sign her name, but never went to night school as her sisters had done. She always regretted that.

My grandmother always sang around the house both the old Yiddish and Ukrainian folksongs she had learned in Zhitomir and the new Yiddish theater songs she heard from other people or later on the radio and on recordings.

She never stopped singing and dancing even in the old age home. I remember even in the 1960’s she would delight people with her Yinglish version of “How much is that doggy in the window?” or her renditions of “Enjoy Yourself (It’s later than you think)” in Yiddish and English and “Der Galitzianer Cabalyerl“ in Yiddish.

3) Comments on song “Bentsi der geshtokhener” by Itzik Gottesman:

This song is among the more brutal and bloodier Yiddish ballads even when compared to the songs in Shmuel Lehman’s classic collection, “Ganovim lider” (“Thieves’ Songs”), published in Warsaw in 1928.

Interesting how even in such a prime example of the Jewish underworld, elements of the traditional Jewish world work themselves into the story – his pal Dovid Perltsvayg and his old father say Kaddish (the memorial prayer); Bentsi wants to say vide, his final confession.

Elements of traditional Yiddish ballads also are to found, such as verses that begin with “Azoy….” – “Azoy vi di muter hot dos derhet” for example is usually part of the widespread “12 a zeyger ballad” (see the recording by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman on the cassette “Az di furst avek”).

I will not comment on the grammatical and lexical issues, which are many, and can be addressed by the listeners of the Yiddish Song of the Week blog. Please point out any mistakes, of course, or disagreements with my translation.

A naye lid hob ikh aroysgegebn,
vos ikh aleyn vel aykh zingen.
Di lid iz fun Bentsi dem(!) geshtokhener;
Di gantse velt tut mit im klingen.

A new song did I produce
that I will sing for you myself.
This song about Bentsi the stabbed one,
The whole world is talking about him.

A shayke gite-briderlekh zenen zikh in zhitomir geven,
un zey hobn zikh shtendik farhaltn gut,
un far aza mints narishkeyt,
geyt men a gutn-bruder fargisn blut.

A gang of “buddies” (slang for thugs) were in Zhitomir
and they always got along fine.
And for some trifle coins,
they spilled the blood of their buddy.

Azoy vi Bentsi iz nor aheymgekumen,
hot er nit gevust vos mit im ken zayn.
Er hot zikh nor avekgeleygt shlofn -
azoy hot men im gegibn dem meser in der zayt arayn.

As soon as Bentsi came home,
he didn‘t know what would happen to him.
He lay down to sleep
and they stabbed him with the knife in his side.

Azoy vi Bentsi hot nor dem meser derfilt,
hot er zikh oyfgekhapt mit a groys geshrey.
Er hot ongehoybn shrayen “Brengt mir a dokter.
Oy, zol men mir mayn blut faromeven”.

As soon as Bentsi felt the knife,
he woke up with a great yell.
He began to scream “bring me a doctor
Let them wipe up my blood.”


Keyn sakh arbet hobn zey bay im nisht gehat,
vayl zey zene geven in firn.
Zayne koyles zenen gegangen bizn zibetn himl,
zey hobn im nisht gevolt tsuhern.

They didn’t have much work to do
because there were four.
His screams reached the seventh heaven,
but they ignored him.

Dem ershtn meser hot im zayn guter-brider arayngerikt,
un er hot im bay im oysgedreyt.
“Ikh zog dir a blat loshn, Bentsi, ikh hob dir shoyn gefetst.
Itst veln mir shoyn beyde zayn tsesheydt.”

The first knife was plunged into him by his buddy,
and he turned it around in him.
I will tell you in underworld lingo – I knocked you off,
Now we will go our separate ways.

File mentshn hobn in Bentsis toyt a negeye gehat.
Zey hobn bay im dos lebn genumen.
Mir zeen dokh aroys, s’iz shoyn a farfalene zakh,
un me tor nit fregn far vos s’iz him gekumen.

Many people had a part(?) in Bentsyes death.
They took away his life.
We therefore see, that it’s all over,
but no one can ask why he deserved it.

Azoy vi er hot im dem meser arayngerikt,
zayne tsores hot Bentsi nit gekent farnemen.
“Ikh zog dir Bentsi, ikh shnayd fun dir shtiker fleysh,
Mir veln zikh bodn in dayn blut vi vayt mir veln kenen.”

As soon as he stabbed him with the knife,
Bentsi could not stand his pains.
“I tell you Bentsi, I am cutting pieces of flesh from you.
We will bathe in your blood, as much as we can.‟

“Hert nor oys mayne gute-briderlekh,
Ot hert vos ikh vel aykh zogn.
Oy, shikt mir rufn mayn tayere mame,
oy, lomir khotshk (b)vide zogn.”

Listen my good buddies,
listen to what I will tell you.
O, send for my dear mother,
O, let me say my final confession of sins.

Azoy vi di muter hot dos nor derhert,
iz zi arayngefaln mit a groys geveyn.
“Oy, nite veyn mayn tayere mame,
Got veyst tsi du vest mir morgn zen.”

As soon as his mother heard this,
she ran in with a great moan.
“Don‘t you cry my dear mother,
God only knows if you’ll see me tomorrow‟.

Nokh zayn shtekh hot er nokh zibn teg gelebt;
zayne tsores hot er nit gekent aribertrogn.
Far zayn toyt hot er a gutn-brider Dovid Perltsvayg ongezogt,
Az kadish zol er nokh im zogn.

After the stabbing he lived another seven days.
His pains he could not endure.
Before he died, he told his buddy Dovid Perltsvayg,
he should say Kaddish for him.

Dovid hot bay him der hant genumen,
er zol zikh zayn krivde onnemen.
“Ikh zog dir Bentsi, vi vayt ikh vel kenen,
vet ikh zen far dir dayn blut opnemen.”

Dovid took him by the hand,
and asked to take up his cause.
“I tell you Bentsi, that as much as I am able
I will avenge your blood.‟

Oy, ver s’iz nit bay dem nisoyen nisht geven,
oy, darf men veynen un klogn.
Aza ayzernem Bentsi leygt men in dr’erd arayn.
un der alter foter darf kadish zogn.

Whoever was at this temptation (?),
should weep and mourn.
Such an iron-man like Bentsi is put in the ground
and his old father must say Kaddish.

Dem ershtn gitn-brider hot men bald gekhapt,
un me hot im in mokem arestirt;
keyn vapros bay him gornit opgenumen,
me hot im bald in kitsh aropgefirt.

The first buddy was caught soon after
and they arrested him in the neighborhood (?)
The didn‘t take any questions from him,
and they put him straight away in the “can” (jail)

Di iberike dray hot men ongehoybn sliedeven,
un me hot bald gevust vu zey zaynen.
Tsum Barditshever brik iz men bay nakht geforn,
un fun di dlizones hot men zey aropgenumen.

About the other three they started to ask questions
and they soon found out where they were.
To the Berdichever bridge they went at night
And from the carriages they took them off.

At conclusion of song, this is spoken by the singer: “My mother remembers how dangerous it was when they led the murderer in chains and how one of them yelled to Dovid Perltsvayg – ‘unless I don’t come back if I do come back we will get back at you’. My mother told me that she remembered how the knife was laying on the table with blood. Bentsi, as I understood it, was a handsome youth, and girls worked for him. The girls were crazy for him. The other three, it seems, were jealous of him. I know, that’s what my mother told me.

Bentsi1
Bentsi2
Bentsi3
Bentsi4

“In dem vaytn land Sibir‟ Performed by Chana Yachness and Rukhele Yachness

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2013 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

It was very sad and shocking news to hear that Chana Yachness passed away on September 29th, 2013. She grew up in the leftist (“linke”) Yiddish circles of New York, loved Yiddish culture and was a wonderful link to that world. She was beloved by all and this week‘s contribution to the Yiddish Song of the Week is in her memory.

Chana and ted
Chana Yachness and her husband, Ted Haendel.
Photograph by Emily Socolov.

Her mother Rukhele Barak Yachness was a fine Yiddish singer and actress and in this recording (which I recorded in the Bronx, 1999) they sing together a revolutionary folksong In dem vaytn land Sibir that can be found in the volume of Moshe Beregovski’s writings and transcriptions edited by Mark Slobin, Old Jewish Folk Music (1982, see below). It‘s obviously not a perfect recording with bantering and joking – Chana sings the name of Yiddish actor “Maurice Schwartz‟ instead of “khmares shvarts‟, but it is the only recording I can find of the song. Their spirited interpretation gives one the sense of how a Yiddish revolutionary song used to be performed, especially by Jewish choruses.  Note that in the Beregovski volume there is a second verse; Chana and Rukhele sing the first and third.

Many of the Yiddish songs that are sung by di linke today, including In dem vaytn, were learned from the folk operetta  A bunt mit a statshke (A Revolt and a Strike) assembled from songs printed in Beregovski‘s song collection of 1934 by the choral leader and conductor Jacob Schaefer and critic Nathaniel Buchwald. This operetta was not only performed by the choruses of the time, 1930s, but in the Yiddish leftist camp Kinderland (at Sylvan Lake, Dutchess County, NY) where Chana no doubt learned it in the late 1940s and 1950s. See the recent documentary on Kinderland – Commie Camp

The West Coast musician Gerry Tenney had long planned with Chana Yachness to produce this operetta again; see Hershl Hartman‘s post on A Bunt mit a statshke on the email-list Mendele from 1997.

In the distant land Siberia
Where the sky is always covered by clouds,
I was banished there,
for one word – for freedom.
I was beaten with the whip,
so I would no longer say
“Let there be freedom – to hell with Nicholas‟

Soon will come the happy time,
Soon we will know from near and far,
that Russia is bright, that Russia is free.
“Let there be freedom – to hell with Nicholas‟

YachnessItzik

YachnessLyrics1

YachnessBeregovski1

YachnessBeregovski2

“In kheyder keseyder” performed by Clara Crasner

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2013 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This is the third song we have posted by Clara Crasner, b. 1902 in Shargorod (a town near Vinnitsia, Ukraine). As she says after she sings the song, she learned this song in Romania approx. 1919-1920, where she waited for two years to get papers to come to America. Freedman recorded the song again, and this time she says that she learned it from a 5 year old boy.

Robert Freedman (Crasner’s son-in-law) recorded the song in 1972 and sent it to Chana and Yosl Mlotek for their Yiddish Forward newspaper column Leyner dermonen zikh lider – Readers Remember Songs. Below is a copy of the column with the Mlotek’s response, where they identify a number of published variants (click the image to enlarge):

mlotek crasner kheyder

With its uneven verse lines and “un-Jewish” melody, In kheyder keseyder sounds as if it could be a newer Yiddish theater song of the time.

Ven ikh bin a kleyn yingele geveyzn.
Hob ikh zikh gebudn in taykh.
Ven ikh bin a kleyn yingele geveyzn
hob ikh zikh gebudn a sakh.

When I was a small boy,
I bathed in the river [or lake].
When I was a small boy
I often bathed.

Gebudn, geplyusket, gelofn aheym
Hot mir der rebbe derzeyn.
Un hot mikh mekhabed geveyn.

I bathed, splashed and ran home,
but the rebbe spotted me.
And “honored” me [meant ironically - beat, punished]

Freyg ikh im farvus?
Farvus kimt mir dus?
Entfert er mir dus:

So I ask him why?
Why do I deserve this?
And this is how he answers me:

In kheyder keseyder,
a yingele darf zitsn dort.
In kheyder keseyder,
Sha! Un redt nisht keyn vort.

Always in kheyder [traditional elementary religious school]
is where a boy should sit.
Always in kheyder
Quiet! And don’t say a word.

Ven di volst in kheyder gegangen,
volsti di toyre derlangen.
Volsti geveyzn a yid, a yid.
Volt dir geveyzn gants git, gant git.

If you were to attend kheyder,
you could attain the Torah.
Then you would be a Jew, a Jew
And you would feel real good, real good.

In kheyder keseyder….

In kheyder keseyder

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