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.
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.