“S’iz gekimen di heylike teyg” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2015 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

S’iz gekimen di heylike teyg (The Holy Days Have Arrived) is a song that takes place before Rosh-hoshone and Yom-kipper when it is a tradition to visit the departed family at the cemetery.


Photo courtesy of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

In the cemetery, a voice is heard of a recently deceased woman who died in childbirth, and she sings of her anguish about her new born child and her husband whom she loved.

S’iz gekimen di heylike teyg
Ven me darf geyn af keyver-oves
Az ikh bin gekimen in halbn veg
Hob ikh mikh dermont in mane makhshoves.

Plitsem hert men a kol
fin a frishn korbn.
Fin a yunger kimpiturin.
Vus iz ersht nisht lang geshtorbn.

Vi iz mayn yinger man?
Ver vet im arimnemen?
Vi iz mayn pitsele kind?
Ver vet im zeygn gebn?

Az ikh dermon mikh in der tsayt
Ven gehat hob ikh es [epes?] tsu krign.
Az ikh dermon mikh in der tsayt
Fin mayn man, fin mayn libn.

The holy days have arrived
time to visit family in the graveyard
When I was half way there,
I remembered my ruminations.

Suddenly a voice is heard
from a fresh victim:
A woman who died in childbirth
Just a short while ago.

Where is my young husband?
Who will embrace him?
Where is my little child?
Who will breastfeed it?

When I am reminded of that time
when I had what I wanted.
When i think of that time,
Of my husband whom I loved.sizgekumen1sizgekumen2

When one thinks about love songs in Yiddish, the vast majority are sung by unmarried girls who dream of the man they love and how wonderful life will be after the wedding. Few are the songs, such as this, in which the woman openly expresses love for her young husband. Lifshe Shaechter Widman’s (LSW’s) powerful emotional style matches the words perfectly.

In this case, the wife sings of her love from her grave and the song immediately reminds us of another song performed by LSW, Afn beys-olyem, also known as Di shtifmuter and originally penned by Mikhl Gordon.

In addition to this field recording of LSW made by Leybl Kahn in the Bronx, 1954, there are two other published versions of S’iz gekimen di heylike teg. One, collected by Shmuel-Zaynvil Pipe in Galica, does indeed take one verse taken from Gordon’s song. see Dov Noy and Meir Noy, Yidishe folkslider fun galitsye (Tel Aviv, 1971), page 110 – 112.

In Pipe’s version the song is strictly an orphan song and has a refrain.


The second version can be found in Shloyme Bastomski’s song collection, Baym kval – folkslider, Vilna, 1923 (page 81, song #22) and he calls it Di shtifmuter, the same title as Gordon’s song. This second version emphasizes the wicked step-mother who will mistreat the child.

bastomski- heylike teg

“Afn veg tsum zimergurtn” Performed by Beyle Schaechter Gottesman

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2015 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This week we present a song about streetwalkers with three different melodies.

“Afn veg tsim zimergurtn” (On the Way to the Summer Garden) was learned by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman [BSG] in Chernovitz in the 1930s.


This field recording was done in her home in the Bronx in 2010, when BSG was 90 years old. The original poem is by A. L. [Aron Leyb] Baron (1886 – 1954), but does not appear in the only printed collection of his poetry, Di yidishe brodvey un and ere lider (New York, 1949).

The entire poem appears in one of Mikhl Gelbart’s collections of his own musical compositions, Gezangen [Songs] (1937) with the complete text and with Gelbart’s music. It is entitled “Meydlekh” [Girls].


There was a third melody composed by Bernard Maitlin, sung by Vera Rozanka “Di yidishe shikse”, entitled “In gortn” [In the garden].

On the Polish Jewish Cabaret website of Jane Peppler she sings Maitlin’s melody and prints the songsheet from 1936 which includes the original poem by Baron, in Yiddish. We are grateful to Jane for making available the songsheet page as well as her translation and transliteration and refer you to her website where you can hear her sing this version.

Peppler's words

Afn veg fun zumer gortn geyen shtendik meydlekh tsvey
Keyn zakh yogt zey nit fun dortn, nit keyn regn, nit keyn shney (2x)

Zogt mir shvester hungrik, blase, vos hot aykh aher gebrakht?
Hunger, dales, kelers nase, oder gor an ander makht? (2x)

“Mikh der dales un der hunger,” entvert eyne ziftsn shver
“Mikh – a liber mentsh a yunger,” vayzt di tsveyte on: aher! (2x)

“Faynt hot er mikh gor deriber vos ikh bin gevorn alt
Itster kum, zay du der liber, kalt iz mir, brr, vi kalt.” (2x)

Afn veg fun zumer gorn geyen meydlekh fil arum
Blut fun hartsn gist zikh dortn, fun di lipn hert men: kum… (2x)

On the path from the summer garden, two girls are always walking.
Nothing can drive them away, not rain, not snow.

Tell me, hungry pale sisters, what brought you here?
Was it hunger, poverty, the damp of a cellar, or something else completely?

“For me, it was poverty and hunger,” answered one, sighing heavily.
“For me, it was my love, a younger man,” the other one points: here!

“He hates me just because I’ve grown old.
Now come, you be the beloved. I’m cold, brr, so cold.”

On the path from the summer garden girls wander.
The blood pours from their hearts there, from the lips you hear: Come…

“Di veverke” Performed by Chana Szlang Gonshor

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2015 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Currently on YouTube, one can hear “Bobe Chana” (Grandmother Chana) sing several Yiddish children’s songs, some less familiar than others. This week we present her song Di veverke (The Squirrel).

We obtained biographical information about Chana Szlang Gonshor from her daughter-in-law, the Montreal Yiddish teacher and scholar, Chana (Anna) Gonshor.

Chana Szlang Gonshor was born in Warsaw in 1919 where her family was very poor. As a young child there she attended the Borochov school and attended the Medem Sanitorium at least 10 times. Anna Gonshor believes she learned her repertoire from these sources. She currently lives in Montreal.

bobe chanaChana Szlang Gonshor

A video interview with Chana Szlang Gonshor conducted by Jordan Kutzik and Anna Gonshor for the Wexler Oral History Project of the Yiddish Book Center can be found by clicking here.

The song Veverke was composed, both text and melody by Rive Boiarskaia [Boyarski], and we are attaching the music as it is found in her song collection for small children – Klingen hemerlekh (Moscow, 1925). There are some textual changes as Gonshor sings it. The entire book can be downloaded here.

In a vald af a sosneboym –
a veverke gezesn.
Zi hot zikh niselekh geknakt,
di yoderlekh gegesn.

Tants zhe, tants zhe veverke.
Mir veln ale zingen.
Varf arop a nisele,
mir veln ale shpringen.

Un az di veverke derzet
kinderlekh in krantsn.
Aropgevorfn a nisele,
genumen mit zey tantsn.

Tants zhe, tants zhe veverke.
Mir veln ale zingen.
Varf arop a nisele,
mir veln ale shpringen.

In the woods on a pine tree
there sat a squirrel.
She cracked nuts,
and ate the kernels.

So dance, dance squirrel,
We will all sing.
Throw down a nut,
and we will all jump.

And when the squirrel sees
the children in circles,
It threw down a nut
and began to dance with them.

So dance, dance squirrel,
We will all sing.
Throw down a nut,
and we will all jump.


Announcing the Stonehill Jewish Song Collection!

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags on May 14, 2015 by yiddishsong

If you’ve been enjoying the regular postings here on the Yiddish Song of the Week, we invite you to visit a new website created by Center for Traditional Music and Dance and Yiddish scholar Miriam Isaacs. The Stonehill Jewish Song Collection website has been recently launched with over sixty songs, mainly in Yiddish, that were collected by Ben Stonehill in 1948 from D.P. camp refugees who were being temporarily housed at the Hotel Marseilles in Manhattan. It is our plan to eventually disseminate the entire Stonehill collection – over 1000 songs on the new website.

“Arele kumt in vald” Performed by Larisa Pechersky

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by yiddishsong

This week’s blog post – song and commentary – was submitted by Larisa Pechersky, who also performs on the recording.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my grandmother’s name known and maybe remembered by people who often ask me how I know so many Yiddish songs. I always tell them that it’s because of my grandmother. Now, I hope her story, name, and image will be shared with them for the first time. As always, I dedicate all my work in the field of Jewish folklore and education to her blessed memory. Milya on 20th birthday Horki

Milya Shagalova (nee Mikhlya Fle’er / Fleyer), grandmother of Larisa Pechersky in Horki on her 20th birthday

I learned this song from my maternal grandmother when I was a toddler in the late 70s . She lived with my mother and me, and took care of me while my mom worked. All day long, as she worked around the house, she sang hundreds of Yiddish songs and encouraged me to sing along.

She would stop many times during a song to comment and make connections to her life in a Belorussian shtetl, to the experiences of her family and friends, and whatever lessons she wanted me to take away from each song. She often acted out the songs with me and showed me how to express a variety of feelings through a nign without words (just like in this song, Arele, she emphasized how the same nign after each verse can express fear, despair, or relief).

She made each song a window into Jewish life for me, a child growing up in a big city of Leningrad, the cultural capital of the Soviet Union, where forced assimilation was the norm for its more than 150,000 Jews. Assimilation was out of the question for my family, where my grandmother wanted me to know Yiddish and grow up proudly Jewish. Milya and Larisa

Larisa Pechersky (age 3) and her grandmother, Milya Shagalova, at home in Leningrad

My grandmother, Milya Shagalova (nee Mikhlya Fle’er / Fleyer), was born in 1914 in Propoysk, a shtetl in Mogilievske Guberniye, Belorussia. In the post-revolution years, her father, Zalmen, received a warning that he was to be arrested, stripped of his possessions, and exiled for owning four cows and employing one housekeeper. To avoid this fate, the family fled to Horki, a larger shtetl in the region, his birthplace.

As the third daughter in a family with no sons at the time, little Mikhlya was sent to a traditional all-boys kheyder to study. She told me compassionate stories of the cruel pranks the boys did to the poor old rebbe that she, as the only girl, felt so bad about. Later, she graduated from a seven-year school, where all of the subjects were taught in Yiddish. She wanted to continue on to the Jewish (Yiddish) teachers’ college, but it was no longer possible.

In 1934, as a newlywed, she moved to Leningrad with her husband Naum (Nokhom-Abram), where they lived  their whole life afterwards. Despite knowing Russian as well as if it were their native tongue, they always spoke Yiddish at home and with many friends, never missed a Jewish concert or event, and subscribed to Jewish periodicals when it was still possible.

During World War II, my grandma miraculously survived the horrific siege of Leningrad with my three-month old mom, but lost her five-year old son, who was with his grandparents in Horki for the summer, during which the Nazis invaded it and killed 7,500 Jews, including the boy, his four grandparents, and 38 more of our relatives.

My grandpa Naum, who came back from the front without a leg, learned of his son’s initial rescue, swift betrayal, and killing from his former neighbors. My grandma’s lament and guilt that she “sent her own child to death with her own hands” by letting him travel to Belorussia before the war “nobody expected to happen” was one of the stories that she would tell me often. Milya with Larisa

Larisa and Milya on summer vacation in Ukraine

When the Perestroika had just begun, the very first signs of the Jewish renewal were two concerts of Jewish music at the end of 1988 in Leningrad. My grandma did not miss them despite her poor health and the two of us went together. She felt that they “added seven more years of life” to her. This is how highly she regarded Jewish songs.

To my greatest regret, she passed away in January 1989 before I went to synagogue for the first time and matriculated at the newly created Jewish University that same year. I never recorded any of her songs, but kept hundreds of them in my memory. I still remember some ballads, just partially, and feel terrible that I can’t recall all the words or find them published anywhere.

When my friends and I started a Jewish school in Leningrad, I dedicated my work to giving my students the same as what my grandmother gave me – teaching them every and any thing Jewish through our amazing multi-layered Yiddish songs. Researching Yiddish musical folklore became my profession, passion, and a tribute to my grandma’s bravery and real heroism in passing our musical tradition to new generations amid the tribulations she lived through.

Arele kumt in vald (Arele Comes to the Woods)

This is how I remember learning the words as a child. I understand they sound not totally grammatically correct, but this is how I sang it as a kid.

Most of the time, we sang the second and third verses in the reverse order. The line in question meant Arele wasn’t taken aback; didn’t fear (I don’t remember the Yiddish word). When it was sung as the second verse, it made his attempt to escape appear to be futile given the next stanza (he thought he could run away, but now he can clearly see the dire situation – the mouth, the paws, etc). This way the time between his climbing up the tree, crying in despair, and eventual rescue was much longer and more terrifying in his eyes.

This was the order of the verses my grandma usually used. Switching the verses makes his actions appear more brave (he didn’t lose his head despite realizing all the details of the dangerous situation beforehand). Also, we sang it a bit slower, in a more storytelling manner, than I did in this recording.The English transliteration reflects the Yiddish dialect more than the Yiddish transcription.

Arele kumt in vald,
Dreyt zikh ‘hin un ‘her.
Ven er dremlt bald
kumt a greyser ber!

Der ber mit lapes greyse!
G’valt, dos iz nit gut!
Fun eygn trern heyse,
Ot iz sheyn kaput!

Arele is nit flit [foyl?]
Eyfn beym er kletert.
Un der ber mit ofn mul,
G’valt, nito keyn reter!

A reter iz ba sholem,
A greyser nes getrofn!
Geven iz dos a kholem,
Ven Arel iz geshlofn!

Arele comes to the woods,
wanders here and there.
When he slumbers, right away comes
a great big bear.

The bear with giant paws!
Help, this is not good.
From his eyes hot tears stream.
Now all is kaput.

Arele is not lazy
and on the tree he climbs.
And the bear with an open mouth
Help, there is no rescue!

A rescue did come in peace;
a great miracle happened.
This was all a dream
while Arele was sleeping.

arele1 arele2

One Song – Three Pogroms

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2015 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

The last day of Passover 1903 coincided with Easter that year, and the tragic Kishinev pogrom began on that date. keshenevKishinev, aftermath of the pogrom (YIVO Archives)

Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) sang this version of a song about the pogrom which was adapted for other pogroms, or perhaps  was itself already an adaptation of an earlier pogrom song. In this post we note two other pogroms with versions of the song.

A version of the same pogrom song is sung by the actress/singer Miriam Kressyn about Bialystok on the LP record Dos Goldene Land. Kressyn was from Bialystok, and the Bialystoker pogroms took place in 1905 – 1906.  (Thanks to Lorin Sklamberg and the YIVO Sound Archives for providing this recording)

The third pogrom where this song was used was in Volodarka, Ukraine. This pogrom took place in July 1919 amidst the Russian Civil War. The lyrics (as collected by S. Kupershmid) appears in the Tsaytshrift far yidisher geshikhte, demografye un ekonomik literatur-forshung, shprakh-visnshaft un etnografye 2-3 (Minsk, 1928) page 803. It too contains the lines of walking through feathers as through snow in winter, and this emerged as one of the primary pogrom images, as we see in our Kishinev pogrom examples and others.

volodarkaOn the Workmen Circle’s LP “Amol iz geven a mayse”, Sidor Belarsky sings two verses of an abbreviated version of The Kishiniev Pogrom song. The song begins at this link – double click on “Amol iz geven a mayse (cont.)”  and go to 12:30 minutes.

In the chapter “The Pogrom As Poem” in David G. Roskies’ work Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (1984) the author examines how the same pogrom song was adapted for different pogroms. He remarks “even when the singer invoked historical facts, the relics of the violence were organized into public symbols and thematic formulas, so that the details were applicable anywhere and only the place-name would have to be changed.”

Transliteration/Translation of LSW’s version:

Lifshe Schaechter-Widman “Lid funem Keshenever Pogrom”, recorded by Leybl Kahn, Bronx, 1954

Akhron Shel Peysekh af der nakht
iz aroys a nayer “rozkaz.”
Az yidn zoln lign bahaltn.
Zey torn zikh nisht dreyen in gas.

Oy, ziser got in himl,
kuk shoyn arop af dr’erd.
Ze nor dem rash un getuml.
Vos hobn di yidn far a vert?

A hoyz fun dray gorn
hot men geleygt biz tsu dem grint.
Betgevant hot men gerisn,
di federn gelozt of dem vint.

In di federn iz men gegangen
azoy vi vinter in shney.
Vayber hot men geshlogn;
mener gerisn of tsvey.
Vayber hot men geshlogn;
Di mener tserisn of tsvey.

Ziser got in himl
kik shoyn arup af dr’erd
Vuz zenen di yidn azoy zindik
Vus zey hobn gur keyn vert?

The last day of Passover
a new regulation was issued.
That Jews should lie hidden;
they aren’t allowed in the street.

Oy sweet God in heaven,
Look already down on the earth.
See the tumult and chaos.
Are the Jews worth anything?

A house three stories high
was destroyed down to the ground.
Bedding was torn apart;
the feathers blew in the wind.

In the feathers they walked
as in winter in snow.
Women were beaten;
men torn in two.

Sweet God in heaven
Look already down to the Earth.
Have the Jews so sinned
that they are of no worth. Lifshe PogromLifshe Pogrom2

A Polish “Khad-gadyo” Performed by Mordkhe Schaechter

Posted in Yiddish Song of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2015 by yiddishsong

A Polish Khad-gadyo
Sung by Mordkhe Schaechter
Recorded by Leybl Kahn in 1954 New York.
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Though not in Yiddish, we present this week’s short ditty in the spirit of celebrating the upcoming holiday of Passover and as a contrast to last week’s Yiddish Khad-Gadyo. This is either the beginning of a longer Khad-gadyo song or perhaps simply a children’s rhyme based on khad-gadyo.

Spoken by Mordkhe Schaechter:
„אַ פּויליש־ייִדיש פּסח־לידל פֿון מײַן מוטער, זוויניעטשקע, בוקעווינע”
A Polish-Jewish Passover song from my mother; Zvinyetchke, Bukovina

Words in Polish (thanks to Dr. Karolina Szymaniak and Dr. Agi Legutko who both sent in the Polish and translations)

Moj ojciec kupił za dwa dziengi, za dwa złote,
 ej-ha-hu, chad-gadju 

My father bought for two zlotes, ey-ha-hu,
khad-gadyu. [one kid]

(as I understand it, “dziengi” is slang for “cash”, from Russian – IG).

Below are lyrics published in Yivo-bleter 1952, volume 36  page  370 (http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pagefeed/hebrewbooks_org_43640_370.pdf), from a different Khad-gadyo in Polish from Sanok, Galicia. The commentary at the end also mentions a Ukrainian version. Readers – please let us know in the comments if you know of other Polish versions of Khad-gadyo.

khad godye polish1

khad godye polish2


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