Welcome to the website/blog “The Yiddish Song of the Week” presented by the An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project (AJFRP). This initiative is part of a larger effort by the AJFRP to revitalize traditional Yiddish folksinging performance and research on the subject. To that end, this website will emphasize field recordings of traditional Yiddish folksingers from around the world contributed by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, musicians, singers and collectors.
Each Yiddish song will be presented with Yiddish words and translation, along with commentary from the contributor. Since the website is a blog, we hope that each song contribution will elicit comments from others on the song itself, or on the singing style of the singer. Perhaps others will contribute a variant of the song from their recordings, etc.
Director, An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project
THE SINGER LIFSHE SCHAECHTER-WIDMAN (LSW)
Lifshe Schaechter Widman was born in Zvinyetchke, Bukovina in 1893. The town is on the Dneister river. Across the river was Galicia. When she was born, Zvinyetchke was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Today the town is in the Ukraine. By an early age she had established her reputation as singer and was often asked by the women, both younger, unmarried and older married women to sing for them. Most of the songs in her repertoire are from the first 14 years of her life. In 1907 she left on her own for America, lived in New York, and returned to Bukovina just in time for the First World War in 1914. She married Benyumin Schaechter in Vienna and settled in Chernovitz, the capital of Bukovina. She had two children Beyle (born in 1920 in Vienna ) and Mordkhe (born in 1927 in Chernovitz). Beyle became a Yiddish poet and songwriter and settled in the Bronx (Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman – my mother). Mordkhe Schaechter became a noted Yiddish linguist in NY. Lifshe survived the war in Chernovitz and arrived in the US in 1951. She died in 1973.
In 1954, Leybl Kahn, a folklore collector, recorded Lifshe in her home in the Bronx. Most of the recordings of LSW for this project will be from those sessions which number about 100. In the early 1970s, Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett did extensive interviews and recordings with Lifshe and much of the contextual and biographical information relating to the songs are from those recordings. I produced a cassette of LSW’s songs from the Kahn recordings entitled Az du furst avek on the label Global Village Music in 1986. A booklet with words and translations accompanied the recording.
COMMENTS ON LSW’S SINGING STYLE AND THE SONG
There is a lot to say about the song itself and how the singer performs it. LSW sings it slowly, emotionally, and is in no rush to finish. The sound “oy,” though often mocked by 2nd and 3rd generation Jews, is crucial in her singing (as it is for klezmer-music and Ashkenazic cantorial performance) and conveys her sadness and intimacy. In Zvinyetchke she sang with hopeful, youthful small groups of teenage girls on Sabbath walks, and with older bitter women on Saturday nights as they plucked chickens or made jam together. The play, work and song were communally performed and felt. In other words, when I listen to LSW sing, I feel her expressing that female communal vulnerability and fragility to the audience – “Be sad with me/us; feel my/our pain and joy.”
On the one hand, she sings in an older style of East European women’s singing style, yet on the other hand, it can’t be denied that she was a product of her time – 1890s Austria-Hungary/Galicia – a time of sentimental art and literature (sentimental in the good sense). Fintster, glitshik follows a ballad form. The first two verses set the dramatic context of a women who must give up her newborn and then a spoken monologue follows. (In older ballads, it would be a dialogue that follows). I don’t think the song is older than the 1850s or 1860s but there is no way to date folksongs; we can only guess by the number of variants that had been collected.
A close version of the song appears in Yidisher folklor edited by I. L. Cahan, 1938, a YIVO publication. The song appears on p. 39, collected in Podbrodz, near Vilna. The fifth and last verse mentions the father who laughs when he finds out her situation. The melody to that version is similar to LSW’s and is published in the back of the book.
In Yidishe Folkslider in Rusland, edited by Saul Ginsburg and Peysekh Marek, St. Petersburg 1901 (reprint Israel 1991) there is another, longer version on page 189, collected in the Poltava region. Two more variants are mentioned in the Cahan 1938 work which I cannot obtain yet.
S‘iz fintster, glitshik, shpeyt bay der nakht.
S‘iz a pakhed af der gas aroystsugeyn.
Es dreyt zikh a fraylin shpeyt bay der nakht.
Ir harts tsegeyt dekh far geveyn.
It‘s dark, slippery, late at night.
It‘s a fright to go out on the street.
A young woman wanders late at night,
Her heart is breaking from her crying.
Zi zeyt az keyner zol zi nit hern.
Un zingt a lid gants fun zikh aleyn.
Mentshn, ven ir volt zikh fun dem lid dernern.
Volt ir gevist vos mit mir iz geshen.
She looks to make sure no one is hearing.
And sings a song to herself.
People, if you could from this song be “nourished‟
Then you would find out what has happened to me.
Nayn khadoshim hob ikh dikh getrogn.
Mit groyse shmertsn hob ikh dikh gehat.
Ze mayn kind an umgliklekhe miter;
Derkh dir bin ikh (a) na-venad.
Nine months I was pregnant with you,
With great pains, I delivered you,
See my child, an unhappy mother
Because of you, I wander around.
Az gite mentshn veln dikh gefinen.
Rakhmunes veln zey hobn af dir.
Ze mayn kind, du zolst dikh erlikh firn.
Fil beser vet dir zayn fun mir.
When good people will find you,
They will take pity on you.
See my child, that you conduct yourself honestly.
You will be much better off than me.
Un az di vest elter vern
Vest onheybn di velt beser tsu farshteyn.
Vest veln kenen dayne futer-miter.
Farges mayn kind, bist elnt vi a shteyn.
And when you get older
And begin to understand the world better,
You will want to know your parents –
Forget my child, you are lonely as a stone.
ס‘איז פֿינצטער, גליטשיק, שפּעט בײַ דער נאַכט.
ס‘איז אַ פּחד אויף דער גאַס אַרויסצוגיין.
עס דרייט זיך אַ פֿרײַלין שפּעט בײַ דער נאַכט.
איר האַרץ צעגייט זיך פֿאַר געוויין.
זי זעט, אַז קיינער זאָל זי ניט הערן
און זינגט אַ ליד גאַנץ פֿון זיך אַליין.
מענטשן ווען איר זאָלט זיך פֿון דעם ליד דערנערן,
וואָלט איר געוווּסט, וואָס מיט מיר איז געשען.
נײַן חדשים האָבן איך דיך געטראָגן.
מיט גרויסע שמערצן האָב איך דיך געהאַט.
זע מײַן קינד אַן אומגליקלעכע מוטער;
דורך דיר בין איך נע־ונד.
אַז גוטע מענטשן וועלן דיך געפֿינען,
רחמנות וועלן זיי האָבן אויף דיר.
זע, מײַן קינד, דו זאָלסט זיך ערלעך פֿירן,
פֿיל בעסער וועט דיר זײַן פֿון מיר.
און אַז דו וועסט עלטער ווערן,
וועסן אָנהייבן די וועלט בעסער צו פֿאַרשטיין.
וועסט וועלן קענען דײַנע פֿאָטער־מוטער,
פֿאַרגעס מײַן קינד, ביסט עלנט ווי אַ שטיין