“A Pastekhl” Performed by Hirsh Reles

Notes by Dmitri Slepovitch

A Pastekhl (A Shepherd), is known from several cantorial recordings, including that of Zinoviy Shulman, and was sung by Hirsh (Grigoriy L’vovich) Reles in his family’s version. Hirsh Reles (1913 – 2004) happened to be the last Belarusian Yiddish author of the older generation. He was born into a rabbi’s family Chashniki, Vitebsk oblast. Reles started his career as a Yiddish literature teacher at a Jewish school. After Jewish schools had been shut down by Stalin, Reles started teaching Russian literature, but he never stopped writing in Yiddish. Having had been raised in a traditional Jewish environment, Hirsh Reles remembered quite a lot of songs and life facts from the pre-war time till his very last days in Minsk.


Hirsh Reles

This recording made in 1997 was the beginning of my systemic research of Jewish music in Belarus. Several years later Dr. Nina Stepanskaya, Z”L, and I recorded two video interviews with Hirsh Reles, which I hope will be published some time soon.

The song, though being sung mainly on behalf of a narrator, also involves a dialog between the shepherd and G-d. Like in many other Yiddish and, specifically, cantorial songs, the theatric element is represented here as well. Although not a ballad, this song clearly shows a story-like plot, tending to correspond with many niggunim’s texts and therefore it might be considered as somewhat a musical midrash.

Musically, the song demonstrates one of very typical structures often seen in Yiddish songs as well as cantorial compositions. It has three verses, each beginning with a non-metrical part followed a metrically organized chorus (pizmon). Having had been inspired by this recording of Reles’s singing, I later recorded this song with Minsker Kapelye for the Tutejsi (Di Ortike/The Locals) album, adding my own rap rhymes to the folk ones.

Editor’s Note: Anyone doing research on Yiddish song, particularly discographic information on LPs,  should be aware of the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sounds Archive. For instance, if you wanted to research who else had recorded this week’s song contribution, you could browse by the first line “Iz geven a mol a pastekhl” and find numerous recordings of the song.  Then you could go to the Judaic Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University and see if they have any recordings on line of the song that you could listen to (I searched a little by title and couldn’t find it, but searching by singer after finding the names in Freedman’s website, in this case, would be easier). More Yiddish song resources on-line in future posts. – Itzik Gottesman, Editor 


Iz geven amol a pastekhl, a pastekhl,
Iz ba im forlorn gegangen a shefele, a shefele.
Geyt er, zet er: fort a fur mit shteyndelekh, mit shteyndelekh.
Hot er gemeynt a’(z) dos iz fun shefele di beyndelekh, di beyndelekh.
Zogt er: “Adeyni! Adeyni! Oy Adeyni!
Tshi nye bachyu ty, tshi nye vidzyeu ty ovtsy moi?”
Makh er, “Nyet.”
Byeda-byedu, ovtsy nishto!
A yak zhe ya damoy pridu?
A yak zhe ya damoy pridu?

Once upon a time there lived a shepherd.
It happened once that he lost a sheep.
Off he went and saw a wagon with stones.
It seemed to him they were his sheep’s bones.
He says, “My Lord, my Lord, my Lord!
Have you seen, have caught sight of my sheep?”
God says, “No!”
“Woe is me! My sheep is gone.
How shall I come back home?”

Geyt er, zet er: fort a fur mit dernelekh, mit dernelekh.
Hot er gemeynt a’ dos iz fun shefele di hernelekh, di hernelekh.
Zogt er: “Adeyni! Adeyni! Oy Adeyni!
Tshi nye bachyu ty, tshi nye vidzyeu ty ovtsy moi?”
Makh er, “Nyet.”
Byeda-byedu, ovtsy nishto!
A yak zhe ya damoy pridu?
A yak zhe ya damoy pridu?

Off he went and saw a wagon with turf.
It seemed to him these were his sheep’s horns.
He says, “My Lord, my Lord, my Lord!
Have you seen, have caught sight of my sheep?”
God says, “No!”
“Woe is me! My sheep is gone.
How shall I come back home?”

Geyt er, zet er: fort a fur mit niselekh, mit niselekh,
Hot er gemeynt a’ dos iz fun di shefele di fiselekh, di fiselekh.
Zogt er: “Adeyni! Adeyni! Oy Adeyni!
Tshi nye bachyu ty, tshi nye vidzyeu ty ovtsy moi?”
Makh er, “Nyet.”
Byeda-byedu, ovtsy nishto!
A yak zhe ya damoy pridu?

Off he went and saw a wagon with nuts.
It seemed to him these were his sheep’s hoofs.
He says, “My Lord, my Lord, my Lord!
Have you seen, have caught sight of my sheep?”
God says, “No!”
“Woe is me! My sheep is gone.
How shall I come back home?”

Yiddish text below from “Anthology  of Yiddish Folksongs”, Volume 3, Vinkovetzky, Kovner, and Leichter, Jerusalem, 1985, pages 132 – 135.

 

 

18 Responses to ““A Pastekhl” Performed by Hirsh Reles”

  1. Martin Horwitz Says:

    Minor correction. The text sez: Tchi ne bachyL ty,Tchi ne videL ty i. e simple past tense ending -L of the two verbs for “to see” as in the Yiddish text.

    But the english has -eu.

    Great song,great rendition.

    • I don’t read Hebrew, but I guess it’s a matter of transliteration. The letter meant by the author of the Hebrew text is the Polish final Ł, which in pronouncation corresponds to Belarusian – that is a short u. In other words, it’s a Hebrew transcription of polonized Belarusian.

    • Thank you! In the Belarusian language it is exactly as sung by Reles, -yu, -eu, uu, (as English W).

  2. Martin Horwitz Says:

    Is the Minsker kapelye album available anywhere?

  3. So interesting… is there a German-based Yiddish and a Russian-based Yiddish? The beginning of every verse is Germanic, but then the conversation with g-d is Russian-based… I’m new to Yiddish; is this common?

    • Yes, there is West-Yiddish and Eastern Yiddish. But West-Yiddish is long extinct. What you see in the lyrics in Belarusian (not Russian), is actually Belarusian, not Yiddish. This is a good example of typical Jewish multilingualism, a macaronic text in this case.

  4. blahfeme Says:

    no – only the fisrt parts are in Yiddish. The other parts are in (Bela-)Russian;

  5. Lyudmila Sholokhova Says:

    As far as I know there is a substantial difference between Adoyni (my lord, sire) and Adonay (“my lord”, God). See Harkavy’s Yiddish-Engllish-Hebrew Dictionary, also Uriel Weinreich’s Yiddish-English dictionary. I really doubt your interpretation of word God in this song.

  6. I’m interested in how this song came to be regarded as a cantorial song. Although the singer turns to God (Lord, sire, higher being), there is no response – what is the message here from the point of view of Jewish tradition?

    • To me, it is clearly a midrash, like the one about Khoni ha-Me’agel. One can draw multiple (obvious and less obvious) parallels and allusions from this texts, but, as it goes with the rest of the Jewish (textual) tradition, there is no single answer.

  7. I’ve just seen a version of the song in Ginsburg and Marek. There’s no mention of “Adoni” at all here. Variations: epele / kepele. Also: this song ends with shteyndelekh / beyndelekh, which makes more sense – gives the song a more meaningful closure.

    • Are you saying that the shepherd is addressing to epele / kepele instead of God in Ginzburg – Marek version (I just don’t have it at home)? That would be really strange. Or, if I got you wrong, please specify your question.
      The order of the verses is exactly the same as Hirsh Reles, Z”L, remembered it (or them) from the years of his youth. I didn’t alternate anything in the recording.

  8. Where can I find the words to the song Vahafta lreyecha kamicha
    Yodl, oy a mensch zolsty zein,

    Have looked many websites. Yet have not found it
    Thanks
    Rosalie Nepom

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