“Afn beys-oylem” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Notes by Itzik Gottesman

„Afn beys-oylem‟ (On the Cemetery) is a version of Mikhl Gordon‘s Di shtifmuter (The Stepmother). A complete text of the original in Yiddish can be found in the first volume of Antologye: finf hundert yor yidishe poezye edited by M. Bassin, 1917, pages 167 -169, and Perl fun der yidisher poezye edited by Joseph and Chana Mlotek, 1974, pages 29-31 (A translation of the Mlotek book into English by Barnett Zumoff – Pearls of Yiddish Poetry – was published a couple of months ago).

A similar version of this song is in Shmuel-Zanvil Pipe‘s collection „Yiddish Folksongs From Galicia‟ edited by Dov and Meir Noy and included in the Pipe-volume –  Folklore Research Center Studies, volume 2, Jerusalem, 1971. In that text, a verse which names the husband “Avrum” is also sung; so a distinct Galician/Bukovina variant is clear, which is very different from the much longer original (there is no mention of the father‘s name in Gordon‘s text).  But as sometimes, or perhaps often happens, the condensed folk-version has much more power and intensity. For other versions see note #9, p. 300, in the Pipe volume.

Mikhl Gordon, (Vilna, 1823 – Kiev, 1890) had a wonderful sense of humor (he was author of „Di bord‟). However, here he composed a moving, even shocking, portrait of the life of an orphan. Women folksingers had no problem singing this kind of song since it truly reflected the difficult times and hopelessly depressing family situations. Singing it today from a stage is another matter…

LSW‘s Performance

For more on singer Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) 1893-1974 click here.

I consider this song the epitome of LSW‘s slow, mournful vocal style brimming with ornamentation. You can also hear the reach and power of her voice, which seems to float, if you will.

She clearly flubs the second verse, singing only three out of four lines and does not rhyme the obvious „anider‟ and „glider‟. But she improvises a neat ending to the shortened verse and continues. Notice how she only repeats the last two lines in the final verse, the emotional highpoint of the song.

This recording was done by Leybl Kahn in New York City, 1954. Please note that the Yiddish dialect of the singer is more accurately reflected in the transliteration than in the Yiddish text. 

Af deym beys-oylem inter a mitseyve,
dort hert men eyn kol fun ayn toyter nikeyve.
Oy vey! Dort shrayt a miter – oy vey iz mir in vind,
Vos vil di shtifmame fin man eyn in eyntsik kind!?

On the cemetery under a gravestone,
You can hear the voice of a dead woman.
Oy vey! shouts the mother. Oy vey, woe to me.
What does the stepmother want from my only child?

Zi kimt aheym fin der gas, di groyse marshas,
zi varft im anider, zi heybt im of.
zi tsenemt im a yede glider.

She comes home from the street, the evil woman,
she throws him down, and lifts him up,
she breaks every part of his body.

Avrum, Avrum, di bist geveyzn mayn man.
dem yusemeles futer, oykh min-hastam.
Oy vey! Tsi iz dayn herts fin ayzn, in di aleyn fin shteyn,
Vi (azoy) kensti farnemen deym yusemls geveyn?

Avrum, Avrum, you were my husband.
and the father of the orphaned child, of course.
Oy vey, is your heart made of iron, and you made out of stone?
How can you stand the cries of the orphan?

אויפֿן בית־עולם (די שטיפֿמוטער)

אויף דעם בית־עולם אונטער איין מצבֿה,

דאָרט הערט מען איין קול פֿון אײַן טויטער נקבֿה.

אוי וויי! דאָרט שרײַט אַ מוטער — אוי וויי איז מיר און ווינד!

וואָס וויל די שטיפֿמאַמע פֿון מײַן איין און אייציקן קינד?!

.

זי קומט אַהיים פֿון דער גאַס, די גרויסע מרשעת,

זי וואַרפֿט אים אַנידער, זי הייבט אים אויף,

זי צענעמט אים אַ יעדער גלידער.

.

אַבֿרהם, אַבֿרהם, דו ביסט געוועזן מײַן מאַן

דעם יתומלס פֿאָטער, אויך מן־הסתּם.

אוי וויי! צי איז דײַן הערץ פֿון אײַזן, און דו אַליין פֿון שטיין,

ווי( אַזוי) קענסטו פֿאַרנעמען דעם יתומלס געוויין?

 

4 Responses to ““Afn beys-oylem” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman”

  1. This is beautiful. I grew up in an era when Yiddish seemed to be relegated to kitsch, so to hear such a haunting (so to speak) and moving song is a powerful experience.

  2. Amazing…..so this Lifshe…is your grandmother?…hmm…..she was then the mother of our late friend Mordkhe Schaechter? Amazing, as is this website–to which I feel many connections!
    I myself lived as a toddler at the HIAS Hotel, later Joe Papp’s Theater, probably the site of the recordings mentioned here.
    Bryks…a name I heard often from my own Yiddish writer father! As an “only child” of refugees, during the first years in this country, I listened to all their conversations.
    … Leviah

  3. To view an arrangement by Lazer Saminsky of this song, sung by Peter Privn; at the piano Uri Brener see:

    I believe he sings the first and last verse of Gordon’s poem.

  4. […] 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 […]

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