“Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?” Performed by Mr. Harris

Notes by Itzik Gottesman

I recorded Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder? (“What Did You Learn My Child in Cheder?”) at a zingeray/song gathering in the Bronx in 1983, at the home of Merke (Mary) and Tuvia Levine, on Gun Hill Road. I cannot recall the singer‘s full name– Harris was his last name.

This children‘s folksong that follows the letters of the alef-beys has a number of variants. In Pipe‘s collection from Sanok, Galicia, his version begins „Az du zest, yingele, an alef, vi azoy makht es?‟ In my mother and grandmother‘s version it begins „Vos lernstu yingele?‟ (see Pipe‘s variation on page 202-205, it has verses all the way to „yud,‟ and the footnote by Dov and Meir Noy on page 316 in Shmuel Zanvel Pipe Yiddish Folksongs From Galicia, ed. Dov and Meir Noy, Israel, 1971). There are some interesting differences in the words that are „taytshed‟ in each stanza. In Beregovsky-Feffer‘s collection, Kiev, 1938, the music is also printed. All the variants are similar, textually and melodically, but never exactly the same. Most other versions ask the question „Vos makht es in eynem?‟ (What does it sound like together?) but Harris sings it as an imperative „Makht es in eynem‟ or „Put it together‟….which also makes sense. In the opening verse, when Harris sings „nokh a taytsh‟, it‘s clear that he should have then sung „a shtekele‟ and not „ay ay‟ for a second time.

Harris, Merke and Tevye Levine were part of the linke (leftist) Yiddish cultural scene that did not usually mix with Arbeter-Ring members or Zionists. Our “scene‟ from the Sholem-Aleichem Folk Institute, played down politics, and emphasized the cultural aspects so we mingled fine. By the late 1970s, the Yiddish world was so depleted that the walls between left, center and right, were falling down on behalf of Yiddish culture, so the Levines became prominent members of the Sholem-Aleichem Folkshul on Bainbridge Avenue. Thirty years earlier they were active in their own linke shuln, but by the 1970s, those folkshuln no longer existed. Our zingerays included them more and more. That older generation of linke Yiddishists is gone; Itche Goldberg, who died recently at 102, was perhaps the last of them, and I cannot think of anyone who is alive anymore to even ask about the singer‘s– Mr. Harris‘s– first name.


Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Alef
Vos iz taytsh „alef‟?
ay, ay
Nokh a taytsh?
ay, ay
Makht es in eynem
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Alef
What is „alef‟?
ay, ay
Another meaning?
ay, ay
Put it together
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Beys
Vos iz taytsh „beys‟?
Berl
Nokh a taytsh?
Bunzhik
Makht es in eynem
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Beys
What is „beys‟?
Berl
Another meaning?
Bunzhik
Put it together
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Giml
Vos iz taytsh „Giml‟?
Gib zhe
Nokh a taytsh?
gikher
Makht es in eynem
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Gimel
What is „gimel‟?
So give!
Another meaning?
Faster
Put it together
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Daled
Vos iz taytsh „daled‟?
Darer
Nokh a taytsh?
Drunzhik
Makht es in eynem
Daradrunzhik
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Daled
What is „Daled‟?
Thin
Another meaning?
Drunzhik
Put it together
A really thin person [daradrunzhik]
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Hey
Vos iz taytsh „hey‟?
Heyb zhe
Nokh a taytsh?
Hekher
Makht es in eynem
Heyb zhe hekher
Darerdronzhik
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Hey
What is „hey‟?
Lift!
Another meaning?
Higher!
Put it together
Lift it higher!
A very thin person,
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick



3 Responses to ““Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?” Performed by Mr. Harris”

  1. Hershl Hartman Says:

    Harvey Schreibman, a fellow-student at the hekhere kursn fun di linke, and later a conductor of Yiddish choruses, taught us that song in the 1940s, though I can’t remember if it went all the way to yud.

    Harvey died of a heart attack “with his boots on,” at a rehearsal (performance?) of the 100-plus voice khor he organized and conducted in one of Florida’s retirement communities — Century village, dakht zikh mir.

  2. AHEYM recorded this song from Anya Plotkin in Soroka in December 2005. It is a well-known “alef-beyz”-song. that belongs to the series of sometimes nonsensical but mostly mnemonic and associative playful ditties devised to help the child to learn the Yiddish alphabet. We hope to have a special annotated presentation of this song on our AHEYM website soon. In the meantime enjoy it being recalled and so nicely performed by Anya Plotkin in the attached excerpt from our interview with her in 2005.

    The recording can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=740646611159

  3. Dan Simon Says:

    A video of a film short shot in 1974, directed by Lester Simon

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