“Di fishelekh in vaser” Performed by Tsunye Rymer

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Di fishelekh in vaser (The Fish in Water) was one of Isaac (Tsunye) Rymer‘s most beloved songs to perform (for more on Rymer see the previous posting on Shpilt zhe mir dem nayem sher). The performer Michael Alpert learned it from him (Alpert was present at this recording, done at a zingeray, or singing session, at our dining room table) and then taught others the song at KlezKamp and other festivals and workshops. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shtreiml have recorded Rymer‘s version.

The song itself is a typical Yiddish mother-daughter folksong [see Robert Rothstein “The Mother-Daughter Dialogue in the Yiddish Folk Song: Wandering Motifs in Time and Space,” New York Folklore 15 (1989), 1-2:51-65.] But the couplet “I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas/I sought to fall in love (or have a love affair), but cannot attain it” is unique to this song.

The closest printed version I have found is in Folklor lider, Moscow 1936 vol. 2, Z. Skuditski/M. Viner, vol. 2, page 155, recorded in Bela Tservkva (Yiddish – „Shvartse tume‟), Ukraine, 1926 (see their footnotes for similar verses in other collections).

In this recording made at our home around 1980, Rymer sings with great passion and his exclamations of „mame mayne!‟ says it all. When I first heard this recording after many years, it bothered me to hear others at the table join in with Rymer. But I realized that this was how we learned the songs ourselves – singing along, missing a word at first here and there, until we got it right.

Oy, fishelekh in vaser,  zey iz fil beser.
Bay zey iz nit keyn untersheyd, fin klener biz tsu greser.
Oy, fishelekh in vaser, zey iz fil beser.
Bay zey iz nit keyn untersheyd, fun klener biz tsu greser.

O the fish in water, they have it much better.
They don‘t make a difference
between the smaller ones and bigger ones.

„Oy vey tokhter, s‘badarf azoy nit zayn.
Der zeyger hot shoyn tsvelef geshlugn, kim in shtib arayn.‟
„Der zeyger hot shoyn tsevelf geshlugn, kh‘hob moyre far mayn tatn.‟
„Kum zhe shoyn in shtib aran, s‘vet dir gurnisht shatn. „

„O dear daughter, it shouldn‘t be this way.
The clock has already struck twelve, come inside the home.‟
„The clock has already struck twelve, I‘m afraid of father.‟
„Come on inside, nothing will happen to your‟

„Oy vey mame, fartsap mir nit mayn blit,
lomikh mit im reydn, nokh a pur minit.
Ikh bin a meydele mit farshtand, seykhl un gedanken,
a libe shpiln hot zikh mir farglist, ikh kon es nisht derlangen.‟

„O dear mother, don‘t suck my blood,
Let me talk to him, just a few more minutes.
I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas.
I sought to fall in love, but I cannot attain it.‟

Fil muzikantn shpiln, mame, oyfn frayen feld.
Ikh hob farshpilt mayn lebn, mame, kh‘ob farshpilt mayn velt.
Ih hob farshpilt mayn leybn, mame, tsures un a shir,
tsi bashraybn mayne layden, klekt nit keyn papir. 

Many musicians, mother mine, play in the open field.
I have lost my life, mother, I have lost my world.
I have lost my life, mother, troubles without end.
To describe my sorrows, no amount of paper would suffice.

Oy, fil brilyantn, mame mayne, hob ikh shoyn gezeyn.
Nor ven ikh kik zikh tsi tsi zey, zenen zey gemeyn.
Nor eyn brilyant, mame mayne, ligt mir nor in zinen.
Un vu ikh gey, un vu ikh shtey, ikh kon im nit gefinen. 
Nor eyn brilyant, mame mayne, ligt mir nor in zinen.
Un vu ikh gey, un vu ikh shtey, ikh kon im nit gefinen.

Many gems, mother mine, have I already seen.
But when I look at them, I find them coarse. 
But one gem, mother mine, do I have in my mind,
And wherever I go, wherever I stand, I cannot find him. 

8 Responses to ““Di fishelekh in vaser” Performed by Tsunye Rymer”

  1. I look forward to listening and learning about these songs every week – but by now the content is growing so fast I can’t keep up with all the songs. Any chance of an index?

  2. Itzik, thanks as ever for another wonderful posting. Also for the mention of whatever role I’ve played over the years in teaching, performing and disseminating the song — as you know, Rymer a”h was a major inspiration to me as a singer, dancer and general bon vivant :). For scholarly accuracy and for them’s that’s scoring the game that closely :), the version I’ve taught over time is — as I recall — based on my transcription of a video recording I made of Rymer in Itta Taub’s a”h apartment in Miami while visiting both of them there in winter 1989. But then there were all the many times I heard him sing it throughout the 80s, mainly in the exact unforgettable ambience you describe here — or the equivalent in your backyard — which no doubt also influence the way I’ve taught and perform the song. As with nearly all Yiddish folk singers, all these different documented performances make for a great study of the melodic, textual, dialectal and emotional variation in the singing of any given performer, and in Yiddish traditional singing in general (dos shrayb ikh nit nor dir, nor letoyve alemen). Koved Rymers ondenk, un a gezunt dir tsu lange yor in di beyner arayn!

  3. Leo Summergrad Says:

    Just to make you aware that Ruth Rubin made a recording of this song.

  4. מיט װאָס איז דער װאַריאַנט בײַ סקודיצקי/װינער ענלעכער צו דעם, װאָס רײַמער זינגט, װי יענער פֿון בעלץ בײַ כּהן (1938, ניט 1920)?י
    What makes the Skuditski/Viner version (for you) closer to what Rymer sings – compared to the version from Belts that Cahan (1938, not the 1920 one) wrote down?

  5. […] I learned this song from Michael (Meyshke) Alpert, who learned it from Isaac (Tsunye) Rymer. […]

  6. Here is a recording from the CTMD archive of Feigl Yudin singing “Di fishelekh in waser” on a Jewish Music Concert (date unknown) presented by the Balkan Arts Center.


  7. Here’s a video of Rymer singing Fishelekh posted by Itzik Gottesman: https://www.facebook.com/itzik.gottesman/videos/10155076363847481/

  8. […] פֿאַרבונדן מיט פֿאַרלוירענע ליבעס און וואַסער — „פֿישעלעך אין וואַסער“ און „אַ נײַע […]

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