“Ikh vel nit ganvenen” Performed by Sterna Gorodetskaya

Commentary by Dmitri ‘Zisl’ Slepovitch

I recorded Ikh vel nit ganvenen (I Will Not Steal) in Mogilev, Belarus, from Sterna Gorodetskaya, born in 1946 into the only Jewish family that got reunited after the war in the village of Komintern, a Mogilev suburb. 

Photograph of Sterna Gorodetskaya by Dmitri Slepovitch

Sterna is also the aunt of Yuri Gorodetsky, a noticeable young opera singer who was for while involved performing Yiddish songs and cantorial pieces in Minsk, taking part in Jewish cultural revivalist movement there.

It was amazing to hear this song from a person of Sterna’s generation. She sang the song to me in memory of her mother, and that was the first time she performed it since she was a child.

To realize why it is so unique in that context, it is important to mention that unlike Moldova or Ukraine where the Jewish tradition was preserved to a considerable extent throughout the Soviet times, Belarus saw a much more powerful wave of assimilation, including the loss of the Yiddish language, in the post-war time. Most of the songs sung to us in the course of our fieldwork had been hidden in people’s memory for decades.

The song per se adds to a number of other “thief’s songs.” Chaim Kotylanski included two similar songs in his book, “Folks-Gezangen as Interpreted by Chaim Kotylanski,” Los Angeles, 1944. The lyrics of one, Nisht ganvenen nor nemen, resemble Sterna Gorodetskaya’s version in the chorus (compare: “Kholile nisht ganvenen, nor nemen, nor nemen”), though it employs a dance-like or march-like melody set in a major key. The other song, Kh’vel shoyn mer nisht ganvenen, is closer melodically to Sterna’s, as both are set in the natural minor.  In “Pearls of Yiddish Song” published by Chana and Yosl Mlotek there is yet another variant of ‘Kh’vel shoyn mer nit ganvenen.

My trip to Mogilev in January 2008 was the first one to follow the untimely death of Nina Stepanskaya (1954—2007), my professor and colleague with whom I collaborated over a decade on the Litvak music culture research in Belarus. Like Sterna Gorodetskaya who sang this song in memory of her mother, I would like this posting to be a tribute to and a small sign of appreciation of Nina’s invaluable input into Jewish music studies.

Ikh vel gegayen in krom keyfn irisn
Un az ikh hob dikh lib, iz ver darf dos visn?
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I will go to the store to buy some candies,
And whilst I love you, who should know about that?
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ikh vel gegayen in mark keyfn bar(u)n,
Un az ikh hob dikh lib, iz vemen darf dos arn?
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I will go to the market to buy some pears,
And while I love you, whom should it bother?
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ikh af a shif un du af a lodke,
Un ikh mit a tsveytn un du in chakhotke.
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I’m on a ship and you’re on a boat,
I’m with a buddy and you have consumption.
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ganvenen, ganvenen, zol dos nit zayn iker,
Un nemen a bisele mashke un take nit zayn shiker.
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

Stealing oh stealing should not be the principle,
As it should be to have brandy and not to get drunk.
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

One Response to ““Ikh vel nit ganvenen” Performed by Sterna Gorodetskaya”

  1. Thank you!

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