“Di mode” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.

And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work Der beyzer marshelik (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion;” “modehas two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.” 

Linetski (1839 – 1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel Dos Poylishe yingl (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.

Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski

Linetski’s life story was amazing. He was raised in a strict Hasidic home in Vinnitsa, and when he was suspected of reading “forbidden” literature, he was married off at age fourteen to a twelve-year old girl. But then he convinced his young wife of his path, so they forced him to divorce her and marry a “deaf, half-idiotic woman” (see Zalmen Reizen‘s Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur). That didn‘t work either and when they tried to throw him into the river, he escaped to Odessa.

To analyze how Linetski‘s text was folklorized in LSW‘s version, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn in New York City, is a longer essay. But as an example, compare Linetski‘s original refrain:

Oy a ruekh in der mode a leyd.
Vos zi hot af der velt a nets farshpreyt!

Oh, the devil take the fashion, what a pain,
That spread a net over the world. 

with LSW‘s refrain:

Oy, nor di mode aleyn, nor di mode aleyn, 
 hot far undz umglik gebrengt.

Oh, only the fashion alone, only the fashion alone
has brought us misfortune. 

Only in the last refrain does she sing “the devil take the fashion,” which I believe works better dramatically. Usually the “folk process” improves the longer, wordy maskilic poetry.

Other songs that originate from the work Beyzer marshelik are Dos redl  performed by (Israel Srul) Freed on Ruth Rubin‘s field recording collection “Jewish Life: The Old Country” and recently recorded as the title track of klezmer violinist Jake Shulman-Ment‘s CD A Wheel/A redele, sung by Benjy Fox-Rosen. LSW also sang a version of Dos vigele with the opening line „Shlis shoyn mayn kind dayne oygn…‟ which will be posted on this blog at some point.

In LSW‘s performance of Di mode you get to hear her sing a more upbeat song, with a great melody. The traditional aspects of  LSW‘s singing (the ornamentaion in particular) are applied to a more modern song, and the synthesis works wonderfully.

This recording of Di mode can be found on the Global Village Music cassette recording “Az di furst avek: a Yiddish folksinger from the Bukovina” now available on iTunes.










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