“Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye” Performed by Chaim Berman

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This weeks’ Yiddish Song of the Week, “Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye” (“To Sing a Song is a Joy”) by Chaim Berman (d. 1973) was recorded by Rabbi Victor Reinstein, now of Boston, in late 1960s, early 1970s. Rabbi Reinstein writes:

Chaim Berman, ‘Hymie,’ was short and of slight and wiry build. Born and raised to early adulthood in Proskurov in the Ukraine, he lived most of his life in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York. His eyes twinkled with life, and there was almost always an impish smile on his lips. Hymie was a Jewish type that is no more. He was a self-described atheist and a card-carrying communist, a worker and an organizer in the ladies’ handbag industry, who in one moment would quote from Lenin or Marx and in the next, from Sholom Aleichem or Yud Lamed Peretz.

chaim berman

Steeped in Jewish tradition, he exuded Yiddishkeit from every pore of his being. Bridging the worlds and times of his life, he would put on a yarmulke and lead the Pesach seder with a profound and poignant depth of feeling. Hymie loved to sing and would perform for family and friends ‘in der heym,’ and to larger audiences at Yiddish summer camps. He was a man in whose veins coursed both joy and sadness, a reflection of the realities of his life, of Jewish history, of human reality. He worked and sang from the depths of his being to help bring a better world for all.

Certainly the first song we have chosen from the recordings of Hymie Berman for the Yiddish Song of the Week reflects that last sentiment – singing for a better world.

The melody is well-known:  it is used for the Yiddish song to honor guests “Lomir ___bagrisn” and for the Purim nign “Utsu eytsa” (עצו עצה, “Take counsel together”, Isaiah 8:10), which is attributed to the Chabad/Slonim tradition (thanks to Hankus Netsky and Steven Greenman for this information).

From my mother, who belonged briefly to the leftist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatsair, I know a one-verse song with the same melody from Chernovitz, circa 1930s:

Lebn zol Bistritski mit zayn hora.       
Lebn zol Bistritski mit zayn hora.       
Nisht keyn rekhter, nisht keyn linker, nor a Mizrakhist a flinker.
Zol lebn Bistritski mit zayn hora. 

Long live Bistritski and his hora.
Long live Bistritski and his hora
Not a right-winger, not a left-winger, but a clever Mizrakhist
Long live Bistritski and his hora

Other field recordings in the Israeli National Sound Archives (NSA) in Jerusalem confirm that this was a ditty from the East European Hashomer Hatzair movement (NSA call #Y/05890,  #Y/05898 – I was not able to listen to the NSA recordings to hear the lyrics in these versions).

In the Kremenits Yizkor book (1965) [Kremenits is in the Volin/Volhynia region] page 152, there is a description of the end of a Zionist youth meeting which actually connects the ditty to the dance hora, here written hoyre: (my translation from the Yiddish)

Finally someone yells out – ‘Enough of this chattering’ or ‘Leave the academy alone’. At that point someone would start singing “Lebn zol Bistritski and his hoyra” [!]. It seemed that this is what the gang was waiting for and everyone stood up, hands and shoulders interlocking and the circle got bigger and bigger. And so we danced a hoyra till the break of day. We danced so long that some people started to faint away.

Someone more familiar with Zionist history please clarify. Are they singing about the Hebrew writer, editor Nathan Bistritsky?

Please see the comments below for a number of additional points on the melody.

Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye
sung by Chaim Berman
Words by H. Goldberg

Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
A folk vos zingt geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.

To sing a song is a joy.
To sing a song is a joy.
So sing brother, sing with cheer
A people that sings never dies.
To sing a song is a joy.

A nign – an olter [alter] tsu a nayer.
Zingen – vet ir filn frayer.
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
A folk vos zingt geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.

A melody – an old one or a new one.
Sing and you’ll feel more free.
So sing brother, sing with cheer,
A people that sings never dies.
To sing a song is a joy.

Hostu fardrus tsi hostu dayges?
Oder bistu kholile broyges?
Oy zingt zhe brider, zingt zhe munter
A folk vos zingt geyt keyn mol unter.
Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye.

Do you have regrets? Or have worries?
Or God forbid angry at someone?
So sing brother, sing with cheer
A people that sings never dies.
To sing a song is a joy.

zinen a lid

4 Responses to ““Zingen a lid iz a mekhaye” Performed by Chaim Berman”

  1. A number of Jewish music mavens had information about this popular melody over a discussion on Facebook. Violinist Steve Greenman of Cleveland and a number of others identified it as “Lomir ale men bagrisn” and “Utzu etza” (Hebrew) and Lori Cahan-Simon provided the following Yiddish lyrics:

    Lomir alemen bagrisn,
    Lomir alemen bagrisn,
    Lomir, lomir, lomir,lomir, )
    Lomir, lomir, lomir, lomir,} x2
    Lomir alemen bagrisn. )

    Then the same thing with “di kinder”, “di lerers”, “di eltern”, and whatever other people you want to greet.

    Yoni Kaston of Montreal identified it as a Chabad song, “Al tira mipachad piton” which is sung after the Aleinu.

    From Elisheva Edelson: “I learned it like this: ‘LEBN ZOL DOS YIDIDSHE MEDINE….” But I think it is from the melody by Sholem Secunda in the song VOS DU VILST DOS VIL ICH OICH.” She also recalls that her “mother used to sing it like this: LEBN ZOL BISRITSKY MIT ZAIN HORAH”

    From Binyomin Ginzberg: “As Steven and others have said, the song is called “Utzu Etza”. The text comes from the end of davening which reads עוצו עצה ותופר דברו דבר ולא יקום כי עמנו א–ל”.” I’ve always heard it attributed to Rabbi Meir Shapiro – the Lubliner Rav (d. 1933). I believe it’s included on a recording of his songs that I heard a while back.”

    Mitia Khramtsov of the Russian klezmer band Dobranotsh knows of an Odessa thieves song in Russian – here’s the link: http://youtu.be/NK1EeaPvwfU

    Jeremiah Lockwood wrote “I grew up on this one with the words ‘Mama, vosidus for a felt?’ I only remember the first verse:
    Mama, vosidus for a velt
    Bochurim farkaufen sich far gelt
    Suh may be a blindeh a shtimeh
    Abi suh hot a reiche mimeh
    Mameh, vosidus for a velt.”

    Jeff Warschauer wrote: “It’s all of the above, plus there are “Lebedik, freylekh…” Yiddish lyrics that I think may be by R. Yom Tov Ehrlich… but I’m not sure.”

    From Pavel Roytman: “I am not positive but i believe that this is a “klezmerized version” of Mama I Love The Crook” A Russian Gangster song from the 1920-30s?. I included a clip which is more of a modern version. From the first view the melody does not seem to match but the rhythm does. This often happens when a melody is interpreted. I personally heard it done by an ex-con from FSU who’s version was very similar to the one presented for discussion.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvfxipJhlZw

    From composer/torban player Roman Turovsky: “structurally it is a common Lemko-Rusyn form, in which the opening minor phrase is repeated up a 3rd, and followed by sequence to get back to tonic.”

    From Israeli clarinetist Moshe Berlin: “doda hagidi lanu ken, anu rotzim lehitkhten, im tagidi ken o lo nitkhaten bein ko iakho , doda hagidi lano ken.”

    University of Virginia ethnomusicologist Joel Rubin documented the tune as a wordless nign in Chabad Rabbi Elie Silberstein’s of Ithaca, NY repertoire. Silberstein had identified it as being associated with the Skulaner Hasidim.

    Clearly a melody with utility!

  2. […] song comes from a field recording of the folksinger, Chaim Berman, done by Rabbi Victor Reinstein in the early 1970s. Berman’s performance of Zhumen binen […]

  3. […] week’s recording of folksinger Chaim Berman (d. 1973) was made by Rabbi Victor Reinstein in the 1970s. Berman’s words vary from the […]

  4. […] song comes from a field recording of the folksinger, Chaim Berman, done by Rabbi Victor Reinstein in the early 1970s. Zhumen binen (Bees are Buzzing) is found in Sam […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: