Arye-Leibush Laish’s Backwards March Nigun
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
This week for the first time we present a nigun with no words instead of a Yiddish song. The nigun and the custom connected to it was learned from the singer and writer Arye-Leibush Laish (אריה ליש, also spelled “Arie Leibisch Laisch”) and became the basis for the annual backwards march tradition at Klezkanada on the eve of the sabbath.
Laish’s original field recording 1998, Bnei Brak, Israel:
Klezkanada Backwards March 2011 (one of many clips on YouTube):
Laish was born in 1929 in Stanisesti, in the Bacau district of Romania, and attended kheyder and talmud toyre. During the Second World War he worked in hard labor camp for the Germans. After the war he acted in the Romanian Yiddish theater before immigrating to Israel in 1963. He has written several autobiographical works in Hebrew as well as plays and scenes in Yiddish. He recorded an album of the songs of Zelig Barditchver (“Freyen zikh iz gut”), and has been featured in documentaries on Yiddish culture, including one on Itzik Manger directed by Radu Gabrea “Itzik Manger” 2005). He lives in Bnei-Brak, Israel.
I recorded Arye Laish singing Yiddish songs in his apartment in Bnai-Brak in 1998 and he told me about a rare custom from Stanisesti,
The Jews of the shtetl would gather at the river where the Friday night sun was setting and the Sabbath would arrive. Walking backwards so as not to dishonor the Sabbath, the entire community accompanied by two or three local Jewish musicians sang and played this nigun until they reached the shul where they left the instruments, and began the Sabbath prayers.
In 2001 the theater director, writer and performer Jenny Romaine led a theater workshop that summer at Klezkanada on the theme – “How do Jews Walk?”, and upon hearing about this custom and nigun she introduced them into the Klezkanada program preceding dinner Friday night. Frank London transcribed the music and taught the nigun (parts A and B) to the music classes, asking them to prepare the melody. Here is Jenny Romaine discussing the Backwards March recorded by the Yiddish Book Center:
Since then, Arye Laish’s Staniseti nigun and backwards march have been integrated into the Klezkanada program by the entire community.
The spoken parts of Laish in the original recording are:
“Un dos khazert zikh iber di gants tsayt. Farshteyt zikh mit variatsyes.” [And this repeats the whole time. Of course with variations.}
“Me kert zikh um tsu bidibidmmm…” [Then you return to the bidibum, bidibum, bidimbum…]
“A mol hert men stam ge__(?)hay! hay! hay! hay!” [Every now and then you could hear – hay! hay! hay!]