Zets zikh avek bay dem “kitchen table”
Performance by Izzy Young, Stockholm, Sweden
Recorded by Itzik Gottesman, May 2014.
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
Izzy Young (born 1928) is a well-known figure in the history of the American folk music revival. His “Folklore Center” in Greenwich Village, established in 1957, often served as the first performance space for up and coming singers such as Bob Dylan.
He later moved to Sweden, and in 1973 he opened a “Folklor Centrum” in Stockholm. In May 2014 I recorded him in his storefront singing Zetz zikh avek bay dem ‘kitchen table’ to the melody of Hob ikh mir an altn daym. He explained that his father had owned a kosher bakery in the Bronx and this song was composed during a baker’s strike in the late 1920s or 1930s. Izzy Young’s mother Pola Young used to sing Yiddish songs and even performed them once in the 1960s at a folk music concert.
The melody of the Yiddish drinking song Hob ikh mir an altn daym itself borrows the melody of George Enescu’s “Romanian Rhapsody n. 1”, Op 11:
The words to “Hob ikh mir an altn daym” can be found in many Yiddish song books including the Mlotek’s collection Mir trogn a gezang.
Zets zikh avek bay der “kitchen table”
Esn a broyt mit der “union-label”
Take a seat at the kitchen table.
Eat some bread with the union label.
International union broyt
makht di bakn sheyn un royt.
International Union bread
makes the cheeks nice and red.
Spoken (possible second verse that Izzy Young tries to remember):
“And if you buy Union bread
may you live a long time…”
Az ikh heyb mikh on tsu dermanen
Performance by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman
Recording by Leybl Kahn, NYC, 1954
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
We have drawn on three sources to look at Lifshe Schaechter-Widman’s singing of Az ikh heyb mikh on tsu dermanen, a Yiddish woman’s song if ever there was one. The wide geographic range of variants (see the notes to the song in Yidisher folklor, 1938), indicates that it dates at least as far as the mid-19th century. The song is a mediation on the tragedy of divorce/abandonment from a woman of the times’ perspective.
The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper in NY ran a column “Gallery of Husbands Who Disappeared” to track down men who abandoned their wives, leaving them “agunes”.
The first source is the recording itself. Since I also heard this song from Lifshe’s daughter – my mother, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman – I have put Beyle’s alternate words in brackets and I believe those are the “correct” words: “dermanen” not “baklern”, “di blum” instead of “der boym”. Beyle learned the song from Lifshe and there are grammatical indications to support her version.
The second source is the YIVO volume Yidisher folklor, 1938. Song #132 in that work is the same song but heard in Podbroz, near Vilna, Lithuania; quite a distance from Lifshe’s Bukovina homeland. We have included the words and melody of that version in which the singer sings “di roze” instead of Lifshe’s “boym” and “agune” (an abandoned wife) instead of Lifshe’s “grushe” (a divorcee). My mother also sang “agune” and I believe that is how it was most widely sung.
The third source is the Ruth Rubin field-recording housed at YIVO of the fine singer Bill Lubell (hometown unknown). We have not included the recording but have transcribed his words.
In his performance a “woman’s song” has been adapted for a male singer. No longer is there a mention of “widow”, “divorcee” or “abandoned wife”. Without the build-up found in the woman’s version leading to the climactic description of an agune being discarded, the “man’s version” pales in comparison.
In my mind, it does not take too much imagination to interpret the verse “The flower blooms in the woods – the rain falls on her – she then loses her color” in a Freudian manner.
VERSION BY LIFSHE SCHAECHTER-WIDMAN
Az ikh heyb mikh on tsu baklern [dermanen] Az ikh heyb mikh on tsu badenken. Fal ikh arayn in alerley krenken, fal ikh aran in alerley krenken.
When I begin to ponder [remember] When I begin to consider, I fall into all sorts of illnesses.
Alerleyke krenken ken a doktor heyln. Nor mayn krenk Ken ikh keynem nisht dertseyln.
All kinds of illnesses can be cured by a doctor. But about my illness I can tell no one.
Der boym [di blum] vakst in vald Der reygn geyt af ir. Farlirt er [zi ] dekh oykh dem sheynem kolir.
The tree [flower] grows in the forest. The rain falls on it. And so it loses its beautiful color.
Nisht azoy di kolirn vi di sheyne farbn. Eyder aza leybn iz beser tsi shtarbn.
Not so much the colors, as the beautiful colors. Rather than such a life, it would be better to die.
Yingerheyt tsi shtarbn, iz dokh oykh a sakune. Eyder tsi blabn a yinge almune.
To die young is also a danger. Better than remaining a young widow.
An almune blaybt men A’ der man shtarbt avek. A grishe [an agune] nor blaybt men ven der man varft avek.
One becomes a widow when the husband dies. A woman becomes divorced [abandoned] when the husband discards. VERSION FROM PODBROZ, VILNE REGION (from Yidisher folklor, 1938, click to enlarge):