“Berl der alter shiker” Performed by Janie Respitz

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

The singer Janie Respitz  is a Yiddish educator and singer from Montreal. Janie incorporates her singing in her lectures and shares her passion and knowledge of Yiddish folklore with her concert audiences.

As she states at the beginning of this video-recording made in Montreal, July 2017, she learned Berl der alter shiker (Berl the Old Drunk) from the late Max Satin, a resident in the Jewish Geriatric Hospital in Montreal.


Berl der alter shiker is similar to a previous post Shtey ikh mir in ayn vinkele sung by Itka Factorovich Sol.  Respitz’s song is closer to the version found in Skuditski 1936 Monopol, monopol (scan of page attached) but the drunk does not have the conversation with the moon.

In his article Geyt a yid in shenkl arayn: Yiddish Songs of Drunkeness (Field of Yiddish: Fifth Collection, 1993), Robert A. Rothstein analyzes versions of the song and points out that the verse about the wife drinking the whiskey all up is from Velvl Zbarzher’s poem Der shiker (The Drunk) found in his Makel No’am  מקל נועם Vol. 3, Lemberg 1873. Shmuel-Zanvil Pipe also pointed this out in YIVO-bleter, 1939 (vol. 14: 339-667)  Perhaps we should consider the whole text a folklorized Zbarzher song?

TRANSLITERATION / TRANSLATION

“Hi, I’m Jamie Respitz. I learn this from the late Max Satin, a resident in the Jewish Geriatric Hospital, here in Montreal a number of years ago.”

Fun zint der monopol iz af der velt
bin ikh af im in kas.
Es kost mikh op a mayontik mit gelt
un ikh trink azoy vi fun a fas.
Ikh nem dos fleshele in mayne hent
un ikh klap dem koretsl aroys,
tsebrekht zikh dos fleshele in mayne hent
un der bronfn gist aroys.
Ay-ay-day-day….

Haynt vel ikh mit mayn vaybele zikh tsekrign
Zi vet nokh hobn tsu gedenken.
Vifl mol ikh hob ir shoyn farshvign.
Haynt vel ikh ir nisht shenken.
Kh’ob genumen dos fleshele mit bronfn.
Geleygt hob im tsukopns.
Se khapt zikh oyf di ployneste baynakht,
un zi trinkt es oys bizn letstn tropn.
Ay-ay-day-day

Oy vey, reboyne-shel-oylem.
Du bist dokh a hartsiker rikhter.
Zol shtendik regenen mit bronfn un mit bir.
Ikh vil keyn mol nisht zayn nikhter.
Af mayn keyver zol zayn ongegosn.
Mit bronfn un mit bir.
Dos iz bay mir der iker.
Un af mayn matseyve zol sshteyn ongeshribn –
“do ligt Berl der alter shiker.”
Ay-day-day…

do ligt Berl der alter shiker.

Since the “monopol” [Czarist controlled liquor stores/pubs] is in the world
I am angry at it.
It costs me a fortune of money
and I drink as if from a barrel.
I take the bottle in my hand
and knock the cork out.
The bottle breaks in my hand
and the whiskey pours out.
Ay-day-day…

Today I will argue with my wife.
She will have what to remember [she will pay for it]
So many times I have told her to shut up
Today I will not spare her.
I took the bottle of booze
Put it at my head.
My wife wakes up at night
and drinks it all to the last drop.
Ay-day-day

O Master of the universe
you are a compassionate judge.
Let it always rain whiskey and beer
So I won’t ever have to be sober.
On my grave let them pour
whiskey and beer,
and on my gravestone it should be written –
“Here lay Berl the old drunk.”
Ay-day-day

Here lay Berl the old drunk. ​
Respitz1Respitz2respitz3

Monopol, monopol in Skuditski 1936:

monopol1monopol2

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