Archive for Beyle Schaechter Gottesman

“A kheyder” from Simkhe Shvartz’s Kamelyon Theater Performed by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

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A scene from Simkhe Shvartz’  Kamelyon theater in Chernovitz, Romania early 1930s.
As remembered and sung by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman [BSG], recorded by Itzik Gottesman, Bronx 1990s.

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman.

From right: Simkhe Shvarts, Itzik Manger, Helios Hecht, Rose Auslander, Chernovitz, 1934.
Photo from Efrat Gal-Ed Niemandssprache

BSG spoken: 

Dus iz a sene vus Simkhe Shvarts hot ofgefirt in Chernovitz mit der amatorn-trupe Kamelyon.  “A kheyder” hot dus geheysn. 

This is a scene that Simkhe Shvarts put on in Chernovitz with the amateur troupe “Chameleon”.  It was called “A kheyder”. [traditional elementary school]

Tsigele, migele, kotenak
Royte pomerantsn.    
Az der rebe’z nishtu in kheyder, 
Geyen khevre tanstn. 

Nem zhe Tshaykl dem rebns kantshik 
Un varf im aran in hribe.
Ikh’n helfn dos kind talepen [telepen] 
Der rebetsin Teme-Libe.  

Avek di mamzer, di pachuk
Moykhl dir dus vign
Bald vet der rebe kimen. 
Vesti dans shoyn krign

Kinder der rebe’z in shil. 
Kimt zhe tsi aher in 
lernt dus naye shpil    
Shpiln zikh iz git, oy git.
ernen zikh, oy nit oy nit.
Shpiln zikh iz tayer    
Der kantshik ligt in fayer.   

A gitn-uvnt Libe! 
A gitn yingnmantshik.   
Freyg im nor deym takhsit. 
Vi es ligt der kantshik. 

[4 pupils reply]
“Rebe, ikh veys nisht”
¨Ikh veys gurnisht rebe.”  
“Rebe, ikh oykh nisht.”  
“Ikh veys oykh nisht rebe”

“Az s’i nishtu keyn kantshik 
iz du a rimen mit a shprontshik.
Arinter, lernen!¨   

Little goat, little kitten
Red oranges
When the teacher is not in school
The gang starts to dance. 

So Tshaykl take the teacher’s s whip  
and throw it into the heating stove.
I will help the teacher’s wife, Teme-Libe 
knock around the child

Get away you scoundrel, you rat
I don’t need your rocking. 
Soon the teacher will come
and you will get yours.

Children, the teacher is in the synagogue
so come over here
and learn the new game.
Playing is good, oy good.
Learning is not, oy not.
Playing is precious
The whip is in the fire. 

“Good evening Libe”
“Good evening, my young man.
Just ask this brat
where he put the whip”.


 “Teacher, I know nothing”
 ¨I know nothing, teacher.¨
“Teacher, I too know nothing”
“I too know not, teacher”

¨Well if there’s no whip
There is the leather strap with a buckle.
Sit down and learn!¨ 

BSG added later, spoken: Everyone then sat down around the long table and started to rock back and forth and learn. Meanwhile the teacher fell asleep, so they took his leather strap and threw it into the fire. Then they sang again the first verse again:

Tsigele, migele, kotinak….

The Kamelyon [Chameleon] theater in Chernovitz was founded  in 1929 and directed by Simkhe Schvartz (aka Simcha Schwartz – September 1, 1900 – August 14, 1974),  a leader of Yiddish culture between the world wars in the Romanian city Chernovitz (today in the Ukraine –  Cernivtsi). He was a sculptor, dramaturge, director, and songwriter. He is perhaps most known for his Parisian Yiddish puppet theater Hakl-bakl (1949 – 52) in which Marc Chagall and Itsik Manger participated. Simkhe Shvartz had two younger brothers, Julian Shvartz and Itzik Shvarts (aka I. Kara), also writers and important figures in the Yiddish cultural world in Romania.

The skits of Kamelyon , created by Shvarts, often were comprised of adapted Yiddish folksongs strung together to form a plot. “A kheyder” uses folky elements: the opening rhyme is adapted from the children’s rhyme  “Tsigele, migele kotinke” (two examples in Ginzburg/Marek, 1901 and two more in I. L Cahan, 1952). Ruth Rubin sings two versions that can be listened to in YIVO’s Ruth Rubin Archive. https://ruthrubin.yivo.org/categories/browse/Dublin+Core/Title/Tsigele%2C+migele%2C+kotinke?site=site-r

More recently, Israeli singer Ruth Levin sings a song that begins with Tsigele-migele, words by J. Joffe, music by N. Zaslavsky on her CD of children’s songs Tsigele-migele

Singer/composer Efim Chorney has set music to Yiddish poet Meir Charat’s song “Tsigele-migele” and it can be found on the Klezmer Alliance CD Mir Basaraber.

Another folk element in “A kheyder” – the melody of the Yiddish folksong, “Dire-gelt” is used (can be found in the Mlotek songbook Mir trogn a gezang.) starting with the line “Shpiln zikh iz git.”

Please note that the teacher in the traditional elementary school, the kheyder, is addressed as “rebe” and is not to be confused with a Hasidic leader also called “rebe”.

Special thanks this week to Eliezer Niborski.



“Bay indz azoy fil kodres grine”, a Doina Performed by Anna Esther Steinbaum

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Bay indz azoy fil kodres grine (“Doina”)
A Romanian poem adapted into a Yiddish song.
Sung by Anna Esther Steinbaum, recorded by Itzik Gottesman, Jerusalem 1997.

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

The singer, Anna Esther Steinbaum (also known as Anna Rauchwerger Steinbaum), was from Chernovitz, Romania, and was active in the Yiddish cultural life there before the war. After the war, in Israel, she remained close to the Chernovitz intellectuals and translated Itzik Manger’s ballads into German.

Romania’s Mureș River

What makes this week’s song extraordinary is that though the text was written by an anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist Romanian poet, whose politics were well known, a Yiddish poet found his poetry moving enough to adapt into a Yiddish song.

I met with her several times in 1997-98 in her apartment in Jerusalem. At this particular meeting my mother Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman was also present and occasionally can be heard as Steinbaum sings. Steinbaum found this song in a written notebook she had kept where she wrote down the songs she remembered. 

In her notebook the song is entitled “Doina” but it is  an adaptation of a Romanian poem “Noi” [“We”]  by Octavian Goga (1881 – 1938), a virulent fascist Romanian nationalist and anti-Semite, who was briefly the Romanian Prime Minister in 1938, when he stripped the Jews of their Romanian citizenship  

The Yiddish reworking of the song was done, according to Steinbaum, by the Romanian Yiddish writer Herts Rivkin, the author of the song “Nakhtishe lider” previously posted on the Yiddish Song of the Week

Here is a link to the longer original poem by Goga recited in Romanian with an English translation. 

Bay indz azoy fil kodres grine 

A Romanian poem by Octavian Goga, adapted in Yiddish by Hertz Rivkin. 

Bay indz azoy fil kodres grine [kodres=codri ]וועלדער 
velder fil mit korn. 
Bay undz azoy fil blumen, lider,
in shtiblekh fil mit tsorn. 

We have so mayn green woods,
forests full of rye.
We have so many flowers, songs,
in homes that are full of rage.

Kimen feygelekh fin vaytn
indzer doina hern. 
Bay indz azoy fil shmeterlingen
in taykhn trern, trern.

Birds come to us from afar
to hear our doina.
We have so many butterflies
in rivers of tears, tears.

Umet flist in shtiln muresh [Murăşul = Romanian river]
troyer rint in ovnt.
Es dertseylt fin indzer benkshaft
yeyder boym in vald.

Sadness flows quietly into the Murasul river;
Sadness runs in the evening.
Our longing is told by
every tree in the forest.

Zitsn mames gantse nekht,
shpinen layvnt, veybn. 
Tates, mames in oykh zin 
baveynen dus zeyer leybn.

Mothers stay up all night
spinning linen, weaving. 
Fathers, mother and sons too
lament their lives. 

Benkt zikh indz azoy nukh freyd.
Der vald iz undzer eydes.
Oysgevaremt hot di benkshaft
zeydes, elter-zeydes.

We yearn so for joy;
the woods are our witness.
This yearing was hatched 
by our grandfathers and their fathers. 

Un biz haynt iz ot der khulem
mekiyem nisht gevorn:
felder oysgebet mit veyts
shtiblekh fil mit tsorn. 

And till today this dream has
not been realized:
fields covered with wheat,
homes full of rage.

בײַ אונדז אַזוי פֿיל קאָדרעס גרינע
אַ רומעניש ליד פֿון אָקטאַוויאַן גאָגאַ
באַאַרבעט אויף ייִדיש פֿון הערץ ריווקין
געזונגען פֿון אַנאַ אסתּר שטיינבאַום

,בײַ אונדז אַזוי פֿיל קאָדרעס גרינע
.וועלדער פֿיל מיט קאָרן
,בײַי אונדז אַזוי פֿיל בלומען, לידער
.אין שטיבלעך פֿיל מיט צאָרן

זיצן מאַמעס גאנצע נעכט
.שפּינען לײַוונט, וועבן
טאַטעס, מאַמעס און אויך זין
.באַוויינען דאָס זייער לעבן

קומען פֿייגעלעך פֿון ווײַטן
.אונדזער דוינע הערן
בײַ אונדז אַזוי פֿיל שמעטערלינגען
.אין טײַכן טרערן, טרערן

אומעט פֿליסט אין שטילן מורעש
טרויער רינט אין אָוונט
עס דערציילט פֿון אונדזער בענקשאַפֿט
יעדער בוים אין וואַלד

.בענקט זיך אונדז אַזוי נאָך פֿרייד
.דער וואַלד איז אונדזער עדות
אויסגעוואַרעמט האָט די בענקשאפֿט
.זיידעס, עלטער־זיידעס

און ביז הײַנט איז אָט דער חלום 
.מקוים נישט געוואָרן
,פֿעלדער, אויסגעבעט מיט ווייץ
.שטיבלעך פֿול מיט צאָרן

“Senderl (Ayzikl) mayn man” Performed by Rose Serbin and Bella Cutler

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by yiddishsong

Senderl (Ayzikl) mayn man / Sender (or Ayzikl) My Husband
Two versions Sung by Rose Serbin and Bella Cutler
Ruth Serbin recorded by Ruth Rubin in Patterson, New Jersey, 1956, from Ruth Rubin Archive at the YIVO Sound Archives. Bella Cutler recorded by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, 1988, in Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home, Bronx

Bella Cutler version:

Rose Serbin version: Click here to listen to the Rose Serbin recording (at the Ruth Rubin Archive).

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Research into the one verse remembered by Bella Cutler (from Bolokhov, Galicia, today Bolekhiv, Ukraine) led me to a printed version of the song with music entitled “Senderle [sic] mein Man” in the collection Jewish Folk Songs from the Baltics: Selections from the Melngailis Collection edited by Kevin C. Karnes, 2014. (Scans attached – Karnes 1,2). According to Karnes, Melngailis possibly heard the song in Keidan (today Lithuania, Kedainei) in 1899. 

The innkeeper and his wife in Suchestaw, Eastern Galicia. (YIVO)

In the Ginsburg and Marek (GM) collection of 1901, Yidishe folkslider fun rusland, there are two versions, # 305, #306, one with 8 verses from Kaunas; one with 4 verses from Minsk.

In Der pinkes, ed. Shmuel Niger, Vilna, 1913, there is a version in the collection “Folklsider” of L. B-N  [Leyvi Berman].

Rose Serbin (1890 – 1974)  was born in Bohopolye, Podolia, Ukraine. In the Ruth Rubin Archive this song is entitled “Vi vel ikh nemen”.

All evidence indicates that it originates in Lithuania or other countries “up north”. Of the six versions of the song (all from the 19th century), three were written down in Lithuania, one in Belarus, one in Galicia, one in Ukraine. The important rhyme at the end of each verse “kroyn” and “aleyn” only rhymes in the “Litvish dialect” where “kroyn” is pronounced as “kreyn”.

The textual differences are also intriguing. Is the husband leaving? Is he dying? The question “Where should the wife get bread for the children?” is answered in four ways. In GM #306  and Serbin – “from the lord of the estate”,  in GM #307 “at the stall”, in Karnes “at the store”, in Berman ” from the baker”.

Serbin’s version is the most satisfying, not only because she is such a wonderful singer, but also because it ends with a wedding which is where many folk narratives conclude. 

Thanks for help with this week’s blog to: Paul Glasser, David Braun, Arun Viswanath, Philip Schwartz, Michael Alpert, Sergio Lerer and YIVO Sound Archives.

RUTH SERBIN: Transliteration and Translation

Oy, vi vel ikh nemen mayne kinderlekh oyf broyt,
Senderl mayn man?
Vi vel ikh nemen mayne kinderlekh oyf broyt,
Senderl mayn man?

Baym purits mayn tayer vaybele,
Baym purits mayn tayer taybele,
Baym purits, mayn tayere kroyn.
Di blabst do shoyn aleyn. 

Where will I get bread for my children,
Senderl my husband?
Where will I get bread for my children
Senderl my husband?

From the lord of the estate, my dear wife.
From the lord of the estate, my dear dove.
From the lord of the estate, my dear love [crown]
You will remain here all alone. 

Bam purits iz du hintelekh,
Senderl mayn man?
Bam purits iz du hintelkeh,
Senderl mayn man?

Mit a shtekele, mayn tayer vaybele,
Mit a shtekele, mayn tayer taybele,
Mit a shtekele, mayn tayere kroyn.
Di blabst do shoyn aleyn.

On the lord’s estate there are dogs,
Senderl my husband.
On the Lord’s estate there are dogs
Senderl my husband.

With a stick, my dear wife.
with a stick, my dear dove.
with a stick, my dear love [crown]
You will remain here all alone.

Mit veymen vel ikh firn mayne kinderlekh tsi der khipe,
Senderl mayn man?
Mit veymen vel ikh firn mayne kinderlekh tsi der khipe
Senderl mayn man?

Aleyn, mayn tayer vaybele
Aleyn, mayn tayer taybele
Aleyn mayn tayere kroyn.
Di blabst do shoyn aleyn. 

With whom shall I lead my children to the marriage canopy,
Senderl my husband?
With whom will I lead my children to the marriage canopy
Senderl my husband?

Alone, my dear wife.
Alone, my dear dove.
 Alone, my dear love [crown]
You will remain here all alone.

Bella Cutler’s version: translation and transliteration. 

Vos veln mir geybn di kinder esn,
Ayzikl mayn man?
Vos veln mir geybn di kinder esn,
Ayzikl mayn man?

Broytenyu mayn vaybele
Broytenyu mayn taybele
Broytenyu mayn kroyn 
Du veyst dos shoyn aleyn.

?סענדערל מײַן מאַן/ וווּ וועל איך נעמען
געזונגען פֿון ראָוז סערבין

,וווּ וועל איך נעמען מײַנע קינדערלעך אויף ברויט
?סענדערל מײַן מאן
וווּ וועל איך נעמען מײַנע קינדערלעך אויף ברויט
?סענדערל מײַן מאַן

,בײַם פּריץ מײַן טײַער ווײַבעלע
,בײַם פּריץ מײַן טײַער טײַבעלע
,בײַן פּריץ מײַן טײַער קרוין
.דו בלײַבסט דאָ שוין אַליין

בײַם פּריץ איז דאָ הינטערלעך
.סענדערל מײַן מאַן
בײַם פּריץ איז דאָ הינטערלעך
.סענדערל מײַן מאַן

,מיט אַ שטעקעלע מײַן טײַער ווײַבעלע
,מיט אַ שטעקעלע מײַן טײַער טײַבעלע
,מיט אַ שטעקעלע מײַן טײַער קרוין
.דו בלײַבסט דאָ שוין אַליין

,מיט וועמען וועל איך פֿירן מײַנע קינדערלעך צו דער חופּה
?סענדערל מײַן מאַן
,מיט וועמען וועל איך פֿירן מײַנע קינדערלעך צו דער חופּה
?סענדערל מײַן מאַן

,אַליין, מײַן טײַער ווײַבעלע
,אַליין, מײַן טײַער טײַבעלע
,אַליין, מײַן טײַערע קרוין
.דו בלײַבסט דאָ שוין אַליין

 Jewish Folk Songs from the Baltics: Selections from the Melngailis Collection edited by Kevin C. Karnes, 2014:

Ginsburg and Marek Yidishe folkslider fun rusland, 1901 # 305 and #306, one with 8 verses from Kaunas; one with 4 verses from Minsk:

Der pinkes, ed. Shmuel Niger, Vilna, 1913, in the collection “Folklsider” of L. B-N  [Leyvi Berman]:

“Fin mitvokh in der fri (Hot a yid a vaybele)” Performed by Lifshe Schaecther Widman and Beyle Schaechter Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2020 by yiddishsong

Fin mitvokh in der fri (Hot a yid a vaybele) / From Wednesday Morning (A Man Has a Wife)
Sung by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) and Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman. LSW recorded by Leybl Kahn, 1954 NYC

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This popular song was copyrighted in the US in 1922 by Morris Goldstein, who is listed as composer and lyricist. But this is doubtful since Pepi Litman and Helen Gespass recorded a version in 1912/1913 in Budapest or Lemberg. Apparently even earlier, in 1907, Hungarian singers recorded it (see Bob Cohen’s comments below).

Here is LSW, recorded by Leybl Kahn in New York, 1954:

More recently LSW’s daughter Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman recorded Lifshe’s version on her CD Bay mayn mames shtibele with Nigel Jacobs on violin, recorded live at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, November 9th, 1993. Her lyrics are basically the same as LSW, though I do prefer her word “badekn” to LSW’s word “dekn”.

Here is the Peppi Litman version:

And here is the Gespass version:

Since the instrumental version of the song on the recording Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania of the Hungarian group – Muzsikas, made such an impression, I asked Budapest resident Bob Cohen, researcher of Roma and Hungarian and Jewish musical connections, leader of the pioneering klezmer ensemble Di naye kapelye, for his take on the song.

Bob Cohen writes:

“Hot a yid a vajbele” is definitely the most popular and widespread Yiddish song in the Hungarian language area. Almost everyone I spoke with in the early 1990s knew it, and it was a standard at our old-age home gigs. It remains in the repertoire of Roma bands in Transylvania as “the Jewish song” and some even sing along to it in macaronic yid-speak as “Itta, Itta Babele”. I’ve also heard it played by Roma orchestras in Slovakia.  What is interesting is the fact that knowledge of the tune seems to have completely been forgotten among the post WWII generation of Jews, given the popularity it had among older folks I met in around 1990.

A testament to its staying power is this recording by Zoldi Marton in 1907 (Most of Zoldi’s other songs are comical Hungarian nota style in Hungarian). Also a 1912 version by the Toll Jancsi Orchestra, or the same band in 1907.

The version I played on our (Di naye kapelye’s) first recording back in 1997 came from the Gypsy primas (lead violinist) Andras Horvath of Jankamajitis, near Csenger on the Romanian border. He learned his Jewish tunes from a Jewish musician family named “Markus” before the war. He became a Seventh Day Adventist in later life, and he called me over once to tell me his life story and his relationship to Jews.

Thanks this week to Robert Cohen and Martin Schwartz. Please note: though still performed today, the song’s dated humor is misogynistic.

Fin mitvokh in der fri
biz fraytik far nakht
hot Surele mayn vayb
deym kigl gemakht.

From Wednesday in the morning
until Friday twilight,
Surele my wife
made a kugel. 

Hot a yid a vaybele
hot er fin ir tsures.
Hot a yid a vaybele
toyg zi af kapures.

A man [Jew] has a wife;
she gives him trouble,
A man has a wife
and she is not good for anything.

Vi s’iz gekimen
shabes tsim esn,
hot Surele mayn vayb
fin deym kigl gur fargesn.

When the Sabbath arrives
and  it’s time to eat.
Surele, my wife
forgot all about the kugel.

Hot a yid a vaybele
hot er fin ir tsures.
hot a yid a vaybele
toyg zi af kapures.

A man has a wife;
she gives him trouble.
A man has a wife
and she is not good for anything.

Hot er gekhapt 
deym grobn shtekn
Un hot ir ungehoybn 
git tsi dekn.

So he got
his thick cane
and started to 
beat [cover] her. 

Hot a yid a vaybele
hot er fin ir tsures.
hot a yid a vaybele
toyg zi af kapures.

A man [Jew] has a wife;
she gives him trouble,
A man has a wife
and she is not good for anything.

Hot zi gekhapt
di alte shkrabes,
tsim tatn iz zi 
avek deym shabes.

So she grabbed
her old worn-out shoes
and went to her father
for the Sabbath.

Hot a yid a vaybele
toyg zi af kapures
hot a yid a yidene
hot er fin ir tsures.

A man [Jew] has a wife;
she is good for nothing.
A man has a wife
and she gives him trouble.

Hobn di shkeynim
ungehoybn shpekulirn
me zol dus porfolk
vider tsuzamen firn. 

So the neighbors
started to speculate/plan
how to bring the couple
together again.

Hot a yid a vabele
hot er fin ir tsures.
hot a yid a vaybele
hot er fin ir tsures.

A man [Jew] has a wife;
and she gives him trouble.
A man has a wife
and she gives him trouble

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
געזונגען פֿון ליפֿשע שעכטער-ווידמאַן

פֿון מיטוואָך אין דער פֿרי
ביז פֿרײַטיק פֿאַר נאַכט
האָט שׂרהלע מײַן ווײַב
.דעם קוגל געמאַכט

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
,האָט ער פֿון איר צרות
האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
.טויג זי אויף כּפֿרות

ווי ס’איז געקומען
,שבת צום עסן 
האָט שׂרהלע מײַן ווײַב
.פֿון דעם קוגל גאָר פֿאַרגעסן

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
,האָט ער פֿון איר צרות
האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
.טויג זי אויף כּפֿרות

האָט ער געכאַפּט 
,דעם גראָבן שטעקן
און האָט איר אָנגעהויבן
.גוט צו דעקן

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
,האָט ער פֿון איר צרות
האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
.טויג זי אויף כּפֿרות

האָט זי געכאַפּט
די אַלטע שקראַבעס
צום טאַטן איז זי
.אַוועק דעם שבת

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
,האָט ער פֿון איר צרות
האָט אַ ייִד אַ ייִדענע
.האָט ער פֿון איר צרות

האָבן די שכנים
אָנגעהויבן שפּעקולירן
מע זאָל דאָס פּאָרפֿאָלק
.ווידער צוזאַמענפֿירן

האָט אַ ייִד אַ ווײַבעלע
.האָט ער פֿון איר צרות

“Bay dem rebn” Performed by an Unidentified Singer at the Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2020 by yiddishsong

Bay dem rebn / At the Rabbi’s House 
Unidentified singer, recorded by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman [BSG] at the Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home, Bronx  1980s.

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This song begins with the Hebrew song “Hayta tsira bikineret” (There was a Young Woman at the Kinneret), which is then followed by a Yiddish verse. which then returns to the Hebrew beginning and so on and so forth. Israel’s Kinneret (also known as the Kinnereth, the Sea of Galilee and Lake Tiberius) is the world’s lowest-altitude freshwater lake.

The melody is from a Ukrainian folk song “Тече річка” “The River Flows”, which you can listen to here:

The most common version of the Yiddish verse involves a cat. However the one we present this week tells of a goat that eats up the skhakh, the sukkah covering (a sukkah or suke is the temporary structure that Jews build for the Sukkot holiday); so we felt this was an appropriate post during the current holiday of Sukkot.

Photo courtesy the Treehugger Blog

A thorough look at the origins and development of the Hebrew song including the Yiddish variants (but not this one) can be found at David Assaf’s Hebrew “Oneg Shabat” blog.

A recording of the song with the more common Yiddish verse about a kitten can be heard in the collection of recordings made by ethnomusicologists Sofia Magid and Moshe Beregovski, Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin. In that recording, singer Rakhmil Grin (1910 – 1943)  sings it for Beregovski in 1941, probably in Kiev (listen below).

Inge Mandos, a Yiddish singer from Hamburg, released a CD entitled Waks  (וואַקס, 2005) in which she re-imagines old Yiddish field recordings and includes Grin’s recording of “Bay mayn rebn iz geven a ketsle”

The Yiddish words and music to Grin’s version (the more popular version) can also be found in Undzer gezang (Bina Steinberg, ed. 1984), and are attached.

This is the first of a number of Yiddish songs that BSG recorded at the Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home in the Bronx. She was asked to edit a monthly Yiddish journal comprised of memoirs and folklore that she recorded from the elderly Jews living there. Unfortunately on the original cassette recording of this song the name of the singer was not mentioned. His Hebrew words do not match up entirely with the usual lyrics, and he makes a grammatical mistake. 

Thanks this week to Eliezer Niborski.

TRANSLITERATION (Daughters of Jacob version)

Hayta alma bakineret
asher bigalil.
Kol hayom hayta shira [!]
lanu mishirey galil.
Kol hayom hayta shira [!]
Shir akheyr hi lo yada..
hey!

Bay dem rebn hot di tsig
far hinger ofgegesn dem skhakh.
Hot di rebetsin mit der kotshere
ir gemakht di zakh. 
Tse keyver yisrul hot men zi gebrakht 
in an ofshrift hot men ir gemakht, hey…

Hayta alma….

TRANSLATION (Daughters of Jacob version)

There was a young lady at the Kinneret
that was in the Galilee.
She used to sing for us of
the songs of the Galilee.
A whole day she would sing –
no other song did she know. Hey!..

At the Rabbi’s house the goat
got hungry and ate up the skakh.
So the Rabbi’s wife with a poker
put an end to her. 
[literally: did the thing to her]
They gave her a Jewish burial
with an inscription, hey!

There was a young lady…

TRANSCRIPTION (Daughters of Jacob Version)

הָיְתָה עַלְמָה בַּכִּנֶּרֶת
,אֲשֶׁר בְּגָּלִיל
!כָּל הַיּוֹם הָיְתָה שִׁירָה
,לָנוּ מִשִּׁירֵי גָּלִיל
!כָּל הַיּוֹם הָיְתָה שִׁירָה
שִׁיר אַחֵר הִיא לֹא יָדְעָה
!היי

בײַ דעם רבין האָט די ציג
.פֿאַר הונגער אויפֿגעגעסן דעם סכך
האָט די רביצין מיט דער קאָטשערע
.איר געמאַכט די זאַך
צו קבֿר־ישׂראל האָט מען זי געבראַכט
.און אַן אויפֿשריפֿט האָט מען איר געמאַכט

…הָיְתָה עַלְמָה בַּכִּנֶּרֶת

 “Bay mayn rebn iz geven a ketsle” from Undzer gezang (Bina Steinberg, ed. 1984):

“Shluf mayn kind, mayn treyst” Performed by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2020 by yiddishsong

Shluf mayn kind, mayn treyst/Sleep my child, my comfort
An otherwise unknown alternate melody for Sholem Aleichemś lullaby from Chernovitz, Romania sung by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

There are several melodies for this song known commonly as “Sholem Aleichem’s lullaby”, words by the writer Sholem Aleichem (Solomon Rabinovitch, 1859 – 1916).

Screenshot 2020-08-27 at 11.38.53 PM
Sholem Aleichem

There are two popular tunes to this poem but Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (BSG) sings an otherwise unknown third melody that she remembers from her home town of Cernauti/Chernovitz, Romania.

BSG sings only two verses of a longer song. Sholem Aleichem first printed the poem in 1892 but only a few years later it was already published as a “folksong” in the Ginsburg and Marek collection of 1901.

The most commonly sung melody was composed by Dovid Kovanovsky. You can hear Ruth Rubin sing the Kavonovsky melody at this link. (from YIVO’s Ruth Rubin Archive). Also posted at the link is Feigl Yudin’s performance of the second most popular melody. Below is a version of the Yudin melody performed by vocalist Rebecca Kaplan Muranaka, accompanied by tsimblist Pete Rushefsky from their 2003 CD, Oyf di vegelekhOn the Paths (Yiddishland Music):

Both melodies plus transcribed words and translation have been printed in Ruth Rubin’s Jewish Folksongs in Yiddish and English (Oak Publications, 1965) (scans attached).

In Emil Seculetz’s Romanian Yiddish collection Yidishe folkslider, (Bucharest 1959) the compiler collected 5 versions of Shlof mayn kind, with music. Two of them (#21 and #22) are related to BSGs version. (scans are attached))

In BSG’s repertory she knows a completely different song to this second popular melody sung by Yudin: a lullaby about armed resistance which can be heard on her CD “Bay mayn mames shtibele” (2004).

There is much more to say about the history and transformations of Sholem Aleichem’s lullaby. See the article “America in East European Yiddish Folk Song” in The Field of Yiddish, 1954 by Eleanor Gordon Mlotek and the chapter on Sholem Aleichem in Perl fun der yidisher poezye, ed. Yoysef and Khane Mlotek, 1974.

Fans of Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman – be sure to watch this amazing online concert commemorating BSG’s 100th Birthday!

Shluf man kind as sung by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Shluf man kind, man treyst, may sheyner
Shluf man zinonyu.

Shluf man kind, man kadish eyner
Hayda-liu-lku

Shluf man kind, man kadish eyner
Hayda-liu-lku-liu

In amerike der tate,
dayner zinonyu.

Bist a kind nokh shluf lis-ate
shluf zhe, shluf liu-liu

Bist a kind nokh shluf lis-ate
shluf zhe, shluf liu-liu

Screenshot 2020-08-27 at 11.33.32 PM

From Emil Seculetz’s Yidishe folkslider, (Bucharest 1959), #21 and #22:

Screenshot 2020-08-27 at 11.45.58 PMScreenshot 2020-08-27 at 11.46.07 PM

From Ruth Rubin’s Jewish Folksongs in Yiddish and English (Oak Publications, 1965):

“Of di grine felder/Dos fertsnte yor” – Two Performances

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2020 by yiddishsong

Of di grine felder/Dos fertsnte yor / On the green fields/The Year 1914

This week we are presenting two performances of this song:

1) Sara Nomberg-Przytyk (recorded by Wolf Krakowski, Way’s Mills, Quebec, Canada, 1986):

2) Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (BSG), Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) and Jonas Gottesman (recorded by Leybl Kahn, Bronx, 1954):

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman:

Though we have chosen to feature two versions of the song that begin “Of di grine felder, velder”, the song is also commonly known as “Dos 14te yor” with variants that begin with “Dos 14te yor is ongekumen, oy vey” (“The 14th Year Has Arrived”). Among the singers who have recorded versions of this song: Sidor Belarsky, Majer Bogdanski, Leibu Levin and more recently Michael Alpert, “Psoy and the Israelifts” and Lorin Sklamberg/ Susan McKeown.

Michael Alpert’s a capella version of the song can be heard here. Plus, below is a contemporary interpretation of the song by Psoy and the Israelifts titled “1914” found on YouTube:

In YIVO’s Ruth Rubin’s Archive there are field recordings by Martn Birnbaum, Chinke Asher and Hannah Rosenberg. In the volume Old Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovsky (Mark Slobin, U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982; Syracuse University Press, 2000) there are 7 versions with melodies!

The song became very popular over a wide area of Eastern Europe during and after the first world war. So popular that it was recalled with amusement in a chapter in B. Kuczerer’s [קוטשער] Yiddish memoirs of Warsaw Geven a mol varshe, (Paris, 1955). He begins the chapter on the 1914 German occupation of Warsaw in this way:

“The 14th year has arrived – oy vey!

And soon it [the song] enveloped everyone and everything as if by magic… Day and night. Wherever you go, wherever you stand. In every street, in every courtyard, in every corner.

Who sang it loudly to arouse pity. Who sang it quietly, for oneself, to get it off your chest. And everywhere the same song. Everywhere the same melody, the same moan, the same tears.

‘The 14th year has arrived – oy vey!'”  (p. 59)

But some versions of the song are about later years. In the Sofia Magid collection Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin, Basya Fayler sings about the “Dos akhtsnte yor” (“The18th year” p. 277 – 79). The linguist Prof. Moshe Taube remembers his father singing this song about “Dos 19te yor” referring to the Polish violence against Jews at that time (oral communication).

THE UKRAINIAN CONNECTION

This song can ultimately can be traced back to a Ukrainian song of the 1830s. In a review of a lecture by the Polish folklorist Jan Byston written by Max Weinreich, published in Yidishe filologye heft. 2/3, March-June, 1924, Weinreich refers to the first publication of this Yiddish song in the periodical Der Jude (n.1-2, April-May 1917 p. 123-124) in which the collector Anshl (Anselm) Kleynman remembers how in the trenches of 1914-1915 some Ukrainian soldiers sang their version, and Jewish soldiers heard it, translated it and it spread from there. In this lecture that Weinreich attended, Bystron pointed out that the song in Ukrainian was sung as far back as 1833.

Prof. Robert Rothstein found two versions of the Ukrainian song from 1834. He writes: “One stanza was found among Aleksander Pushkin’s papers, written on the back of a letter from Nikolai Gogol. Pushkin died in 1837.” He adds “It’s also known as Чорна рілля ізорана (Chorna rillia izorana – The Black Farm Field Has Been Dug Up). The reference is to the chornozem, the rich black soil of Ukraine.” [communication via email]

Inspired by the song, the Polish folk/death metal band Kryvoda uses a stark image of a crow on a dead soldier for their 2014 album entitled “Kruki”. Below you can hear their performance of Чорна рілля [“Chorna rillia”]:

The website “Yidlid.org” has written out a long version of the words in Yiddish, transliterated Yiddish, French and English and included the melody from Belarsky’s book

Longer versions can also be found in Shloyme Bastomski’s Yiddish folksong collection Baym kval pages 132-133 and Immanuel Olsvanger’s Rosinkess mit mandlen, 1920, pp. 259-261.

A note on the LSW/BSG version of “Oyf di grine felder, velder”: This is the only recording I have found which features my father, Jonas Gottesman (1914 – 1995), a physician born in Siret, Romania, singing along with Lifshe, his mother-in-law, and wife Beyle. He was a wonderful baritone singer and was the only one in the family who could harmonize, as can be heard on this recording.

Special thanks with help for this post to Wolf Krakowsky, Eliezer Niborski and Prof. Robert Rothstein.

TRANSLITERATION OF NOMBERG-PRZYTYK’s VERSION (Translation is on the video)

Of di grine felder un velder, oy vay, oy vay.
Of di grine felder un velder
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner oy vay, oy vay
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner oy vay, oy vay

Shvartse foygl kimen tsi flien oy vay, oy vay.
kumt tsu flien a shvartser foygl
un dlubet im oys di bayde oygn, oy vay, oy vay
dlubet im oys di bayde oygn, oy vay, oy vay.

Ver vet nukh im kadish zugn oy vay, oy vay
Ver vet nukh im kadish zugn?
Ver vet nukh im vaynen un klugn oy vay, oy vay
Ver vet nukh im vaynen un klugn oy vay, oy vay

Of di grine felder un velder, oy vay, oy vay.
Of di grine felder un velder
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner oy vay, oy vay
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner oy vay, oy vay

TRANSLITERATION and TRANSLATION OF LSW/BSG/JG VERSION

Of di grine, felder velder, vey, vey
Of di grine, felder velder,
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner, vey, vey,
ligt mit koyln badekt a zelner, vey, vey.

On the green fields, woods, vey, vey!
On the green fields, woods
Lays covered with bullets a soldier, vey, vey
Lays covered with bullets a soldier, vey, vey

Kim tse flien shvartser foygl, vey, vey
kim tse flien shvartser foygl,
dzhibet oys bay im di oygn, oy vey.
dzhibet oys bay im di oygn, vey, vey.

Come fly here black bird, vey, vey
Come fly black bird
and peck his eyes out, vey, vey.
and peck his eyes out, vey, vey.

Sheyner foygl, shvartse vorone vey, vey
Sheyner foygl, shvartse vorona,
fli avek tsi mayn mame, vey vey,
fli avek tsi mayn mame, vey vey.

Black bird, black crow, vey, vey
Black bird, black crow
fly away to my mother, vey, vey.
fly away to my mother, vey, vey.

Zolst ir fin mayn toyt nisht zugn, vey, vey,
zolst ir fin mayn toyt nisht zugn,
anit vet zi nit oyfhern klugn vey, vey.
anit vet zi nit oyfhern klugn vey, vey.

Do not tell her of my death, vey vey
Do not tell her of my death
for she will cry and lament, vey, vey
for she will cry and lament, vey, vey.

Ver vet nukh mir veynen in klugn vey, vey
ver vet nukh mir veynen in klugn,
ver vet nukh mir kadish zugn? vey, vey.
ver vet nukh mir kadish zugn? vey, vey

Who will cry and lament for me? vey, vey
Who will cry and lament for me?
Who will say Kaddish for me? vey, vey.
Who will say Kaddish for me? vey, vey.

Nor dus ferdl, dus getraye, vey, vey
nur dus ferdl dus getraye
vet nukhgeyn nukh mayn levaye, vey, vey.
vet nukhgeyn nukh mayn levaye, vey, vey.

Only my faithful horse, vey, vey.
Only my faithful horse
Will follow at my funeral, vey, vey.
Will follow at my funeral, vey, vey.

TRANSCRIPTION OF NOMBERG-PRZYTYK’s VERSION:

nomberg 1914

TRANSCRIPTION OF LSW/BSG/JG’s VERSION:

LSW 1914 1LSW 1914 2

“Dos borvese meydl” Performed by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by yiddishsong

Dos borvese meydl / The Barefoot Girl
Text by Morris Rosenfeld (1862-1923), music by Morris Rosenfeld?
Sung by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman [BSG], recorded by Itzik Gottesman, 1980s, Bronx

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This is another melody to Morris Rosenfeld’s poem “Tsu a borvese meydele” written in the late 1890s or early 1900s. In a previous post we heard Esther Gold sing the same song with some different verses to the melody of David Edelshtadt’s song “In kamf (Mir zaynen gehast un getribn)”. I have heard at least one other melody to the song but could not record it at the time.

rosenfeldMorris Rosenfeld

When there is only one known melody to a Rosenfeld song I am inclined to credit him as composer since he did copyright the music to at least one of his famous songs ‘Mayn rue plats”, and we know that when he lectured he also sang. In a video interview on the Yiddish Book Center’s website with the Yiddish poet Hinde Zaretsky, she recalled seeing the poet Rosenfeld in Claremont Park in the Bronx, then almost blind, singing his songs.

Since there are at least three melodies to the song, I have left a question mark after listing the composer.

The singer BSG sings two last verses. The first she learned at home, the other she learned in Jewish school in Chernovitz. BSG changes very few words from the original Rosenfeld text. In these cases I put the original words in brackets.  One important change: Rosenfeld writes “Der Got, velkher kukt dikh nit on?” (The God who ignores you) but BSG sings “The street that ignores you”.

BSG sings this song on her CD Bay mayn mames shtibele with Lorin Sklamberg’s accordion accompaniment. Images of the original Rosenfeld poem in Yiddish are attached at the end of the post.

TRANSLITERATION

Es hot i geshneyt, i geregnt
In geyendik shnel durkhn gas.
A meydele hob ikh bageygnt
halb naket in burvus in nas.

Zi hot mit ire burvese fislekh
gepatsht deym fargosenem brik
in epes azoy vi fardrislekh
geshant hot ir kinderisher blik.

O, zug mir, kleyn meydele, vihin geysti
durkh reygn, durkh vint un durkh kelt?
O, zug mir, man kind, khotsh farshteysti
vi iberik di bist of der velt?

Di velt vus zi lozt dikh du zikhn
a leybn fun elnt in noyt.[leyd]
Vus vil dane fis nisht bashikhn
Nisht hiln dan gif in a kleyd.

O zug, zenen dir fremd di gefiln
dir falt gur nisht an der gedank.
Az ven di zolst dekh itst du farkiln
Dan falsti avek in verst krank?

O, ver vet dir demolt kurirn?
ver vet far dir epes tin?
Di velt vus zi lozt dekh du frirn
Di gas vus zi kikt dekh nisht un?
[Der Got, velkher kikt dikh nisht on?]

Vi vat ikh farshtey iz mistame
fin lang shoyn un nisht nor fin hant
di nakete gas dan mame
di shteyner fin ir dane frand

Derfar miz ikh veynen in klugn.
Derfar heyb ikh of a geshrey
ven mekh zoln tsuris dershlugn
vus vert fin man kind? oy vey!

Alternate last verse:

Derfar miz ikh veynen in klugn
O dos ken nokh zan mit man kind.
ven mikh zoln tsuris dershlugn
un im zol farvarfn der vint.

TRANSLATION

It was both raining and snowing,
and while walking in the street
I met a girl
half naked and barefoot and wet.

With her barefeet
she slapped the soaked cobblestones
and it in almost irritated way
her childish glance beamed.

O, tell me, little girl, where are you going
through the rain, wind and cold?
O, tell me, my child, do you at least understand
How superfluous you are in this world?

The world that lets you search here
a lonely life in poverty.
That does not want to shoe your feet,
nor cover you body with clothing.

O, tell me, are you not aware of these feelings;
It hasn’t even crossed your mind,
that if you were here to catch cold
then you would be stricken down sick?

O, who would then cure you?
who would do something for you?
The world that lets you freeze?
The street that does not give you a second look?

As I understand it, it probably
has been for long, and not just today,
that the bare street is your mother
the cobblestones are your friend.

And so I must weep and lament,
and so I must raise a cry:
If troubles were to strike me
what would happen to my child? Oy, vey!

Alternate last verse:

And so I must weep and lament,
O, this could yet happen to my child,
if troubles were to strike me
and the wind would carry him off.
Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 2.12.07 PM
Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 2.12.34 PM
Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 2.12.51 PM

“Az in felder geyt a regn” Performed by Jacob Gorelik

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2020 by yiddishsong

Az in felder geyt a regn/When it rains in the fields
Sung by Jacob Gorelik, lyrics by Wolf Younin with music by Maurice Ruach
Recorded by Itzik Gottesman at the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center, Bronx, 1980s.

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Jacob Gorelik probably learned this song as a member of a Yiddish chorus in NYC or from a chorister, since it is part of a longer “Folk Oratorio/Ballet for Chorus” (1947) called “Fun Viglid biz Ziglid”; words by poet, lyricist, journalist, teacher Wolf Younin (1908 – 1984) and music by composer, writer, choir leader, Maurice (Moyshe) Rauch (1910 – 1994). On Rauch see this link, while for information on Younin see his obituary.

GorelikDrawing“Gorelik at the microphone” drawing by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

In the Ruth Rubin Archive at YIVO, Yehudis Wasilievsky (Gorelik’s neighbor in the Chelsea-Elliiot Houses in Manahattan) sings another song from this oratorio – “Granatn”.

The Goldene Keyt/The Yiddish Chorale with Zalmen Mlotek conducting, recorded the work on their compact disc “Mir zaynen do tsu zingen”, 1997. The Jewish People’s Philharmonic Folk Chorus in NYC, Binyumen Schaechter conductor, performed the oratorio in 2008. The composer Mark Zuckerman transcribed the words and music for this performance — view his choral arrangement of the song at the end of this post.

Thanks to Binyumin Schaechter and Mark Zuckerman for help with this week’s post.

*Note: Gorelik’s text differs only slightly from Younin’s libretto, so we put in brackets Younin’s original words next to the way Gorelik sings them.

TRANSLITERATION (Gorelik’s text)

Az af [in] felder geyt [shpritst] a regn, vern grozn nas
un di zangen oykh, un di zangen oykh.
In mayn hartsn brent a fayer, nor ver ken zen dem roykh?
In mayn hartsn brent a fayer, nor ver ken zen dem roykh?

Tsvishn felder, tsvishn velder flist a griner taykh
un er vert gornit mid, un vert gornit mid.
Zingt a foygl tsu a foygl: oy, ikh hob dikh lib.
Zingt a foygl tsu a foygl: oy ikh hob dikh lib.

Ven ale beymer zaynen feder, [Ven yeder boym zol zayn a feder
ale yamen tint un papir der veg, [fun papir der veg]
ale yamen tint un papir der veg.
Undzer libe tsu bashraybn volt es nit geklekt
Undzer libe tsu bashraybn volt es nit geklekt

Az in felder geyt a regn vern grozn nas
un di zangen oykh, un di zangen oykh
in mayn hartsn brent a fayer, nor ver ken zen dem roykh?
in mayn hartsn brent a fayer, nor ver ken zen dem roykh?

TRANSLATION

When it rains in the fields the grass becomes wet,
and the stalks as well, and the stalks as well.
In my heart a fire burns, but who can see the smoke?
In my heart a fire burns, but who can see the smoke?

If the trees were all feathers, and the oceans were ink
and the paths made of paper, and the paths made of paper.
It would not suffice to describe our love.
It would not suffice to describe our love

In fields, in woods,
a green river flows and does not tire at all,
does not tire at all.
A bird sings to another bird: “I love you”
A bird sings to another bird: “I love you”

When it rains in the fields the grass becomes wet,
and the stalks as well, and the stalks as well.
In my heart a fire burns, but who can see the smoke?
In my heart a fire burns, but who can see the smoke?
gorelik1

gorelik2

Excerpt of choral score for “Fun viglid biz ziglid” by Mark Zuckerman:Fun viglid biz ziglid 23-page-0Fun viglid biz ziglid 24-page-0

“Zishe Breitbart” Performed by Yitzchak Milstein

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2020 by yiddishsong

Zishe Breitbart Sung by Yitzchak Milstein
Recorded by Toby Blum-Dobkin, 2/19/1977, Brooklyn NY. 

Commentary by Toby Blum-Dobkin. Song lyrics and transcription appear at the end of the post, including Milstein’s opening and closing spoken remarks. 

About the Singer Yitzchak Milstein

I first recorded Yitzchak Milstein singing the ballad of Zishe Breitbart in 1973, when I interviewed Mr. Milstein for the YIVO Yiddish Folksong Project, directed by Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The project team aimed to define and document Yiddish musical specialists and to compose portraits of such individuals [Blum-Dobkin 1975]. I again recorded the song in 1977, when I wrote an article about Zishe as a folk hero. I translated the song into English, and also transliterated it to reflect features of Milstein’s Yiddish pronunciation [Blum-Dobkin 1978].  

MilsteinPhoto

Yitzchak Milstein

I conducted ten interviews with Yitzchak Milstein for the Yiddish Folksong Project, between 2/27/1973 and 9/18/1974.  Each interview lasted approximately 90 minutes. All the interviews were conducted in Yiddish, with some songs and narrative in other languages. I translated portions of the interviews and songs into English, directly from the recordings. Bella Gottesman transcribed all the interviews and songs in Yiddish, also directly from the recordings. 

Mr. Milstein was born in Shidlovtse (Szidlowiec), Poland, in 1914. His mother Rokhl had a booth of ‘galenterye’ at the shtetl market. His father Motek (Mordkhe) was a ‘holts tokazh’ – a wood turner. Yitzchak worked as a tailor in Shidlovtse and seasonally in Warsaw. His childhood home was filled with music. He remarked, “In our home, almost everyone sang. . . were there better entertainments?. . . I remember that my father had a ‘liderbikhl’ – a Yiddish song book..  [with songs about] city girls and farmers’ girls…When my father was young he also acted in the drama circle, in [Goldfaden’s] Di Kishefmakherin – The Sorceress.” Even when Yitzchak’s father became more religious, he did not forbid Yitzchak from attending performances and acting in amateur dramatics. Yitzchak remembered that his father “said it was ‘b’yerushe’ – part of my legacy.”  The family had a mandolin, and Yitzchak learned by observing others.

In 1942 Yitzchak Milstein was forced into labor at the Skarszysko Hasag camp, and was subsequently incarcerated in several other Nazi camps. He was liberated in April 1945 and housed in the Displaced Persons camp in Feldafing, Germany. He emigrated to the the US in 1950 and settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, resuming work in his trade of tailoring.  He also resumed his avocation, singing. Mr. Milstein’s other avocation was keeping the memory of his shtetl Shidlovtse alive. He was active in the effort to publish Shidlovtse’s ‘yizker bukh’ – memorial book – for which he created artwork and essays  [Milstein 1974]. For Yitzchak Milstein, it was a matter of pride to reproduce a performance or song ‘genoy’ – as correctly and faithfully as possible. “I am a tape recorder,” he explained to me.

The Song ‘Zishe Breitbart’ 

Yitzchak Milstein had heard the ballad of Zishe Breitbart in the 1920’s from a ‘hoyfzinger’ – a street singer in Shidlovtse. The text of the ballad along with pictures of Zishe Breitbart were sold by street singers in broadside form. I am indebted to Chana Gordon Mlotek for directing me to other versions of the Breitbart song, and for pointing out the elements that the Breitbart ballad had in common with traditional ballads [Mlotek 1974].

PhotoBreitbart

Zishe (Sigemund) Breitbart

Zishe (Siegmund) Breitbart, son of a blacksmith, was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1883. His fame was based both on his physical strength and his unique personality. He toured widely, and in 1923 performed for the Keith vaudeville theaters in New York. The New York Times reported on Breitbart’s 1923 arrival in the United States:

“Among other feats of strength he claims to be able to lift ten or twelve persons with his hands, twist bars of iron like scraps of paper, crack Brazil nuts between his fingers, and haul a wagon with ten persons along the road by his teeth.” The article notes that Breitbart “says he is so sensitive that he would walk into the roadway to avoid trading upon a worm. . . he likes music and writes poems, but doesn’t like prize fighting. He declined an offer received by telegram at the pier to go to Saratoga Springs and have a tryout with Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. ‘For me it is not,’ the strong man of Poland said.” [New York Times 1923].  

Breitbart’s death at the age of forty-two apparently resulted from blood poisoning initially contracted during a performance in Radom, Poland, when he scratched or punctured his leg with a nail.  He died in Berlin in 1925.

Zishe Breitbart’s crowd-pleasing persona and sense of mission as a Jewish hero made a lasting impression [Blum-Dobkin 1978; Bart 2014; Gillerman 2010].  He appeared in the silent film [Der Eisenkoenig 1923] and is the subject of a feature film [Invincible 2001].  It has even been posited that Zishe Breitbart was an inspiration for the character of Superman [Gordon 2011]. 

Milstein Comments

From Khane & Yosl Mlotek’s Song of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song (Workmens Circle, 2004):

Breitbart1Breitbart2Breitbart3

Selected Sources:

Bart, Gary.  Interviewed by Christina Whitney,  Wexler Oral History Project, National Yiddish Book Center, Amherst MA, November 21, 2014.

Blum-Dobkin, Toby.  “Case Study of a Traditional Yiddish Folksinger.” Unpublished paper, 1975.

Blum-Dobkin, Toby.  “Zishe, the Yiddish Samson.”  The Parade of Heroes: Legendary Figures in American Lore.” edited by  Tristram Potter Coffin and Hennig Cohen, Anchor Press, Garden City NY, 1978: 206-213, 557-558.

Der Eisenkönig.  Film directed by Max Neufeld, 1923. 

Gillerman, Sharon.  “The Strongest Man in the World.” YIVO Encyclopedia, 2010.

Gordon, Mel.  “Step Right Up and Meet the World’s Mightiest Human: A Jewish Strongman from Poland who Some Say Inspired the Creation of Superman.”  Reform Judaism, Summer 2011.  

Invincible.  Film directed by Werner Herzog, 2001.

Milstein, Yitzchak.  “Khronik fun khurbn in Shidlovtse.”  Shidlovtser Yizker Bukh/Yizkor Book Szydlowiec, edited by Berl Kagan  Shidlovtser Benevolent Association, NY (1974): 344-368.

Mlotek, Chana Gordon.  “Perl fun der yidisher poezye.” Forverts 1973.The New York Times August 27, 1923.