A short ballad or a fragment? In just one verse it tells quite a story and I rather think it is a dramatic one verse song in classic ballad form (first a description of the scene, then a dialogue) about a problem we usually think of as a Jewish immigrant’s dilemma. It clearly was an issue in the old country as well. This recording of Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, (b. Zvinyetchke, Bukovina, 1893 – d. New York, 1973) was recorded by Leybl Kahn in the Bronx in 1954.
Erev yoym-kiper af der nakht iz geshtanen a gevelb afgemakht. Hot men gefregt vus tisti rushe Im yon-kiper aza groyse zind? S’i nishkushe, s’i nishkushe Ikh darf farnern vayb un kind.
Yom Kippur evening a store stood open. So they asked – “What are you doing wicked one? Such a sin on Yom Kippur!” “It’s not so bad, not so bad – I have a wife and child I must feed!’
This song by Nitsa Rantz was recorded at the same concert as Rantz’s song Mayn shifl that we had earlier posted in in our blog, at the club Tonic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2009. Rantz is accompanied by Jeff Warschauer on guitar.
Nitsa Rantz in Paris, Late 1940s
In their column “Lider demonen zikh lider” [Readers remember songs] in the Yiddish Forward newspaper, Feb. 7th 1992, page 15. Chana and Joseph Mlotek printed the words of Nitsa Rantz’s version of this song.
The columnists note that Rantz called the song “Viglid fun der frantzeyzisher revolutsye” [Lullaby of the French Revolution], and that they had found a printed version in a Workmen’s Circle songbook, 1934.
A version was sung during the Holocaust in the Vilna ghetto and was printed in Shmerke Katcherginski’s collection “Lider fun getos un lagern”, 1948. The singer Rokhl Relis called it “Dos lid fun umbakantn partisan”. Instead of the guillotine, the father is killed in a gas chamber.
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman sings a similar version to Rantz’s, and there is enough difference in the text to make it worthwhile to post it on the Yiddish Song of the blog at some point. A beautiful version is found in the Stonehill collection at YIVO, sung by an as yet unidentified man, (Reel 9).
Shlof shoyn kind mayns vider ruik ayn. Shtil es flit shoyn di levone-shayn. Fun der vaytns finklen shtern, Kuk nisht kind af mayne trern. Shlof shoyn kind mayns vider ruik ayn.
Sleep my child once more quietly. Quietly the moonlight flies . From the distance stars are twinkling. Child do not look at my tears. Sleep my child once more quietly.
Es vet der tate mer nisht kumen. Im hot men fun undz genumen. Iber di gasn im geshlept, af dem eshafod gekept. Blaybn mir dokh eynzam kind aleyn.
Your father will no longer come. They took him away from us. They dragged him through the streets, on the guillotine they cut his head. So we remain lonely, my child.
Reder geyen in fabrikn, menstshn geyen underdrikn. Dort ahin iz er gegangen, vu es raysn zikh di klangen. Vu di shteyner zenen royt baflekt.
Wheels turn in the factory, the people go oppressed. There is where he went, where the noises wildly sound, where the stones are stained red.
Unter der fon hoykh gehoybn, hot er mit a tifn gloybn, az er muz bafrayen shklafen, firn zey tsu a naym hafn, Tsu a groyser, sheyner, nayer velt.
Under the flag raised high, with a firm belief that he must free the slaves, take them to a new harbor, to a great, beautiful new world.
For more on Jacob (Yankev) Gorelik see the previous post on “A baysphil.” He sang Tunkl brent a fayer (“A Fire Burns Dimly”) in his apartment in the “Chelsea hayzer” (Penn south), on 7th avenue and 25th street in Manhattan, circa 1985. This song about an “agune,” a women who was abandoned by their husband, is part of a genre of agune-songs in Yiddish. Chaim Grade’s Yiddish novel The Agunah (translated in English with that title) depicts the complexity of dealing with the agune, and the rabbinic disagreements over when to declare the woman free to remarry.
I believe one hears the influence of the great singer Sidor Belarsky in Gorelik’s singing, even when he sings his mother’s songs from his hometown. I have included the spoken introduction below because it was typical of how Gorelik would frame a song he was about to perform for a larger audience. It’s interesting how he implies that by attending the Yiddish theater, the immigrant was thereby just a short hop from meeting new women and abandoning the wife in the old country.
The scanned music and words are from the songbook Songs of Generations compiled by Chana and Yosl Mlotek. Gorelik had, apparently, sent Tunkl brent a fayer to the Mloteks who ran a column “Readers remember” in the Yiddish Forward newspaper. Chana Mlotek continued to write the column after Yosl Mlotek’s death in 2000.
A song of an “agune,” an abandoned woman, that I heard from my mother, may she rest in peace.
There was a time, the emigration, the great emigration at the beginning of the 20th century and earlier, and many wandered out to America. Towns were emptied out. Many women remained with children. They didn’t hear anything from their husbands. Some were faithful and sent over their most recent earnings to their wives; shared it with their wives and children.
Others forgot. In the “Golden Land” they forgot about their old home. They wanted a little joy and happiness and started to go to the theater; met other women and forgot that they had “an old home,” a wife and child. And such women were called “agune” – “she was connected” as long as the husband did not free her. And songs were composed on this on the spot.
I had heard such a song among the folk, and another one I heard from my mother, may she rest in peace. She had a golden voice when she sang. In general my mother sang minor-keyed (sad) songs.