Archive for kheyder

“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.

 

“Arele kumt in vald” Performed by Larisa Pechersky

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by yiddishsong

This week’s blog post – song and commentary – was submitted by Larisa Pechersky, who also performs on the recording.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my grandmother’s name known and maybe remembered by people who often ask me how I know so many Yiddish songs. I always tell them that it’s because of my grandmother. Now, I hope her story, name, and image will be shared with them for the first time. As always, I dedicate all my work in the field of Jewish folklore and education to her blessed memory. Milya on 20th birthday Horki

Milya Shagalova (nee Mikhlya Fle’er / Fleyer), grandmother of Larisa Pechersky in Horki on her 20th birthday

I learned this song from my maternal grandmother when I was a toddler in the late 70s . She lived with my mother and me, and took care of me while my mom worked. All day long, as she worked around the house, she sang hundreds of Yiddish songs and encouraged me to sing along.

She would stop many times during a song to comment and make connections to her life in a Belorussian shtetl, to the experiences of her family and friends, and whatever lessons she wanted me to take away from each song. She often acted out the songs with me and showed me how to express a variety of feelings through a nign without words (just like in this song, Arele, she emphasized how the same nign after each verse can express fear, despair, or relief).

She made each song a window into Jewish life for me, a child growing up in a big city of Leningrad, the cultural capital of the Soviet Union, where forced assimilation was the norm for its more than 150,000 Jews. Assimilation was out of the question for my family, where my grandmother wanted me to know Yiddish and grow up proudly Jewish. Milya and Larisa

Larisa Pechersky (age 3) and her grandmother, Milya Shagalova, at home in Leningrad

My grandmother, Milya Shagalova (nee Mikhlya Fle’er / Fleyer), was born in 1914 in Propoysk, a shtetl in Mogilievske Guberniye, Belorussia. In the post-revolution years, her father, Zalmen, received a warning that he was to be arrested, stripped of his possessions, and exiled for owning four cows and employing one housekeeper. To avoid this fate, the family fled to Horki, a larger shtetl in the region, his birthplace.

As the third daughter in a family with no sons at the time, little Mikhlya was sent to a traditional all-boys kheyder to study. She told me compassionate stories of the cruel pranks the boys did to the poor old rebbe that she, as the only girl, felt so bad about. Later, she graduated from a seven-year school, where all of the subjects were taught in Yiddish. She wanted to continue on to the Jewish (Yiddish) teachers’ college, but it was no longer possible.

In 1934, as a newlywed, she moved to Leningrad with her husband Naum (Nokhom-Abram), where they lived  their whole life afterwards. Despite knowing Russian as well as if it were their native tongue, they always spoke Yiddish at home and with many friends, never missed a Jewish concert or event, and subscribed to Jewish periodicals when it was still possible.

During World War II, my grandma miraculously survived the horrific siege of Leningrad with my three-month old mom, but lost her five-year old son, who was with his grandparents in Horki for the summer, during which the Nazis invaded it and killed 7,500 Jews, including the boy, his four grandparents, and 38 more of our relatives.

My grandpa Naum, who came back from the front without a leg, learned of his son’s initial rescue, swift betrayal, and killing from his former neighbors. My grandma’s lament and guilt that she “sent her own child to death with her own hands” by letting him travel to Belorussia before the war “nobody expected to happen” was one of the stories that she would tell me often. Milya with Larisa

Larisa and Milya on summer vacation in Ukraine

When the Perestroika had just begun, the very first signs of the Jewish renewal were two concerts of Jewish music at the end of 1988 in Leningrad. My grandma did not miss them despite her poor health and the two of us went together. She felt that they “added seven more years of life” to her. This is how highly she regarded Jewish songs.

To my greatest regret, she passed away in January 1989 before I went to synagogue for the first time and matriculated at the newly created Jewish University that same year. I never recorded any of her songs, but kept hundreds of them in my memory. I still remember some ballads, just partially, and feel terrible that I can’t recall all the words or find them published anywhere.

When my friends and I started a Jewish school in Leningrad, I dedicated my work to giving my students the same as what my grandmother gave me – teaching them every and any thing Jewish through our amazing multi-layered Yiddish songs. Researching Yiddish musical folklore became my profession, passion, and a tribute to my grandma’s bravery and real heroism in passing our musical tradition to new generations amid the tribulations she lived through.

Arele kumt in vald (Arele Comes to the Woods)

This is how I remember learning the words as a child. I understand they sound not totally grammatically correct, but this is how I sang it as a kid.

Most of the time, we sang the second and third verses in the reverse order. The line in question meant Arele wasn’t taken aback; didn’t fear (I don’t remember the Yiddish word). When it was sung as the second verse, it made his attempt to escape appear to be futile given the next stanza (he thought he could run away, but now he can clearly see the dire situation – the mouth, the paws, etc). This way the time between his climbing up the tree, crying in despair, and eventual rescue was much longer and more terrifying in his eyes.

This was the order of the verses my grandma usually used. Switching the verses makes his actions appear more brave (he didn’t lose his head despite realizing all the details of the dangerous situation beforehand). Also, we sang it a bit slower, in a more storytelling manner, than I did in this recording.The English transliteration reflects the Yiddish dialect more than the Yiddish transcription.

Arele kumt in vald,
Dreyt zikh ‘hin un ‘her.
Ven er dremlt bald
kumt a greyser ber!

Der ber mit lapes greyse!
G’valt, dos iz nit gut!
Fun eygn trern heyse,
Ot iz sheyn kaput!

Arele is nit flit [foyl?]
Eyfn beym er kletert.
Un der ber mit ofn mul,
G’valt, nito keyn reter!

A reter iz ba sholem,
A greyser nes getrofn!
Geven iz dos a kholem,
Ven Arel iz geshlofn!

Arele comes to the woods,
wanders here and there.
When he slumbers, right away comes
a great big bear.

The bear with giant paws!
Help, this is not good.
From his eyes hot tears stream.
Now all is kaput.

Arele is not lazy
and on the tree he climbs.
And the bear with an open mouth
Help, there is no rescue!

A rescue did come in peace;
a great miracle happened.
This was all a dream
while Arele was sleeping.

arele1 arele2

“In kheyder keseyder” performed by Clara Crasner

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2013 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This is the third song we have posted by Clara Crasner, b. 1902 in Shargorod (a town near Vinnitsia, Ukraine). As she says after she sings the song, she learned this song in Romania approx. 1919-1920, where she waited for two years to get papers to come to America. Freedman recorded the song again, and this time she says that she learned it from a 5 year old boy.

Robert Freedman (Crasner’s son-in-law) recorded the song in 1972 and sent it to Chana and Yosl Mlotek for their Yiddish Forward newspaper column Leyner dermonen zikh lider – Readers Remember Songs. Below is a copy of the column with the Mlotek’s response, where they identify a number of published variants (click the image to enlarge):

mlotek crasner kheyder

With its uneven verse lines and “un-Jewish” melody, In kheyder keseyder sounds as if it could be a newer Yiddish theater song of the time.

Ven ikh bin a kleyn yingele geveyzn.
Hob ikh zikh gebudn in taykh.
Ven ikh bin a kleyn yingele geveyzn
hob ikh zikh gebudn a sakh.

When I was a small boy,
I bathed in the river [or lake].
When I was a small boy
I often bathed.

Gebudn, geplyusket, gelofn aheym
Hot mir der rebbe derzeyn.
Un hot mikh mekhabed geveyn.

I bathed, splashed and ran home,
but the rebbe spotted me.
And “honored” me [meant ironically – beat, punished]

Freyg ikh im farvus?
Farvus kimt mir dus?
Entfert er mir dus:

So I ask him why?
Why do I deserve this?
And this is how he answers me:

In kheyder keseyder,
a yingele darf zitsn dort.
In kheyder keseyder,
Sha! Un redt nisht keyn vort.

Always in kheyder [traditional elementary religious school]
is where a boy should sit.
Always in kheyder
Quiet! And don’t say a word.

Ven di volst in kheyder gegangen,
volsti di toyre derlangen.
Volsti geveyzn a yid, a yid.
Volt dir geveyzn gants git, gant git.

If you were to attend kheyder,
you could attain the Torah.
Then you would be a Jew, a Jew
And you would feel real good, real good.

In kheyder keseyder….

In kheyder keseyder

“Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?” Performed by Mr. Harris

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by yiddishsong

Notes by Itzik Gottesman

I recorded Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder? (“What Did You Learn My Child in Cheder?”) at a zingeray/song gathering in the Bronx in 1983, at the home of Merke (Mary) and Tuvia Levine, on Gun Hill Road. I cannot recall the singer‘s full name– Harris was his last name.

This children‘s folksong that follows the letters of the alef-beys has a number of variants. In Pipe‘s collection from Sanok, Galicia, his version begins „Az du zest, yingele, an alef, vi azoy makht es?‟ In my mother and grandmother‘s version it begins „Vos lernstu yingele?‟ (see Pipe‘s variation on page 202-205, it has verses all the way to „yud,‟ and the footnote by Dov and Meir Noy on page 316 in Shmuel Zanvel Pipe Yiddish Folksongs From Galicia, ed. Dov and Meir Noy, Israel, 1971). There are some interesting differences in the words that are „taytshed‟ in each stanza. In Beregovsky-Feffer‘s collection, Kiev, 1938, the music is also printed. All the variants are similar, textually and melodically, but never exactly the same. Most other versions ask the question „Vos makht es in eynem?‟ (What does it sound like together?) but Harris sings it as an imperative „Makht es in eynem‟ or „Put it together‟….which also makes sense. In the opening verse, when Harris sings „nokh a taytsh‟, it‘s clear that he should have then sung „a shtekele‟ and not „ay ay‟ for a second time.

Harris, Merke and Tevye Levine were part of the linke (leftist) Yiddish cultural scene that did not usually mix with Arbeter-Ring members or Zionists. Our “scene‟ from the Sholem-Aleichem Folk Institute, played down politics, and emphasized the cultural aspects so we mingled fine. By the late 1970s, the Yiddish world was so depleted that the walls between left, center and right, were falling down on behalf of Yiddish culture, so the Levines became prominent members of the Sholem-Aleichem Folkshul on Bainbridge Avenue. Thirty years earlier they were active in their own linke shuln, but by the 1970s, those folkshuln no longer existed. Our zingerays included them more and more. That older generation of linke Yiddishists is gone; Itche Goldberg, who died recently at 102, was perhaps the last of them, and I cannot think of anyone who is alive anymore to even ask about the singer‘s– Mr. Harris‘s– first name.


Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Alef
Vos iz taytsh „alef‟?
ay, ay
Nokh a taytsh?
ay, ay
Makht es in eynem
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Alef
What is „alef‟?
ay, ay
Another meaning?
ay, ay
Put it together
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Beys
Vos iz taytsh „beys‟?
Berl
Nokh a taytsh?
Bunzhik
Makht es in eynem
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Beys
What is „beys‟?
Berl
Another meaning?
Bunzhik
Put it together
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Giml
Vos iz taytsh „Giml‟?
Gib zhe
Nokh a taytsh?
gikher
Makht es in eynem
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Gimel
What is „gimel‟?
So give!
Another meaning?
Faster
Put it together
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Daled
Vos iz taytsh „daled‟?
Darer
Nokh a taytsh?
Drunzhik
Makht es in eynem
Daradrunzhik
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Daled
What is „Daled‟?
Thin
Another meaning?
Drunzhik
Put it together
A really thin person [daradrunzhik]
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick

Vos hostu gelernt mayn kind in kheyder?
Hey
Vos iz taytsh „hey‟?
Heyb zhe
Nokh a taytsh?
Hekher
Makht es in eynem
Heyb zhe hekher
Darerdronzhik
Gib zhe gikher
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a shtekele.
Hekher – a shtekele, Shtarker – a shtekele

What are you learning my child in cheder?
Hey
What is „hey‟?
Lift!
Another meaning?
Higher!
Put it together
Lift it higher!
A very thin person,
So give faster!
Berele Bunzhik
Ay, ay, a little stick
Louder – a little stick, Stronger – a little stick