Archive for Michael Alpert

Songs for Peysakh

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2012 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

As Passover comes to a close with “di tsveyte teg yontif” (the second days of the holidays), we acknowledge the website YouTube as a wonderful resource for Yiddish folksongs by posting three Yiddish Passover songs that were sent to us.  Yiddish dance teacher and researcher Steve Weintraub sent us the links to the first two and a person who wishes to remain nameless sent us the third one.
#1 is a Yiddish version of Khad gadyo which is unknown to me; any help identifying it would be helpful; it sounds like a relatively recent composition.The second song rhyming meydlekh and kneydlekh is a version of “Yontif peysekh…” or “Akh vi voyl, un akh vi gut“…and is in Michael Alpert’s repertoire. The song usually discusses all the holidays; a verse on Passover is already found in the Ginzburg/Marek collection of 1901, “Yiddish Folksongs in Russia”, St. Petersburg  Song #33.   In song #39, of the same volume, there appears Uncle Sidney’s stanza.
#2 Baba’s song is a version of “Pey Luhem” that we previously posted on the Yiddish Song of the Week. Since the Hallel prayer appears in the Haggadah and is the basis for the song, it is clear why this song is also considered a Passover song, while others sing it at Simkhes toyre to poke fun at the “other gods.”
#3 is Betty’s Yiddish Khad gadyo song – “Eyn tshigele” (Litvish Yiddish pronunciation of “tsigele” = one kid”) is a new one to me, but it’s interesting that the refrain is in Yiddish and does not repeat the Aramaic “Khad gadyo” as one usually hears.

“Mir nemen veytslekh” Performed by Dora Libson

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Mir nemen veytslekh is a matso-baking song, sung in a Litvish-Yiddish dialect by the singer Dora Libson. This version was recorded in 1977 by Lionel Libson. Dora is from the Western Ukraine. [See her earlier post in this blog for her biography].

The collective baking of matse during the weeks preceeding Passover was, (and is in Orthodox circles today) a joyous event, and the songs that accompany the event, are playful work songs. For another example listen to Michael Alpert sing Dos lid fun matse bakn on the Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble‘s CD Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me, Volume One: Passover.

The singer sings “moyre” instead of “meyre,” a dialectical hypercorrection. Meyre is the dough of the matse.

I was unsure of the words in a couple of places and any corrections or suggestions would be welcome.

Mir nemen veytslekh

“We Take Wheat”

Mir nemen veytslekh, a fule koyshn,
Afile ot azelkhe.
Un mir moln, un mir moln,
moln veytslekh bilkhe.

We take wheat, baskets full
Even ones like these.
And we grind and we grind
Grinding the preferred wheat.

Itstert kinder nemt a zipke
un tsezipt di mel.
Zipt zhe, zayt zhe, zipt zhe, zayt zhe,
varft aroys di klayen.

Now children take a sifter
and sift the flour.
Sift and strain, sift and strain.
Throw out the bran.

Itstert kinder farkatsht di arbl,
Khane ober [oder] dvoyre.
Shit on mel, gist on vaser,
un farknet a moyre [meyre].

Now children roll up your sleeves,
Khane or Dvoyre.
Pour out flour, pour out water,
and knead the meyre.

Un fun der moyre shnaydt on teyglekh,
shnaydt on teyglekh kleyne.
Velgert, velgert, velgert, velgert,
velgert matses sheyne.

And from the meyre cut up clumps of dough.
Cut up the clumps small.
Roll and roll, roll and roll [with the rolling pin.]
Roll the beautiful matzos.

Itstert kinder nemt a redl,
a redl mit sharfe tseyner.
Redlt, redlt, redlt, redlt,
feln zol nisht keyner.

Now children take the hole puncher,
a puncher with sharp teeth.
Puncture, puncture, puncture, puncture,
And no one should be missing.

Itstert kinder zetst di matses;
der eyvn [oyvn] iz a heyser.
Vasht zikh opet, nemt aroyset,
Esn vi der keyser!

Now children put in the matzos,
the oven is hot.
Wash up and take them out,
Let‘s eat them like the emperor.  

“Pey luhem” Performed by Mordkhe Bauman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottemsman

Mordkhe Bauman’s performance of the song Pey luhem (“They Have Mouths”) was recorded in the Bronx by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman in the 1980s. The song is also called “Atsabeyhem kesef vezohev” (“Their Idols are Silver and Gold”) and a printed version, very similar to Bauman‘s can be found in Folks-gezangen loytn nusekh fun Chaim Kotylansky Los Angeles 1944, pages 56-57. There are several 78s of Kotylansky singing but not this song (see Richard K. Spottswood’s Ethnic Music on Records, Volume 3).

A different version on Youtube can now be viewed, performed by Dovid Vider, recorded as part of Indiana University’s Aheym Project, in Kolomey, Ukraine, May 2003.

Eventually, I will post another version I recorded with a different melody by Itzik Zucker from the region of Volhinya. He told me that the song was performed on the holiday of Simkhes-toyre, and Kotylansky comments that „The Chassidim sing it on every holiday, whenever „Hallel‟ is sung.‟ There is a tradition to sing songs that ridicule the non-Jews on Simkhes-toyre, and this is one of the more popular ones.

The song takes words from the Hallel prayer, which is in turn based on Psalm 115, and translates the lines into Yiddish to comic effect. In Bauman‘s version, Polish words are often humorously used to describe the body parts of the non-Jewish gods. For example: the Polish word for blind person to refer to blind eyes „szlepez‟; the Polish word for ears „uchos‟ to refer to their deaf ears.

Thanks to Prof. Dov-Ber Kerler who sent me a link to a great discussion list in Yiddish that discusses various amazing versions of this song (for example: „their gods have a throat like a giraffe‟). Scroll down and read the whole discussion!

One important word in Bauman‘s version remains unclear to me. Kharboyne seems to indicate Harbonah of the Megillah. Why he is referred to in this context – the idol of the non-Jews – is unclear. David Braun believes it is because Kharboyne/Harbonah is a eunuch and therefore impotent.

In the list-serve discussion, one version uses Pondrik (a nickname for Jesus) instead and of course this makes more sense to me. Any opinions on this would be helpful.

Thanks to Michael Alpert for helping with the Polish words.

Pey luhem veloy yedaberu
A piskatsh ot er un er ken nisht redn.
Okh un vey iz tsu zey!
A shtime Kharboyne hobn zey.
A piskatsh ot er, un er redt nisht
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
ober indzer got in himl.
Kol asher khufets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„They have mouths but cannot speak‟ (Hebrew)
A foul mouth (piskacz=Polish) he has and cannot speak.
Woe is to them!
A mute Kharboyne they have.
A foul mouth he has and cannot speak.
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.

Eynayim luhem, veloy yiru
Shlepes hot un er ken nisht zeyn.
Okh un vey iz tsu zey,
A blinde Khorboyne hobn zey,
Shlepes ot er, un er zeyt nisht.
A piskatsh ot er, un er redt nisht.
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
ober indzer got in himl.
Kol asher khufets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„They have eyes but cannot see‟ (Hebrew)
Blind eyes (szlepes = Polish) he has and cannot see.
Woe is to them!
A blind Kharboyne they have.
Blind eyes he has but cannot see,
A foul mouth he has but cannot speak,
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.

Oznayim luhem, veloy yishmau
Ukhes ot er un er ken nisht hern.
Okh un vey iz tsu zey
A toybe Kharboyne hobn zey.
Ukhes ot er un hert nisht,
shlepes ot er un er zeyt nisht
a piskatsh ot er un er redt nisht
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
ober indzer got in himl.
Kol asher khofets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„They have ears but cannot hear‟ (Hebrew)
Ears (uchos = Polish) he has but cannot hear.
Woe is to them!
A deaf Kharboyne they have.
Ears he has and cannot hear,
Blind eyes he has and cannot see,
A foul mouth he has and cannot speak
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.

Af luhem veloy yerikhun
a nonye ot er un er ken nisht shmekhn
okh un vey iz tsu zey
a farshtopte Kharboyne hobn zey.
A nonye ot er, un er shmekt nisht
Ukhes ot er un hert nisht,
shlepes ot er un er zeyt nisht
a piskatsh ot er un er redt nisht
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
ober indzer got in himl.
Kol asher khofets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„They have a nose but cannot smell‟ (Hebrew)
A funny nose/shnoz (nonye) he‘s got, but cannot smell.
Woe is to them!
A stuffed up Kharboyne they have.
A shnoz he has, but cannot smell.
Ears he has and cannot hear,
Blind eyes he has and cannot see.
A foul mouth he has and cannot speak.
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.

Yedeyhem veloy yemishun
Lapes ot un er ken nisht tapn
okh un vey iz tsu zey
a kalikevate Kharboyne hobn zey
Lapes ot er un er tapt nsiht,
A nonye ot er un er shmekt nisht,
Ukhes ot er un hert nisht,
shlepes ot er un er zeyt nisht
a piskatsh ot er un er redt nisht
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
ober indzer got in himl.
Kol asher khofets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„Hands he has, but cannot touch‟ (Hebrew)
Paws he has, but cannot touch.
Woe is to them!
A crippled Kharboyne they have.
Paws he has but cannot touch
A shnoz he has, but cannot smell.
Ears he has and cannot hear,
Blind eyes he has and cannot see.
A foul mouth he has and cannot speak.
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.

Ragleyhem veloy yehaleykhu
lopetes ot er un er ken nisht geyn.
Okh un vey iz tsu zey,
A lume Kharboyne hobn zey.
Lopetes ot er un er geyt nisht
Lapes ot er un er tapt nisht,
A nonye ot er un er shmekt nisht,
Ukhes ot er un hert nisht,
shlepes ot er un er zeyt nisht
a piskatsh ot er un er redt nisht
Ober eleheynu shebashomayim,
[ober indzer got in himl.]
Kol asher khofets usu, usu
Vus er vil tit er, tit er.
Vus er vil, tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.
Vus er vil tit er, veymen er vil, gibt er.

„They have feet but cannot walk‟ (Hebrew)
Funny legs (literally = shovels) he has and cannot walk.
Woe is to them!
A lame Kharboyne they have.
Shovels he has and cannot walk,,
Paws he has and cannot touch
A shnoz he has, and cannot smell.
Ears he has and cannot hear,
Blind eyes he has and cannot see.
A foul mouth he has and cannot speak.
But our God in heaven (Hebrew)
But our God in heaven
Can do whatever he wills (Hebrew)
Whatever he wants, he does,
Whomever he wants – he gives.




Four Songs, One Melody

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman.

In this week‘s entry the reader will get four Yiddish songs for the price of one. What connects them is the same melody. I am not the first to write on the popularity of this tune. The Israeli Yiddish song-researcher Meir Noy wrote an article זמר סובב עולם [The tune that circles the world]  in the Israeli publication אומר, April 13, 1962. I could not find the article yet, so am not sure what he includes.

The first song and perhaps the oldest is a beggar song –  Vu zenen mayne vugn un ferd? (Where are my wagon and horse?); the second song  Yosele mit Blimele (Yosele and Blimele) is a typical lyrical love song. These are sung by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW, 1893 – 1974), recorded in 1954 in NYC and originate from her Bukovina repertoire that she learned in the small town of Zvinyetchke in the 1890s-early 1900s. I have found no variants of the beggar song, and one of Yosele mit blimele (Oy vey mame,  in the Pipe-Noy collection, see below, page 270-71 with music). The first line as my mother remembers it sung was “Vu iz mayn vugn, vu zenen mayne ferd?” which fits better into the melody; it does indeed sound as if  LSW forgot a syllable or two when she sings it here, and forces it into the melody.

In the interviews that Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett of New York University recorded with LSW in the early 1970s shortly before her death, LSW said that much of her repertoire, particularly the songs about life‘s difficulties, was learned from the older, married women in town, while the younger unmarried women taught her the hopeful love songs. Vu zenen mayne vugn un ferd would fall into the category taught by the married women (vayber) while Yosele mit blimele would be a typical song performed during the Sabbath afternoon walks that the unmarried girls took into the woods. In terms of style, the beggar song is sung slower and more mournful, while the love song is more playful.

LSW sings other versions of Yosele mit blimele including a second verse: 

Az du vest kumen, tsum dokter bay der tir, 
zolst im gebn a vink, azoy vi ikh tsu dir. 
Zolst im gebn a  tuler in der hant. 
Vet er shoyn visn vus mit dir iz genant 

When you come to the doctor’s door,
you should give him a wink, like I give to you.
you should give him a dollar in his hand;
so he will know what embarrased you.

A verse which implies an abortion! But in such a light-hearted song it seems quite incongruous.

The third song – In a kleynem shtibele (In a Small Room) – is sung by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (born 1920) and was recorded May 13th 2011 (last week) in the Bronx. She learned this song in one of her afternoon Yiddish classes in Chernovitz, (then Romania) either at the Morgnroit school (Socialist Bundist) or the Yidisher shulfareyn, a Yiddish cultural group, in the 1920s, early 1930s. Basically the same version was collected by the folklorists Shmuel-Zanvil Pipe and his brother Oyzer Pipe in their hometown of Sanok (in yiddish- Sunik), Galicia, then Poland. Dov and Meir Noy published the Pipe brothers collection in Israel (Folklore Research Studies , Vol. 2, Jerusalem 1971),  and a copy of that version is attached with the music. See the footnote to the song by Dov and Meir Noy (p. 326) for other songs with this melody, and the reference to Meir Noy‘s article mentioned above.

In a kleynem shtibele is a worker‘s song, text written by the writer and ethnographer A. Litvin  (pseudonym of Shmuel Hurvits 1863 – 1943) and the complete original text (Di neyterkes) can be found in M. Bassin‘s Antologye: Finf hundert yor yidishe poezye, volume one 258-259, NY 1917.

The fourth song with the same melody is In shtetl Nikolayev (In the Town of Nikolayev). The Freedman Jewish Sound Archive has information on three recordings: a version by David Medoff (1923); Kapelye (the album „Future and Past‟, sung by Michael Alpert); and the German group Aufwind (from the album „Awek di junge jorn‟). We have included a link to the Medoff performance. See Mark Slobin and Richard Spotwood‘s article on Medoff (David Medoff: A Case Study in Interethnic Popular Culture in American Music, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 261-276.

AUDIO RECORDINGS:

Song 1: Vu zenen mayne vugn un ferd? (Where are my wagon and horse?). Performance by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn.

Song 2: Yosele mit Blimele (Yosele and Blimele). Performance by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn.

Song 3: In a kleynem shtibele (In a Small Room). Performance by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, recorded May 12, 2011 by Itzik Gottesman.

Song 4: In shtetl Nikolayev (In the Town of Nikolayev). Performance by David Medoff, recorded 1923.

TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS

Song 1: Vu zenen mayne vugn un ferd? (Where are my wagon and horse?). Performance by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn.

Vu zenen mayne vugn un ferd?
Az ikh bin aroysgefurn, hot getsitert himl un erd.
Hant bin ikh urem; shtey ikh ba der tir.
Kimen tsu geyn di sholtikes un lakhn (up?) fin mir.

Where are my wagon and horse?
When I first drove out, heaven and earth shook.
Now that I am poor, I stand at the door.
So the scoundrels come by to mock me.

Vi iz mayn tsiring vus ikh hob gebrakht fin vin?
Vus mayn vab un kinder zenen gegongen ongetin?
Hant az ikh bin urem, shtey ikh far der tir.
Kimen tsu geyn di sholtikes un lakhn up (?) fin mir.

Where is the jewelry that I had brought from Vienna?
That was worn by my wife and children.
Now that I am poor, I stand by the door.
So the scoundrels come by to mock me.


Song 2: Yosele mit Blimele (Yosele and Blimele). Performance by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn.

Yosele mit Blimele zey zitsn af a bank.
Oy vey Blimele, ikh bin azoy krank.
Kh‘hob aza krenk, ikh shem zikh oystsuzugn,
Der dokter hot mir geheysn khasene-hobn.

Yosele and Blimele are sitting on a bench.
Oh dear Blimele, I am so very ill.
I have an illness, I am embarrased to reveal –
The doctor ordered me to get married.

Khasene hobn – es geyt dir nor in deym.
Khasene hobn – ken men glaykh ven (?) me vil aleyn.
Khasene hobn – darf men hubn gelt.
Ken men opfirn a sheyne velt.

Getting married – is all you can think of.
Getting married is easy if you want to do by ourselves.
Getting married – you need money for that,
and then you can have a beautiful world.

Yingelekh un meydelekh hot shoyn nisht keyn moyre.
Khasene hubn – es shteyt dokh in der toyre.
As der shnader shnadt – shnadt er mit der mode
un az der rebe vil a vab, meygn mir avode.

Boys and girls, you no longer have to fear.
Getting married – It says so in the Torah.
When the tailor tailors, he cuts according to the fashion
and if the Rebbe wants a wife, then we may too of course.

Song 3: In a kleynem shtibele (In a Small Room). Performance by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, recorded May 12, 2011 by Itzik Gottesman.

In a kleynem shtibele, bay a langn tish.
Zitsn dortn meydelekh un dreyen mit di fis.
Zey dreyen di mashindelekh fun fri biz nakht
Un azoy vern tutsnvayz hemdelekh gemakht.

In a small room, at a long table,
There sit girls and turn with their feet.
They turn the machines from early to night.
And thus by the dozens, shirts are produced.
Girls, so small, tell me why are you pale?

Meydelekh ir kleninke, zogt vos zent ir blas?
Hemdelekh ir vaysinke, zogt vos zent ir nas?
Meydelekh un hemdelekh, zey reydn nisht keyn vort.
Nor di mashindelekh zey geyen imer fort. 

Shirts so white, tell me why are you wet?
Girls and shirts, they do not speak a word.
But the machines, they keep going forever.

Song 4: In shtetl Nikolayev (In the Town of Nikolayev). Performance by David Medoff, recorded 1923.

Transliterated lyrics courtesy of the German klezmer band Aufwind may be found on the Zemerl website by clicking here.

“Di fishelekh in vaser” Performed by Tsunye Rymer

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2010 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Di fishelekh in vaser (The Fish in Water) was one of Isaac (Tsunye) Rymer‘s most beloved songs to perform (for more on Rymer see the previous posting on Shpilt zhe mir dem nayem sher). The performer Michael Alpert learned it from him (Alpert was present at this recording, done at a zingeray, or singing session, at our dining room table) and then taught others the song at KlezKamp and other festivals and workshops. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shtreiml have recorded Rymer‘s version.

The song itself is a typical Yiddish mother-daughter folksong [see Robert Rothstein “The Mother-Daughter Dialogue in the Yiddish Folk Song: Wandering Motifs in Time and Space,” New York Folklore 15 (1989), 1-2:51-65.] But the couplet “I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas/I sought to fall in love (or have a love affair), but cannot attain it” is unique to this song.

The closest printed version I have found is in Folklor lider, Moscow 1936 vol. 2, Z. Skuditski/M. Viner, vol. 2, page 155, recorded in Bela Tservkva (Yiddish – „Shvartse tume‟), Ukraine, 1926 (see their footnotes for similar verses in other collections).

In this recording made at our home around 1980, Rymer sings with great passion and his exclamations of „mame mayne!‟ says it all. When I first heard this recording after many years, it bothered me to hear others at the table join in with Rymer. But I realized that this was how we learned the songs ourselves – singing along, missing a word at first here and there, until we got it right.

Oy, fishelekh in vaser,  zey iz fil beser.
Bay zey iz nit keyn untersheyd, fin klener biz tsu greser.
Oy, fishelekh in vaser, zey iz fil beser.
Bay zey iz nit keyn untersheyd, fun klener biz tsu greser.

O the fish in water, they have it much better.
They don‘t make a difference
between the smaller ones and bigger ones.

„Oy vey tokhter, s‘badarf azoy nit zayn.
Der zeyger hot shoyn tsvelef geshlugn, kim in shtib arayn.‟
„Der zeyger hot shoyn tsevelf geshlugn, kh‘hob moyre far mayn tatn.‟
„Kum zhe shoyn in shtib aran, s‘vet dir gurnisht shatn. „

„O dear daughter, it shouldn‘t be this way.
The clock has already struck twelve, come inside the home.‟
„The clock has already struck twelve, I‘m afraid of father.‟
„Come on inside, nothing will happen to your‟

„Oy vey mame, fartsap mir nit mayn blit,
lomikh mit im reydn, nokh a pur minit.
Ikh bin a meydele mit farshtand, seykhl un gedanken,
a libe shpiln hot zikh mir farglist, ikh kon es nisht derlangen.‟

„O dear mother, don‘t suck my blood,
Let me talk to him, just a few more minutes.
I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas.
I sought to fall in love, but I cannot attain it.‟

Fil muzikantn shpiln, mame, oyfn frayen feld.
Ikh hob farshpilt mayn lebn, mame, kh‘ob farshpilt mayn velt.
Ih hob farshpilt mayn leybn, mame, tsures un a shir,
tsi bashraybn mayne layden, klekt nit keyn papir. 

Many musicians, mother mine, play in the open field.
I have lost my life, mother, I have lost my world.
I have lost my life, mother, troubles without end.
To describe my sorrows, no amount of paper would suffice.

Oy, fil brilyantn, mame mayne, hob ikh shoyn gezeyn.
Nor ven ikh kik zikh tsi tsi zey, zenen zey gemeyn.
Nor eyn brilyant, mame mayne, ligt mir nor in zinen.
Un vu ikh gey, un vu ikh shtey, ikh kon im nit gefinen. 
Nor eyn brilyant, mame mayne, ligt mir nor in zinen.
Un vu ikh gey, un vu ikh shtey, ikh kon im nit gefinen.

Many gems, mother mine, have I already seen.
But when I look at them, I find them coarse. 
But one gem, mother mine, do I have in my mind,
And wherever I go, wherever I stand, I cannot find him. 

“Dos Shabes Lid” Performed by Avrum Yitshkhok Moskovitz

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2010 by yiddishsong

Notes by Michael Alpert

A frequently overlooked and still under-researched genre of Yiddish folksong and folksinging is the significant body of songs with Jewish religious themes and spiritual intent. Such songs are most frequently found today among Hasidic Jews throughout the world. They fulfill both a spiritual and didactic function, affirming traditional Ashkenazic religious practice and spirituality as well as serving as a guide and exhortation to younger generations.

It can be said that older songs of this genre like Dos Shabes Lid (“The Sabbath Song”), whose lyrics are in a Yiddish heavily interlaced with Hebrew and Aramaic quotations from Torah/Tanakh, Talmud, Jewish liturgy and other religious texts, are imbued with much of the spiritual significance associated with nigunim (paraliturgical Hasidic spiritual melodies sung to fragments of Hebrew and Aramaic religious text and/or wordless syllables). They are a kind of Ashkenazic gospel song or spiritual, summoning forth and embodying an atmosphere of deep contemplation and mystical transcendence.

Dos Shabes Lid
, popular to this day in many Hasidic communities of Hungarian and Carpathian descent, is a classic and majestic example of a religious Yiddish folksong. Its many verses describe an idealized ambience of the Friday night home and family celebration marking the arrival of Shabes – the Jewish Sabbath. It is in many respects a quasi-balladic paean to the intricacies and pleasures of traditional Shabes observance and the interweaving of spiritual exaltation, mystical devotion, traditional cuisine, home and family, sacred time and the repose from the cares of the week it can bring. All of which are bound together and expressed through the complex interweaving of quotations from and allusions to Jewish religious texts for Friday night or referring to Shabes and conjuring up its atmosphere. The song is both nostalgic – it’s about Shabes, not for it – and deeply reflective of its ambience. It is simultaneously outside of Shabes, looking in, yet entirely embedded within it.

Similar religious folksongs in Yiddish continue to be created in today’s thriving Hasidic communities, particularly in the New York area and Israel. Frequently they are didactic songs for children and young people– a sub-genre representing to a sort of Hasidic “Sesame Street,” though many are appreciated by older youth and in some cases all generations. They are disseminated today through the vibrant Hasidic recording industry, as well as in religious school, shtibl / synagogue and family contexts. In recent years, Yiddish scholar and songwriter Asya Vaisman has pioneered the systematic study of Yiddish song among women and children in Hasidic communities in Brooklyn, and wrote her Harvard Ph.D. dissertation on this subject.

The Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, known in Yiddish as “di Karpatn” (the Carpathians), is located at the meeting point of Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. It encompasses the eastern tip of the Hungarian plain and climbs the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Historically known as Ruthenia, it is home to a plethora of ethnic groups including Ukrainians, Hungarians, Roma, Romanians, Slovaks, Poles and Jews fluent in their distinctive regional dialect of Yiddish in addition to Hungarian, Ukrainian, German, and other local languages.

In Soviet times Transcarpathia was the most traditional Ashkenazic Jewish area of the USSR. The Yiddish language was almost universally spoken by the region’s Jews, even children born in the late 1980s. Traditional religious practice and education – usually secret but quite successful education – continued there to a degree unparalleled among Ashkenazim in other parts of the USSR.

Since 1972, the vast majority of Jews from Transcarpathia have emigrated to North America, Israel or Hungary. Time-honored Jewish communities that continued to thrive even in Soviet times now remain nearly devoid of Jewish life, though their legacy is maintained in immigrant communities in New York and throughout the world. A significant number of today’s Hasidic dynasties have their roots in the Transcarpathian area or adjacent regions.

Avrum Yitskhok “Izu” Moskovitz, a extraordinary traditional Yiddish singer and Ashkenazic bal-tfile (lay prayer leader), was born in 1934 in the Ruthenian town of Svaljava, Czechoslovakia (now Svaliava in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine). Raised in a traditional Jewish family who were adherents to the Hasidic tradition of Sasov, he learned the art of davenen (leading prayer) and Torah cantillation from his father.

Photo by Martin Koenig, Center for Traditional Music and Dance Archive

During the Second World War, after first Hungary and then Nazi Germany occupied the Carpathian region of Czechoslovakia, Moskovitz was interned in Hungarian labor and concentration camps and later escaped, surviving by hiding in the forest. After the war, his fingers damaged by cold and deprivation, he worked as an accountant in Svaliava and became the leading bal-tfile (lay prayer leader) and khazn (cantor) in the Transcarpathian SSR from the 1950s-early 1970s. He would sing at weddings and other Jewish occasions as well as in synagogues in the region. Typically he would daven the yontoyvim — officiate at High Holiday services — one year in Minkatsh (Mukacheve / Munkács), the next in Beregsas (Berehove / Beregszász), then Ingvar (Uzhhorod / Ungvár), and so on.

In 1972, at the very beginning of the mass emigration of Jews from the USSR, Moskovitz left with his family for the US. He and his wife, children, and grandchildren live in Brooklyn, where they continue to speak Yiddish at home in addition to Russian, Hungarian and English, and lead an Orthodox Jewish life. Like many Jews from Transcarpathia, they inhabit the Orthodox and Hasidic worlds as well as the Former Soviet Jewish sphere. Moskovitz is proud of having learned English well and reading the US press for years. His wife Sure (Sarina) is a virtuosic traditional Jewish cook and has worked as such in several yeshivas in Brooklyn.

A word on the singing style heard in Dos Shabes Lid: it is classic folk khazones, a wonderful example of the musical art of the bal-tfile. It features much of the rich, melismatic ornamentation typical of men’s singing in the Orthodox Ashkenazic religious context, yet is also straightforward and powerful in relatively unornamented phrases. Like much Yiddish traditional singing in a variety of genres, it features the occasional insertion of extra, interstitial syllables in vowel sounds, e.g. “meli-ye-khu” for melikhu (His reign), and some of the same tendency between consonants, but less of the latter in comparison to many Yiddish folksingers from further east in Ukraine.

Regarding the pronunciation of Yiddish and Hebrew/Aramaic here: it is largely but not entirely characteristic of Carpathian Yiddish, which is also the predominant dialect in today’s Hasidic communities. However, Izu’s hometown Svalyave is not far from the dialect border between Hungarian and Galician Yiddish. Like the majority of 20th century Yiddish speakers and singers – even native and lifelong speakers – Izu is not 100% consistent in his dialect or pronunciation in this or any performance of this song. Though he primarily uses his own Carpathian pronunciation, especially in the Hebrew and Aramaic portions of the song, he occasionally utilizes forms more typical of northeastern (“Lithuanian”) Yiddish, which in the course of the 20th century became the pronunciation basis for klal-yidish, the largely standardized literary language now learned by almost all students of the language outside of the Hasidic world. The vast majority of native Yiddish speakers today are Hasidic and – other than Lubavitcher Hasidim and a few smaller groups — do not use Lithuanian or standard Yiddish, nor the pronunciation of Hebrew and Aramaic that accompanies it. Izu’s pronunciation may be influenced slightly by the encroachment of a literary or performance standard – unusual in the religious Jewish world but common in official Yiddish films, theater and recordings in the USSR, even after 1948. In addition, the influence of modern German characteristic of much 19th- and early 20th-century Yiddish, especially from former Austro-Hungarian areas like the Carpathian region, is evident in usages like “a portsyon mit fish” – a portion of fish (Ger. “Portion” rather than the more Yiddish “portsye”). Itzik Gottesman very correctly adds that in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the northern (Litvish) pronounciation increasingly infuenced cantorial singing, becoming both a status symbol and eventually a virtual standard among khazonim, even many folk khazonim / baaley-tfile like Izu Moskovitz.

As with most Yiddish singers, Izu’s pronunciation varies even within this performance of the song. E.g.: tsi/tsu “to”; tsvey/tsvay “two”; kavone/kavune “intention, fervor, spirit,” etc.

Musically, Dos Shabes Lid employs the freygish mode in the verses, shifting to a minor refrain based on the fourth degree of the freygish – a classic device in many Yiddish musical genres. The song is likely of a more modern Yiddish melodic type, probably dating from the later 19th and early 20th centuries. The verse melody, typical of the Greco-Ottoman influenced dance and song melodies of that era, has variants in klezmer tunes – the A section of the playoff bulgar in violinist Abe Schwartz’s 1920 National Hora, Part II; secular Yiddish folksong – Shimke Khazer, Beregovski/Slobin 1982, Nos. 107 and 108, and the Lodz Ghetto song S’iz Kaydankes, Kaytn by street-singer Yankekle Herszkowicz; as well as the popular Yiddish theater song Vi nemt man parnose.

Recorded by Tom Van Buren for the Center for Traditional Music and Dance at the final concert for Nashi Traditsii (Our Traditions) Soviet Jewish Community Cultural Initiative, May 2002, The Danny Kaye Theater, Manhattan, New York.

Dos yidele kimt zikh fraytik tsi nakhts
 fun der shil ahaym.
Baglaytn im tsvey malukhim
 in zayn shtib arayn.
Der malekh hatoyv vintsht im un: “Leshabes habu keyn”
In der malekh haray [sic: haro] miz zugn
 bal korkhoy: “Umeyn”.

The Jew comes Friday night from the shul to his home
Two angels escort him into his house
The good angel wishes him:
”Shabes is here!”
And the evil angel must unwillingly say “Omeyn.”

Dos yidele nemt zikh tsi zugn, azoy vi men broukht,
Fayerdik un haylik: “Shabes shuloym imvoyrokh‟
Tsvay malukhim baglaytn im 
in zugn dem pusek fur:
”Vesar avoynekhu 
vekhatusokh tekhipor” [sic].

The Jew pronounces, as one is required.
With fire and with holiness:
“A peaceful and blessed Sabbath!‟
Two angels escort him 
and quote the verse:
”Your sins will be forgiven‟

Er fargest fin ale zorgn, 
fin der gantser vokh.
Fin gesheftn shmist er gurnisht, er geyt nukh zey nisht nokh
Azoy vi in pusek shtayt geshribn: “’Uveyoym hashvii
’
Yehi beeynekhu
kilu kol melakhtekhu asim’”.

He forgets all the worries of the week.
Of business matters he says nothing, 
they don‘t bother him now.
As is written:
“’On the seventh day’ –
You should feel that all your labors will have been completed‟
______________________________

REFREN / REFRAIN
Aha-a-y!
Dem shabes ver es haylikt, der vert geraynikt
 fun a yeyder aveyre.
Ver es farshteyt di kavune, (bay) deym i’ dus a matune
Der bakimt a neshume yeseyre.
Aha-hay…..
Der shabes iz tayer, er brent vi a fayer
S’iz mamesh min ([me’eyn] oylem habu
Ober nor der ken dus shpirn, ver es tit zikh yidish firn
Voyl iz eym bezey ivabu.

Whoever makes the Shabes holy will be purified
 of every sin.
It is a gift for whoever understands the inner meaning
He receives the additional, holy Shabes soul.
The Shabes is holy, it burns like a fire
Truly like the world to come.
But the only person who can feel it
is the one who conducts himself in a Jewish way
He will be fortunate in this world and the world to come.
______________________________

Kidush tsi makhn mit groys kavone, nemt er zikh dertsi.
Er zugt „Vayhi erev, vayhi voyker, 
yoym hashishi
Vaykhili hashomayim vehuoretz 
vekhol tsevuom.”
”Vehi yoytsrom,
 vehi boyrom.”

Making Kiddush with great fervor,
he begins.
He says: “And it was evening, it was morning –
the sixth day.”
“The heaven and earth
were completed with all their hosts.”
”He is their Creator, He is their Maker.”

Di kedishe hersht in shtibl,
 es laykhtn di lekht.
Ofn tish ligt lekhem mishne 
mit a shayn geflekht.
Tsvay malukhim baglaytn im 
in zugn deym pusek fur:
“Vesar avoynekhu vekhatusokh tekhipor.”

Holiness reigns at home,
The candles shine,
On the table lie the two khales,
Beautifully braided.
Two angels escort him
 and quote the verse:
”Your sins will be forgiven.”

[REFRAIN]

Er vasht zikh tsi der [sic] lekhem mishne, zetst zikh tsi tsim tish.
Di balebuste shtelt im tsi
a portsiyon mit fish.
Er zugt: “Azamayr beshvukhin…”
 ”Vehey ravu…” dernokh.
In me shtelt im tsi
a frishn teler youkh.

He washes for the two khales and sits down at the table.
The woman of the house gives him 
a portion of fish.
He recites „Let us sing praises…‟ and then
 „May it be his will…‟
And he gets a fresh 
bowl of chicken soup.

Flaysh in tsimes feylt dokh oukh nisht, s‘iz fin alem du.
Afile payres brengt men eym
t si der shabes-sidu.
Bay an ureman iz oukhet ungegrayt
 fin “bakoyl mikoyl koyl.”
Vi der pusek zugt: “Loy niker
shio bifney dol.”
[sic: Veloy niker shoya lifney dol]

Meat and tsimes are also not lacking, there’s a bit of everything.
Even fruits are brought to him for the Shabes feast.
For the poor man too, 
”the best of everything” is prepared
[From bentshn (Birkas Hamozon), the grace said after meals].
As it is written:
„He does not favor the rich over the poor‟
[Job 34:19]

[REFRAIN]

Reboynoy shel oylom, vi lang
veln mir nokh in gules shrayen:
Leshono habo beyerishulayim.
Helf zey shoyn bezekhus der tfile
Vos dos yidisher eylem [oylem] beyt zikh of der geile.

Master of the universe, how long
 will we still cry out in exile:
”Next year in Jerusalem‟?
Help us soon, on account of this prayer,
That we Jews may be redeemed.

Er shrayt mit a yimerlekh kol:
“Tate ziser!‟
“Eylohu di ley yekar [yikor] ir visu
Proyk yas unokh mipim aryevuso
Veapeyk yas ameykh megoy guliso.”

He exclaims with a woeful voice:
“Sweet Father! Almighty to whom honor and greatness belongs,
Redeem your sheep from the mouths of lions,
And bring your people out of exile.”
[from the Shabes zmires (spiritual table song) “Yo Riboyn Olam” (God, Lord of the World)

Shoymeya tsakas dal umaazin tekhinu.
Helf zey shoyn gikh in bald mit (de’) gules hashkhinu.
Se zol shoyn kimen
hoysu lashem hamelikhu
Tankhileynu leyo(y)m shekiloy
 shabos umenikhu.

The one who listens to the cry of the poor man,
and the one who listens to prayer.
Help us soon to liberate the Shekhinah.
May the reign of God soon come.
May we live to see “The day that is entirely
 Shabes and peace.” [another quote from the grace after meals].

[REFRAIN]

Transcribed and translated by
 Itzik Gottesman and Michael Alpert, with generous assistance from Yoel Matveyev and Sruli Dresdner. Below text is a version of Dos Shabes Lid in an undated songbook “השיר והשבח”  (Hashir Vehashevakh), printed in Bnei-Brak  (ca. 1970?).