Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
This year’s Passover is now complete, so please save this song for next year’s festival!
Mentshn getraye: a matse-podriad lid is the second matse-baking song we have posted on Yiddish Song of the Week. The first was “Mir nemen veytslekh”, sung by Dora Libson. Mentshn getraye was recorded from Jacob Gorelik by Michael Alpert and me in New York City in 1984, and Alpert later recorded his own performance of the song on the Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble’s CD Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume One: Passover.
Pre-war matse baking [from the Yad-Vasham Photo Archives]
In this posting we present original field recording of that song. The tradition of Matse-podriad continues in religious Jewish circles today and one can see samples of it on the internet. The spirit has remained jovial, often musical, over the years. Here is a current example with the Mishkoltz Rebbe:
Jacob Gorelik introduces the song with these words: “…the second song I heard in my town. My mother and other mothers sang it. It was called the “Matse-podriad-lid”. In town there was a custom, that once a year when Passover came, money was collected especially for poor people who could not buy matse, could not buy wine. Help! No way to celebrate Passover. It [custom] was called moes-khitin. That was one thing.
The second thing was – the matse was the primary thing. So the whole town got together and there was complete unity – the orthodox, the “modern” ones, the Zionists, Bundists, socialists. They used to rent a house with an oven, and buy wood, buy flour and hire people to bake the matse. And this was called a community “matea bakery” by the entire Jewish community.
And as someone once asked – when you sing, or you do something good – do you do it for youself or for the other person? It was a combination. One had it mind that you were doing it for the poor. You were baking matse for them. But at the same time, at that time it was a joy in town becasue it was a boring life. It was also an opportunity for girls and boys to get together. And we used to sing and this is one of those songs that were sung. Who composed the song…This song is light verse. It’s not ‘pure’ poetry; but it’s humorously colored. According to what Mendel Elkin once told me the writer was Tunkel – or “The Tunkeler” [The dark one] his pseudonym.
The melody, I learned later when I was living in America, comes from a Ukrainian song “Nutshe Khloptse”. And now the song:
Mentshn getraye, farnumene un fraye,
Bay vemen es iz nor tsayt faran.
Git aher ayer pratse, un helft bakn matse,
dem noyt-baderftikn man.
Hentelekh ir kleyne, eydele un sheyne,
bikhelekh nor trogn ir kent.
Pruvt nor visn, eyn mol in Nisan
dem tam fun mazolyes af di hent.
Ir gvirishe meydlekh, helft kneytn teyglekh
mit ayere vaysinke hent.
Teygelekh geknotn vi Got hot gebotn,
Kosher un erlekh un fayn.
Spoken: A freylekhn Peysekh! Flegt men zogn alemen.
Dear people, those who are busy, and those who are free.
Whoever has some time to spare.
Donate your labor to help bake matse
for the man in need.
Little hands, delicate and beautiful,
who only could carry books.
Get to know at least once during the month of Nisan,
the taste of calluses on your hands.
You well-off girls, help knead the dough
with your white hands.
Flour all kneaded, as God has commanded,
Kosher, and honest and fine
Spoken: “Happy Passover!” Is what we wished everyone.
Though Gorelick was from Byelorussia, the song text is also found in the writings of Galician writer Soma Morgenstern, who quotes it in his book “The Third Pillar” (1955), page 59, translated from the German [see below]. I have yet to find this poem in Der Tunkeler’s writings.