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“Der yold iz mir mekane” An Underworld Song Performed by Yetta Seidman

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Der yold iz mir mekane / The fool envies me
A song from the Jewish underworld sung by Yetta Seidman
Recorded by Gertrude Nitzberg, Baltimore 1979, collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland

TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION 
(Yiddish transcription at the end of this post)

Der yold iz mir mekane. Der yold iz mir mekane.
Der yold iz mir mekane far mayn urem shtikele broyt.
Er vil fin gurnit visn, vi ikh ver oysgerisn
Es kimt mir un biter vi der toyt.

The sucker/fool/patsy envies me. The fool envies me.
The fool envies me because of my dismal piece of bread.
He doesn’t want to know how I suffer.
It is as hard for me as death.

Mayn mame in mayn tate, zey zenen geveyzn blate.
Fin kayn tsuris hob ikh bay zey keyn mol nit gevist.
Ven ikh bin gevorn elter, zenen zey gevorn kelter
in ganvenen hot zikh mir farglist.         

My mother and my father; they were in the underworld.
I did not know of any troubles with them.
When I got older, they became colder,
And I got the desire to steal.

Ikh gey aroys in market, in khap zikh tsi a pocket.
A mise-matn [mase-matn] hob ikh zikh dortn ungemakht.
Es kimt tsi geyn a yenta, in brengt mit zikh a mente
in in “Steyshun-hoyz” hot men mir gebrakht.

I go out into the market, and pick a pocket,
I committed a theft [literally – transaction]  over there.
A trouble-making woman comes over and brings with her a cop
and to the Station House I was brought.

In droysn geyt a reygn, in droysn geyt a reygn.
Se iz zikh shoyn ongefaln a kleyn bisele shney.
Ale mayne yurn in “prizin” upgezesn,
Az yeder eyver tit zikh mir shoyn vey.

Outside it’s raining; outside it’s raining.
A small bit of snow has already fallen
All of my years I spent in prison
So every part of me hurts.

COMMENTARY BY ITZIK GOTTESMAN

Probably the most popular of the Jewish underworld songs, there is an East European version and an American version. Seidman sings the American version which includes the English language words “market” “pocket” “station house” and “prison”.

Those words are not found in the East European version. But on both sides of the Atlantic the Yiddish underworld slang words are kept – “mente” (policeman), “blate” (criminal) “mase-matn” (a theft, a criminal act but literally “transaction”).

Image: M. Leizerowicz in the play “Motke Ganef” by Sholem Asch from the Yizkor (Memorial) Book of Piotrkow Trybunalski

The song often begins with the verse “In droysn geyt a regn mit a kleyn bisele shney” and for those grammarians out there – the first line is usually sung “Der yold iz mikh mekane”.

Another version of the song, with a slightly different melody can be heard in the YIVO Ruth Rubin archive. On this 78 rpm record Morris Goldstein sings the original (?) American version (1922):

The song is featured in the film “Image Before My Eyes” (1980) sung by Lillian (Leyele) Klempner. According to Lehman in his collection Ganovim-lider (1928), the song was written during the German occupation of WW1. Scans of Lehman’s version from Poland, words and music, are attached. Also see Jane Peppler’s comments on the song:

דער יאָלד איז מיר מקנא
געזונגען פֿון יעטע זײַדמאַ

.דער יאָלד איז מיר מקנא. דער יאָלד איז מיר מקנא
.דער יאָלד איז מיר מקנא מיט מײַן אָרעם שטיקעלע ברויט
.ער וויל פֿון גאָרניט וויסן, ווי איך ווער אָפּגעריסן
.עס קומט מיר אָן ביטער ווי דער טויט

.מײַן מאַמע און מײַן טאַטע, זיי זענען געוועזן בלאַטע
.פֿון קיין צרות האָב איך בײַ זיי קיין מאָל נישט געוווּסט
ווען איך בין געוואָרן עלטער, זענען זיי געוואָרן קעלטער
.און גנבֿענען האָט זיך מיר פֿאַרגלוס

.”איך גיי אַרויס אין “מאַרקעט” און כאַפּ זיך צו אַ “פּאַקעט
.אַ משׂא־מתּן האָב איך דאָרטן אָנגעמאַכט
עס קומט צו גיין אַ יענטע און ברענגט מיט זיך אַ מענטע
.און אין “סטיישאָן”־הויז האָט מען מיר געבראַכט

אין דרויסן גייט אַ רעגן, אין דרויסן גייט אַ רעגן
.אין דרויסן גייט אַ רעגן און סע איז זיך שוין אָנגעפֿאַלן אַ קליין ביסעלע שניי
אַלע מײַנע יאָרן אין “פּריזאָן” אָפּגעזעסן
.אַז יעדער אבֿר טוט זיך מיר שוין וויי

From Szmil Lehman, Ganovim lider : miṭ melodyes. Warsaw, 1928: