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Shmad Ballads Performed by Zelda Roif and Libe Manuel

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

When ballads have been presented on the Yiddish Song of the Week we have sometimes emphasized the parallels with other international ballads. This week we present a ballad type that is not to be found internationally, certainly not in the Anglo-British-American tradition – a ballad that describes the conversion of a child to the Christian faith; a shmad-ballad. The verb shmadn in Yiddish means to convert to Christianity.

This week’s entry has two versions of the same shmad-ballad. There are a number of others and judging by the geographic spread of the singers, we could conclude that it is at least as old as the 19th century.

1) The first version Zitst di mome (As Mother is Sitting) comes to us courtesy of the AHEYM (Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memoirs) project at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. This project has been directed by professors Dov-Ber Kerler and Jeff Weidlinger. Special thanks to AHEYM project manager Anya Quilitzch who prepared the video clip.

The singer Zelda Roif  of Kishinev (Chișinău), Moldova, sings in her Bessarabian dialect, marked especially by her toto-mome-loshn. Tate (father) in her dialect becomes tote, mame becomes mome and geshmadt becomes geshmodt (converted). Her version has a distinctly Romanian flavor since the daughter Sonyele falls in love with a shepherd (cioban).

In classic ballad form, the first few verses set the action then turn into a dialogue between mother and daughter, in which the mother tries to convince her daughter not to convert. The mother fails and the last two lines spoken by the daughter – “I can’t stand the Jewish faith” is quite a powerful (unhappy) ending.

2) The second ballad Bentsik der shoykhet (Bentsik the Ritual Slaughterer) is sung by Lillian Manuel of Suchowola in northeast Poland, and the recording and comments were provided by her grandson, the Yiddish linguist Dovid Braun.

By comparing the two ballads we see the similar dialogue structure though in different settings. The ending of Bentsik der shoykhet is also quite shocking.

The Yiddish shmad-ballad song type deserves a longer analysis than is possible here. Among other versions collected is one in Sofia Magid’s work printed in “Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin” edited by Elvira Grozinger and Susi Hudak-Lazic (Harrasowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2008) – “Rokhele” (pages 288-289) recorded in Volyn, 1928. The Magid version is a variant of the two presented today and recounts how Rokhele ran away with the priest’s son. In the longer text provided (page 555) a similar dialogue between parent and daughter can be found. A recording of the song is included in the DVD that comes with the volume.

Please find Yiddish texts at the end of this posting.

ZITST DI MAME (Performed by Zelda Roif, Kishinev, Moldova)

Zitst di mame un
arbet a zok.
Kimt men ir zogn,
az ir tokhter Sonyele hot zikh geshmodt.

Mother is sitting and
mending a sock,
when they come to tell her
that her Sonyele has converted.

Loyft zi zi zikhn,
tsvishn ole shkheynim.
In ir tokhter Sonyele
iz nishtu bay keynem.

So she runs to search her
among all the neighbors.
And her daughter Sonyele
is not found by anyone.

Loyft zi zi zikhn
tsi tshubanes tir.
In ir tokhter Sonyele
shteynt akeygn ir.

So she runs to look for her
at the door of the shepherd.
And her daughter Sonyele
is standing across from her.

Sonyele, Sonyele
kim tsu mir aheym.
Ikh vel dir gibn
vus di vi’st aleyn.

Sonyele, Sonyele
Come home to me.
I will give you
whatever you want.

Ikh vel dir gibn
kleyder un dan..
in a yidish yingele
far ayn man.

I will give you
clothes and then..
and a Jewish boy
for a husband.

Bay mir bisti ‘gan
mit shikh un kaloshn.
Vest khasene hobm far tshuban (In Romanian= cioban)
vesti oysgeyn far a groshn.

At my place you wore
shoes and boots.
If you marry the shepherd
you will die for a penny.

Bay mir bisti ‘gan
mit a vas, zadn kleyd.
Vest khasene hobn far Tshuban
vesti vashn yidish greyt.

With me, you wore
a white, silk dress.
If you marry the shepherd
you will wash Jewish laundry.

Hot zi geentfert der miter:
She answered her mother:

Trabt avek man miter
ikh ken zi nisht ladn.
Di yidishe nemune
Ikh ken zi nisht farladn.

Drive away my mother,
I can’t stand her.
The Jewish faith
I can’t stand it.

BENTSIK DER SHOYKHET (sung by Lillian Manuel, known in her shtetl Suchowola, NE Poland, as “Libe Yankl dem shvartsns”, to her grandson David / Dovid Braun, in the Workmen’s Circle Home for the Aged, Bronx, NY, ca. 1988)  *see comments by David/Dovid Braun at the end of this translation.

Bentsik der shoykhet mitn zaydenem khalat;
Feygele zayn tokhter hot zikh opgeshmadt.

Bentsik the [kosher] slaughterer with his silken robe;
Feygele his daughter has converted to Christianity.

Bentsik der shoykhet shpant ayn ferd-un-vogn
kedey er zol kenen zayn Feygelen deryogn.

Bentsik the slaughterer hitched up his horse and wagon,
So that he could catch up to his Feygele.

Bentsik der shoykhet geyt arayn in a kvartir.
Gefunen hot er Feygelen bam kloyster fun tir [in kloyster bam tir].

Bentsik the slaughterer goes into an inn.
What he’s found is Feygele in church by the door.

“Kum aher mayn tokhter, kum tsu mir aheym.
Ikh vel dir gebn vos du vilst aleyn.”

“Come here my daughter, come home to me.
I will give you whatever you want.

Ikh vel dir gebn gelt un nadan
un tsu dertsu a sheynem yungn-man.”

I will give you money and dowry
and on top of that a handsome young man.”

Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di fis
un im af tselokhes dem sheygets a kish.

Bentsik the slaughterer, he falls to their feet
and to spite him, [she gives] the gentile boy a kiss.

Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di tishn [griber]
un im af tselokhes tseylemt zi zikh iber.

Bentsik the slaughterer falls to the tables [graves, pits],
and to spite him she crosses herself.

Feygele iz gegangen in zaydene zokn.
Az zi vet peygern vet klingen di glokn.

Feygele was wearing silken socks/stockings.
When she croaks, the [church] bells will ring.

Af morgn bay tog:   a yomer, a klog!
Bentsik der shoykhet iz geshtorbn in mitn tog.

The next afternoon:   alas and alack!
Bentsik the slaughterer died in the middle of the day.

Notes by David Braun:

In the Yiddish original, I have placed in square brackets [ ] a few words Mrs. Manuel sang on an occasion a few years earlier when in better health and with a yet crisper memory. It is clear how those words make better sense and/or form a more satisfactory rhyme. Also, the final two stanzas were reversed in that earlier rendition, which makes more sense: walking neither with shoes nor barefoot but in socks or stockings is a sign of mourning. So first her father Bentsik has died, then she has donned traditional Jewish mourning garb, and finally we are warned that when the end comes for her, the apostate, mourning will be signaled by church bells.

After first becoming acquainted with this song in her repertoire, I compared her version to others in the folkloristic literature and discovered that in some, the gentile youth who is the object of Feygele’s romantic interest is named. With that information, I jogged her memory and ended up eliciting this additional stanza that she doesn’t sing on the recording – it clearly belongs after the stanza following Bentsik’s promise of dowry and all other good things. Feygele insists:

Kh’vil nit kayne kleyder, kh’vil nit kayn nadan.
Aleksandern hob ikh lib un er vet zayn mayn man.

‘I don’t want any clothes, I don’t want any dowry.
Alexander is who I love and he will be my husband.’

With this stanza, we’re enlightened as to what’s behind Feygele’s conversion from yiddishkayt, and religious philosophy doesn’t seem to be the motivating factor.





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.


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.


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.