While in Mexico City in 1988, Zelig Schnadover sang Beymer hakt men fun veldl aroys (Trees are Chopped Down in the Woods) for me, a song he remembered learning in Poland.
Pre-revolutionary view of Zelig Schnadover’s hometown, Slavuta, Ukraine (picture from www.jewua.org)
I cannot find other variants but would not be surprised if the melody turns out to be from a popular Polish song of the 1920s. Though he was raised in the Ukraine and Poland, Shnadover sings in a “standard Yiddish” with hardly any dialectical features.
Boymer [beymer] hakt men fun veldl aroys.
Shtern faln un leshn zikh oys.
Un shver iz der veyg durkh dem zamd.
Ober vi gut iz undz beyde baynand.
Fun der vaytns hert zikh a lid,
Un mir geyen un vern nisht mid.
Un vi shver iz der veg durkh dem zamd.
Un vi gut iz indz beyde baynand.
Trees are chopped down in the woods.
Stars fall and are extinguished.
And hard is the path through the sand;
But how good we feel when we’re together.
In the distance we hear a song.
and we walk and do not tire.
And hard is the path through the sand,
And how good we feel when we’re together.
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 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.
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.
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.
To help us enjoy a sweet new year, we have a Soviet-Yiddish song about Jewish beekeepers with the wonderful refrain “Makhn honik iz gevorn a yidishe parnose” – “Making honey, has become a way for Jews to make a living”.
Jewish beekeeper at Kibbutz Yad-Mordechai
This song comes from a field recording of the folksinger, Chaim Berman, done by Rabbi Victor Reinstein in the early 1970s. Zhumen binen (Bees are Buzzing) is found in Sam Liptzin’s collection Zingen Mir/ People’s Sing for Peace (1974 edition, page 49 – thanks to singer and collector Leo Summergrad for that information).
We have also added a link to the song performed by Marina Gordon that we found on the Florida Atlantic University Judaica Sound Archives site. There it is called “Honigmakher.” This recording is from the cassette re-release of her Soviet recordings on the Musique Internationale label in Chicago, run by Barry Serota.
From this recording we see that the words are by the author Emmanuel Kazakevitch (1913 – 1962), known for his connection to Birobidzhan. The music was composed by the prolific Soviet Yiddish composer Leyb (Lev) Yampolsky. The song was written for Kazakevich’s play Milkh un honik (1938) and performed by Birobidzhan Goset in 1940. See the book In Search of Milk and Honey by Ber Kotlerman. It is quite possible that the song became known in the US through this Gordon recording, originally a 78 RPM. In the on-line Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive the question is asked whether the song appears in a film on Birobidzhan. This could also explain how it became known in the US.
Marina Gordon, one of the great post-war Soviet Yiddish singers was born in Minsk in 1917 and died in Brooklyn last December 2013. She was one of the first to sing Yiddish in public performances in the USSR after the Second World War. See Joel Rubin and Rita Otten’s CD on the Wergo label, Shalom Comrade and Gennady Estraikh’s work Yiddish in the Cold War for more information on this period. On Marina Gordon – see Rita Otten’s article – “Ich möchte stolz sein auf die Kunst meines Volkes”: Die jüdische Sängerin Marina Gordon. Neue Zeitschrift für Musik,2006/04 (July/August). Mainz: Schott: 62-64.
Words by Emmanuel Kazakevitch
Music: Lev Yampolsky
Zhumen binen, binen zhumen. Es klingt fun vaytn a garmonik. Un arum iz vald un blumen, un di luft iz zis vi honik.
Buzzing bees, Bees are buzzing, You can hear an accordion afar. And around are woods and flowers. And the earth is sweet as honey.
Refrain: Oy, sara rakhves, keyn eyn-hore, S’iz di erd mit zaft fargosn Makhn honik iz gevorn Shoyn a yidishe parnose.
O what riches, no evil eye. The earth is soaked with juice. Making honey has become A Jewish livelihood.
Shteyen Binshtoki in reyen. S’iz di nakht azoy levonik. Zoln zikh di kinder freyen mit dem lindn zisn honik.
Beehives stand in rows. The night is all moonlit. Let the children enjoy themselves with the gentle sweet honey.
Esn gezunt dem honik zisn, tsvishn felder, velder bloye vet gedikhter honik flisn, est gezunt un hot hanoe.
Eat in good health the sweet honey, among the fields, the blue woods. Let the thick honey flow, Eat up and enjoy!