Thanks to Bob Freedman, we were able to contact Dora Libson‘s son Aaron Libson in Philadelphia, and he told us the following about singer Dora Libson.
Dora Libson was born in the village of Sasovo, in the Western Ukraine, officially in 1908, but he believes 1906 or 1907. She died in Philadelphia in 1985. Her father departed for America in 1913 and they were supposed to follow a year later, but the first World War broke out, and they only came to the US in 1924, after a year in Cuba. During those years they also lived in Mekarev (Yiddish name) and Kiev (the USSR). In Kiev at the Evreiski Bazaar (Jewish market), Dora heard many street singers and learned a number of songs and “kupletn” in a number of languages. Much of her repertoire is from her home in Sasovo.
In Philadelphia she joined several choirs including the Freiheit Gesang Verein in the 1930s. When that choir was rejuvenated in the 1960s in Philadelphia her son Aaron also participated along with her. The family once had a recording of Dora singing songs in a number of languages – Russian, Spanish, Yiddish – but it was lost. The recording of Gabe! Vos vil der gabe? was recorded by Bob Freedman in the 1970s.
Gabe! Vos vil der rebbe? (Gabe! What Does the Rebbe Want?) is one of those Yiddish songs that, it seems, was very popular but was almost never recorded. I could only find a version on the field recordings done by Joel Engel in the 1920s produced recently by the Vernadsky Library in Kiev.
Menachem Kipnis‘s collection 80 folkslider, Warsaw, n.d. (you can find it on line at the National Yiddish Book Center‘s catalog) contains three similar songs: Lekoved dem Heylikn Bim Bom (page 63), Gabe, Vos vil der rebe? (page 65) and Lekoved dem heylikn shabes (page 67).
Libson‘s version of the song pokes fun at the rebbe and his khasidim, but the Kipnis version of Gabe! (which is the closest to Libson‘s song) is a playful song but without the mockery. Just a change of a few words is all that‘s needed to turn a khasidic song into an anti-khasidic song.
Ethel Raim, Artistic Director of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, adds this comment about Libson‘s singing:
Dora’s singing is easy going, subtle in nuance and character, and right on target in terms of traditional singing!”
Vos vil der rebe?
Der rebe vil me zol derlangen di fish.
Tsu vos darf men di fish?
Kedey di khsidimlekh zoln zikh zetsn tsum tish.
Ordinarily, I would not include such a fragmentary performance in this blog, as this version of Kimt der shadkhn Shame (the name “Shame” is pronounced with two syllables “Sha-me,” rhymes with “mame”)performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW). But the investigation into the song is intriguing. I broadcast an earlier version of this research in Yiddish on the Yiddish Forward Radio Hour on WEVD seven or eight years ago. My commentary here will also be abbreviated.
The 78 record label indicated that Der schames originated from the Yosef Lateiner (1853-1935) play Der seder, and I fortunately was able to buy a copy but did not find the song in the text. I donated the 78s I bought at the yard sale to Lorin Sklamberg at the YIVO sound archives and he transferred them to CD for me and he turned me onto other recordings with what I call the „Lena From Palesteena‟ melody-motif. By this I mean the melody of the phrase “Lena is the Queen of Palesteena just because she plays the concertina.”
The popular 1920s song „Lena from Palesteena” was written by Con Conrad and J. Russel Robinson, and first recorded with words by Eddie Cantor in 1920. Here is a great old version by Frank Crumit:
Lorin Sklamberg identified the Romanian language recording Colo’n Gradnita (There in the Little Garden) performed by S. Bernardo, no date, recorded in Bucharest, with only piano accompaniment. Bernardo is a great singer, obviously Jewish and includes “Oy veys” and some other Yiddish words:
Sklamberg also found a recording of a young Aaron Lebedeff singing the song Tate ziser (Syrena 12560) recorded in Europe (Warsaw?), no date but probably the late 1910s, (and no relation to the klezmer tune by that name recorded by several bands). Lebedeff is clearly riffing off Bernardo’s earlier recording:
Finally, Sklamberg dug up Simon Paskal’s Eppess noch, with words by Louis Gilrod, recorded in New York, 1913 – A typical comical Yiddish theater song about American Jewish life, with emphasis on food (Noch a bisl, Eppess noch – there seems to be a theme emerging).
There is much more to write about the musical reincarnations of the „Lena from Palesteena‟ motif, and I believe Prof. Martin Schwartz of Berkeley and others can play Greek, Turkish and other people‘s variants of this motif on recordings. It seems to be assumed that the Yiddish use of it came after the Romanian, but the Kalisch recording is the earliest I have found.
Back to LSW‘s song and its connection to Der Schames as sung by Kalisch. The rare rhyme „brie‟ and „Ishes tsnie‟ appears in both, so they are definitely related. Kalisch is about a shames (synagogue beadle); LSW‘s about a shadkhn named Shame. So the two lead characters are also too closely related phonetically to dismiss the notion the songs are from a single source. However, the narratives of the songs differ: LSW‘s Kimt der Shadkhn Shame is ultimately a maskilic song about the Hasidic rebbe, the “Datshn‟ (Germans – modernized Jews) and the „apikorsim,‟ the non-believers; while Kalisch‘s Der shames is clearly a theater song closely related to a play’s plot. In the song collection Der badkhn by (E)Luzer Bergman, Warsaw 1927, 1930, there is included a version that is obviously a variant of LSWs song, including the line about the „apikorsim.‟
LSW’s singing has been presented more than any other on this blog, but in Kimt der shadkhn Shame you can finally hear her perform a more upbeat comic song, even if the song is incomplete. Here is her rendition, recorded in the Bronx by Leybl Kahn in 1954 (the first chorus is incomplete– a long pause in the middle of the recording has been removed):
Kimt a shadkhn Shame
tsi mayn tate-mame
a shidikh hot er gur far mir.
The matchmaker Shame comes to my parents; he has a match just for me.
A meydl a groyse brie,
un di mame‘z an ishes-tsnie
shoyn in git, es ekt dekh di velt.
A girl, a wonderfully clever girl, and her mother is a modest woman. Fine and good – the world comes to an end.
Oy, oy, khotsh nem un gib im shoyn shadkhones-gelt
sheyn in git, es ekt dekh di velt.
Oy, give him the matchmaker‘s fee right away, Fine and good, the world comes to an end.
[The chorus is incomplete due to a break in the recording]
Kimt a datsh, a higer
tsu mayn fliaskedrige,
a tshive vil er fin im aroys.
A local modern, enlightened Jew, comes to my unsightly person, and wants an answer from him, straight away.
Er iz a raykh kind,
un far zayne zind,
batsuln vil er mit a pidyen a gitn.
He is a wealthy child, and for his sins, he wants to pay a high fee to the Hasidic rabbi
Oy, oy, vi kent ir dus gor farshteyn?
Tsitsekikn dem rebns mine,
ven se brent af im di shkine.
Apikorsim, vi kent ir dus farshteyn?
Oy, oy, how could you understand this? To look upon the Rebbe‘s countenance, when the Divine Presence burns on him; Apostates! How could you understand.
“Klezmorim mayne” is a recording of an unidentified singer recorded by Ben Stonehill in the lobby of the Marseilles Hotel (Broadway and 103rd street in Manhattan) in summer 1948.
The Ben Stonehill Collection
Lorin Sklamberg’s article in News from YIVO about the Ben Stonehill Collection should be read in its entirety. It’s a fascinating story. Sklamberg is the sound archivist at YIVO in addition to being the lead singer for the Klezmatics.
In 1948 Mr. Stonehill (1906-1965), armed with a home recording device, preserved the singing of some 1078 songs by Jewish displaced persons temporarily housed in a Manhattan hotel “and for several weeks interviewed hundreds of informants, gathering performances of both well-known and obscure Yiddish folk and theater songs, Hasidic nigunim and songs of the Holocaust as sung by singers ranging from strictly amateur performers to some remarkable vocal artists, including the Vilna poet-partisan Shmerke Kaczerginsky.” He transferred the recordings from wire to reel before his death and left copies at Yeshiva University, Yad Vashem, Library of Congress and YIVO. Janina Wurbs digitized and completed a preliminary catalogue.
The song “Klezmorim mayne” can be found at YIVO on Stonehill CD #3, song #43. There are many gems in the Stonehill collection, but I think it’s greatest worth will be as a reflection of the broad Jewish musical world in the 1930s in Eastern Europe; in other words, a key to help us answer the question, what did the Jews sing before the war? Old fashioned ballad hunters like myself will be disappointed since most of the collection consists of popular, well-known songs, but then once in a while someone will sing a song like “Klezmorim mayne”, an old death ballad from the 19th or even perhaps 18th century, and – wow! Nothing makes me smile more than an old death ballad.
Noyekh Prilutski’s second volume of Yiddish folksongs (1913) which has no melodies included, does include a number of variants of this particular ballad that is built upon the alef-beys. The singer here forgets the stanza for the letter “ז” – zayin – which none of the hotel lobby spectators seem to notice, but they do notice when he confuses lines in another verse and laughter is heard. The singer, unfortunately unidentified, does not lose his cool in the midst of this ridicule and continues to sing beautifully. Great performance under pressure. Below is the text in standard Yiddish, then an English transliteration in the singer‘s Yiddish dialect, intercut at every verse with the translation.
klezmurim mayne zise,
(Oy) Shpilts mir of dus shtikele,
far mayn gsise.
My dear klezmer,
Play for me that melody
before I die.
Di alef makht,
Ov hurakhmim shoykhayn bimroymim
Di bist a futer
iber ale yesoymim.
The alef makes the sound of
“Our merciful father who dwells in the heavens,”
You are a father
over all the orphans.
Di bays makht – bays a hoz.
A shud avektsevarfn,
Kimt tsi gayn der malekh-hamuves
dem khalef tsikopns tsi sharfn.
The beyz sounds like – beys a house.
A shame to throw it away.
Then the angel of death comes
and sharpens his knife at the head of the bed.
Oy di giml makht – gold in zilber
duz iz dokh a heyvl-havulim.*
A yeder mentshns leybn
iz dokh azoy vi a khulem.
O the giml makes – gold and silver.
This vanity of vanities.
Every person’s life
in no more than a dream.
Oy, di daled makht – di hent in fis
zay tien in mir kiln.
un dus fayfele in deym harts,
tit in mir shpiln.
O, the daled makes – the hands and legs
are starting to get cold.
and the little flute in my heart,
starts to act up.
Oy, di hay makht – hayle hadvurim.**
Oy, hayle hadvurim,
A Yedn mentshns leybn,
iz dokh azoy vi a khulem.
O the hey makes – “these be the words” [Deuteronomy 1.1]
“These be the words”
Every person’s life
Is just like a dream.
Oy, di vuv makht – vayse klayder,
zey tien dem mentsh bashaynen.
Oy, rifts aran mayn vayb un kinderlekh,
Lomikh zay farn toyt bavaynen.
O the vuv makes – white clothes
beautify the man.
Call in my wife and children
and let them lament me before I die.
Oy di khes makht – khevre kedoyshim***
ir zent dokh haylike mentshn.
Rifts aran mayn vayb un kinderlekh,
Lomir zey farn toyt bentshn.
The khes makes – the khevre kadishe [burial society]
you are holy people.
Call in my wife and children
Let me bless them before I die.
Oy, di tes makht – tint in feder
mit deym ken men dokh ales bashraybn.
oy git mir (ayer?) tint in feder,
lomikh testament shraybn.
The tes makes – ink and pen,
with this you can describe everything.
Give me (your?) ink and pen,
and let me write my testament.
Di yid makht – yo, yo yo!
Ikh hob gemaynt kh’el aybik leybn.
Atsindn**** rift men meykh,
kh’zol din-vekhesbn opgeybn.
The yud makes – yes, yes, yes!
I thought i would live forever.
Now call I am called upon
to give a full reckoning.
Oy din־vekhesbm opgeybn
dos iz dokh zayer shlekht.
oy herts mikh oys raboysay,
tsindst un tsu kopns di lekht.
To give a full reckoning,
is indeed very bad.
So listen to me gentlemen,
light by my head the candles.
Di lekht ungetsinen,
tsevishn mane palatsn,
oy vay tsu mayne yesoymendlekh,
zey hobn shoyn nit keyn tatn.
The candles have been lit,
among my palaces.
Woe to my little orphans,
they have no more father.
* usually without the indefinite article “a” which makes it singular.
**hayle hadvruim. In the bible “Eyle hadvurim,” but in the singer’s Polish Yiddish dialect, he adds the “h” sound before “Eyle”, thus the phrase can now be used for the “Hey” letter in the alef-beys of the song.
***khevre kadoyshim. A folksy form of khevre kadisha?
****atsindn. A form of atsindert ־ now
The song „Bay deym ruv in shtib‟ (“In the Rabbi’s House”) appears in Yisrol-Yitskhok Tsipershteyn‘s booklet Dray naye lider [Three new songs] with the title “Khayim Shmul dem gabeles”, published in Warsaw,1900, by Yehude-Leyb Morgenshtern. After the author’s name, the word “badkhn” appears indicating his profession at that time. I found this booklet while researching Yiddish parodies in the National Library in Jerusalem and immediately recognized Lifshe Schaechter-Widman‘s song imbedded in the longer text (see a scan of the text below).
The song is found in the last part of a five part song and skit performance (pages 12-22 of the Dray naye lider). Each part begins with a song describing the injustice of a world in which the wealthy and people with famed lineage/pedigree [yikhes] fare so much better than the poor man. „Bay deym ruv‟ is the opening song of the fifth part (in the printed text the line is „Bay deym khosidl in shtub”). Then a spoken skit/dialogue describes how a poor man is accused of being the father of the cook’s child though it is obvious that the wealthy man with yikhes, Khayim Shmul dem gabeles, is the real father. After this dialogue, the skit (and every one of the five parts) ends with the refrain that begins with the expression “Statsh! Reb Khayim…” [How could this be!?]
Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW – see notes on her life in earlier songs] sings the song with slighly different words. The one line in her song that seems odd “Entfert zi glakh, gur on a klal” [She answers straight away, without a rule/norm] should probably read „…gur on a trakht‟ [without even a thought], which rhymes and makes sense.
Bay deym ruv and Di broder zinger:
The „author‟ of the song, Yisrol-Yitskhok Tsipershteyn, has a bizarre entry in the Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater) ed. Zalmen Zilbercweig, volume 6, Mexico 1969, columns 4927-4928. He was born in 1875 near Slonim, (WhiteRussia/Lithuania) and died in Chicago, August 6th, 1950. The entry only very briefly discusses his days as a badkhn and writer of theater kupletn (couplets, dialogue skits) and barely mentions his Dray naye lider. Most of the information revolves around his invention of a “bicycle airplane” that could also land on water. One writer refers to it as a luft-shif (airship). He patented it in 1917 while in Chicago. He never became wealthy from his patent as he had hoped.
The reason I chose this short song for the Yiddish Song of the Week Blog is that it represents a rare view into the Broder zinger tradition of the 19th century; singers who were the precursors of modern Yiddish theater, performing with songs and skits in the wine cellars of Galicia, Romania and southern Russia starting in the 1850s, then expanding their audience to Poland and beyond.
When the Polish Yiddish actor Zymunt Turkov (Warsaw, 1896 – Israel, 1970) helped put together a play about the Broder zinger in Warsaw in 1938 for the VYKT (Warsaw Yiddish Art Theater) they sought out the old, still living Broder zinger. Actually, times were so bad during the Depression in the 1930s, that the old Broder zinger had started performing again in bars and wine cellars in Lemberg to make ends meet. One of the songs/skits they used in this VYKT production was Khayim-Shmil dem gabeles, reprinted word for word as in Tsipershteyns “Dray naye lider” (This information from the essay „Di Broder zinger‟ in Turkov‘s Shmuesn vegn teater, Buenos-Aires, 1950; reprinted in the introduction to Shloyme Prizament‘s „Broder zinger‟, Buenos-Aires, 1960).
Turkow must have had the printed version in front of him but makes no mention of Tsipershteyn, instead, he adds this comment at the end – “In this song we encounter one of the first examples of a spoken dialogue.” This implies that Turkow believed the song/skit to be older than Tsipershteyn’s 1900 text. I have to respect Turkow‘s intuition and knowledge on this matter since he was obviously so much closer to that world. And I think he was right about it being older than Tsipershteyn for two reasons…
First, in Noyekh Prilutskis first volume of Yiddish folksongs, Yidishe folkslider, Warsaw 1911, Prilutski discusses another song in Dray naye lider and writes „The publisher assured me that all three songs are folklore and are crawling among the folk [krikhn arum tsvishn folk], to use his expression – in other words, Tsipershteyn was only the one who wrote it down‟ [page 49-50]
And the second reason: Lifshe Schaechter-Widman learned this song at the end of the 19th century, early 20th century in Bukovina – a long way from Slonim and Warsaw. In her repertoire you can hear songs of the Ukrainian, Galician and Romanian Jewish 19th century poets such as Linetski, Zbarzher, Goldfaden, Bernstein, Apotheker, but none of the popular Litvish poet of the 19th century Eliokum Zunser or any other Litvish/Polish poet. She did sing Mikhl Gordon’s song “Afn beys-oylem, unter a matseyve,” but Gordon (1823 -1890) spent the first half of his life in the “north” (born in Vilne) and half in the “south” (the Ukraine) so his songs were known over a wider area. It strikes me as odd that this one song by a Litvish Yiddish badkhn/poet would be included in her repertoire, while Zunser‘s songs were not. It reinforces the idea that Tsipershteyn just printed this Broder zinger song that he had heard and put his name on it.
When one says Broder zinger tradition he refers to the humorous song and skit tradition that was performed in taverns and other spaces and we have texts and music to some of the songs (for example, see Chana Mlotek‘s notes to Berl Broder‘s „Lid fun dem pastekh‟ in the journal Yidisher folklor, vol.1, n. 3, Mar. 1962, page 53.) However, as far as I know, we don‘t have the text to a complete skit, and „Khayim Shmil dem gabeles‟ provides that missing link! LSW‘s song provides the melody to the sung portion of the performance.
Bay dem ruv in shtib
iz mir zeyer lib,
tsitsikikn vus se tit zikh dort, dort.
In the Rabbi‘s house I enjoy looking around and to see what‘s happening there.
Dortn iz men frim
mer vi imedim,
nor eyn zakh gefelt mir nit fort.
They are more observant there, than anywhere else. But there‘s one thing I still don‘t like.
Der kekhins bokh
iz hekher vi di nuz
fregt men vus iz dus?
The cook‘s belly is higher than her nose. So people ask – What‘s going on?
Zi entfert im glakh
gur on a klal.
„S‘iz fin deym balebus.‟
She answers straight away without even thinking „It‘s from the head of the household‟
Reb Khayim Shmil dem gabeles,
A eynikl, dem rebn, reb Abele‘s
Derekh-erets far im
vayl er iz imedim
Khayim Shmil dem gabeles.
How is that possible!? Reb Khayim Shmil the gabe‘s* son, A grandchild of the rebbe, Reb Abele. Respect him, for everywhere he is – Khayim Shmil the gabe‘s son.
*Weinreich‘s Yiddish dictionary translates gabe as „manager of the affairs of a Hasidic rebbe‟
A naye geshikhte is a ballad that tells a story that purports to be true, a legendary ballad. This song was published, with the melody, by the collector Leybl Kahn in the second issue of the journal Yidisher Folklor, June 1955, page 28, a publication of I.L. Cahan Folklore Club in NY. Chana Mlotek, expert on Yiddish song, currently a music archivist at YIVO in NY, and longtime columnist of “Leyner dermonen zikh lider‟ (Readers Remember Songs) in the Yiddish Forward newspaper, added her comments and parallels to this widely distributed ballad in that issue. Among the comments she says that every singer of this song says that it describes a true story that happened in her/his town.
I would add a version collected by Shmuel-Zaynvil Pipe in Sanok, Galicia (Sunik/Sonik in Yiddish) and printed in Yiddish Folksongs From Galicia edited by Dov Noy and Meir Noy, 1971, page 115. Pipe‘s collection and the song repertory found in the volume, which includes the melodies, comes closest to LSW‘s Bukovina repertory of any other collection of Yiddish folksongs.
The two powerful images/motifs in the ballad – the drowned youth bitten by the fish, and the distribution of his clothes to the poor, so that kaddish can be said for him – are found in the other versions as well. I have found reference to this custom of clothes distribtion only in one other place – a joke told about the prankster Hershele Ostropolyer!
LSW sings in her slow, emotional style and reinforces the trajedy of the story when she repeats the last two lines in each verse, slower and with more sentiment. The melody of the song is similar to “Der beker yingl‟ also called “Beker lid‟ recorded by Ruth Rubin, and later by the group Aufwind.
A naye geshikhte ken ikh aykh dertseyln
vos er hot zikh getrofn do nisht vayt.
A khosn hot zikh dertronkn fun zayn kale
dertsu fun di fayne layt.
A new story I can tell you
that happened not far from here.
A groom was drowned from his bride
and from one of the finer families.
Fil toyznter mentshn zenen shpatsirn gegangen,
di zun zetst zikh vos amol arop.
Fun yener zayt taykhele, shteyt a sheyne kale
zi yomert, zi veynt, zi klogt.
Thousands of people were strolling along,
the sun was slowly setting.
On the other side of the river
stands the bride, crying and moaning.
Ven me hot im funem taykhl aroysgenemen
fun di fishelekh iz er geven tsebisn,
Vi di kale hot im nor derzen
di kleyder fun zikh hot zi tserisn.
When they pulled him out of the river
he was bitten all over by the fish.
As soon as the bride saw this
she tore her clothes.
Oy mentshn ir gite, oy mentshn getraye,
ir gedenkt dokh vos far a kleyder er hot getrogn.
Tselteylt di kleyder far oreme laytn
me zol nokh im kadish zogn.
Oh good people, oh dear people,
you remember, of course, the clothes he wore.
Donate the clothes to the poor people,
so they can say Kaddish for him.
Welcome to the website/blog “The Yiddish Song of the Week” presented by the An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project (AJFRP). This initiative is part of a larger effort by the AJFRP to revitalize traditional Yiddish folksinging performance and research on the subject. To that end, this website will emphasize field recordings of traditional Yiddish folksingers from around the world contributed by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, musicians, singers and collectors.
Each Yiddish song will be presented with Yiddish words and translation, along with commentary from the contributor. Since the website is a blog, we hope that each song contribution will elicit comments from others on the song itself, or on the singing style of the singer. Perhaps others will contribute a variant of the song from their recordings, etc.
Director, An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project
THE SINGER LIFSHE SCHAECHTER-WIDMAN (LSW)
Lifshe Schaechter Widman was born in Zvinyetchke, Bukovina in 1893. The town is on the Dneister river. Across the river was Galicia. When she was born, Zvinyetchke was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Today the town is in the Ukraine. By an early age she had established her reputation as singer and was often asked by the women, both younger, unmarried and older married women to sing for them. Most of the songs in her repertoire are from the first 14 years of her life. In 1907 she left on her own for America, lived in New York, and returned to Bukovina just in time for the First World War in 1914. She married Benyumin Schaechter in Vienna and settled in Chernovitz, the capital of Bukovina. She had two children Beyle (born in 1920 in Vienna ) and Mordkhe (born in 1927 in Chernovitz). Beyle became a Yiddish poet and songwriter and settled in the Bronx (Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman – my mother). Mordkhe Schaechter became a noted Yiddish linguist in NY. Lifshe survived the war in Chernovitz and arrived in the US in 1951. She died in 1973.
In 1954, Leybl Kahn, a folklore collector, recorded Lifshe in her home in the Bronx. Most of the recordings of LSW for this project will be from those sessions which number about 100. In the early 1970s, Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett did extensive interviews and recordings with Lifshe and much of the contextual and biographical information relating to the songs are from those recordings. I produced a cassette of LSW’s songs from the Kahn recordings entitled Az du furst avek on the label Global Village Music in 1986. A booklet with words and translations accompanied the recording.
COMMENTS ON LSW’S SINGING STYLE AND THE SONG FINTSTER, GLITSHIK
There is a lot to say about the song itself and how the singer performs it. LSW sings it slowly, emotionally, and is in no rush to finish. The sound “oy,” though often mocked by 2nd and 3rd generation Jews, is crucial in her singing (as it is for klezmer-music and Ashkenazic cantorial performance) and conveys her sadness and intimacy. In Zvinyetchke she sang with hopeful, youthful small groups of teenage girls on Sabbath walks, and with older bitter women on Saturday nights as they plucked chickens or made jam together. The play, work and song were communally performed and felt. In other words, when I listen to LSW sing, I feel her expressing that female communal vulnerability and fragility to the audience – “Be sad with me/us; feel my/our pain and joy.”
On the one hand, she sings in an older style of East European women’s singing style, yet on the other hand, it can’t be denied that she was a product of her time – 1890s Austria-Hungary/Galicia – a time of sentimental art and literature (sentimental in the good sense). Fintster, glitshik follows a ballad form. The first two verses set the dramatic context of a women who must give up her newborn and then a spoken monologue follows. (In older ballads, it would be a dialogue that follows). I don’t think the song is older than the 1850s or 1860s but there is no way to date folksongs; we can only guess by the number of variants that had been collected.
A close version of the song appears in Yidisher folklor edited by I. L. Cahan, 1938, a YIVO publication. The song appears on p. 39, collected in Podbrodz, near Vilna. The fifth and last verse mentions the father who laughs when he finds out her situation. The melody to that version is similar to LSW’s and is published in the back of the book.
In Yidishe Folkslider in Rusland, edited by Saul Ginsburg and Peysekh Marek, St. Petersburg 1901 (reprint Israel 1991) there is another, longer version on page 189, collected in the Poltava region. Two more variants are mentioned in the Cahan 1938 work which I cannot obtain yet.
S‘iz fintster, glitshik, shpeyt bay der nakht.
S‘iz a pakhed af der gas aroystsugeyn.
Es dreyt zikh a fraylin shpeyt bay der nakht.
Ir harts tsegeyt dekh far geveyn.
It‘s dark, slippery, late at night. It‘s a fright to go out on the street. A young woman wanders late at night, Her heart is breaking from her crying.
Zi zeyt az keyner zol zi nit hern.
Un zingt a lid gants fun zikh aleyn.
Mentshn, ven ir volt zikh fun dem lid dernern.
Volt ir gevist vos mit mir iz geshen.
She looks to make sure no one is hearing. And sings a song to herself. People, if you could from this song be “nourished‟ Then you would find out what has happened to me.
Nayn khadoshim hob ikh dikh getrogn.
Mit groyse shmertsn hob ikh dikh gehat.
Ze mayn kind an umgliklekhe miter;
Derkh dir bin ikh (a) na-venad.
Nine months I was pregnant with you, With great pains, I delivered you, See my child, an unhappy mother Because of you, I wander around.
Az gite mentshn veln dikh gefinen.
Rakhmunes veln zey hobn af dir.
Ze mayn kind, du zolst dikh erlikh firn.
Fil beser vet dir zayn fun mir.
When good people will find you, They will take pity on you. See my child, that you conduct yourself honestly. You will be much better off than me.
Un az di vest elter vern
Vest onheybn di velt beser tsu farshteyn.
Vest veln kenen dayne futer-miter.
Farges mayn kind, bist elnt vi a shteyn.
And when you get older And begin to understand the world better, You will want to know your parents – Forget my child, you are lonely as a stone.