Daniel Kahn [born in 1978; Detroit, Michigan], a klezmer musician now living in Berlin, Germany, sings a Yiddish version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (1984), which in Yiddish is “Haleluye.” This is not a direct translation of Cohen’s lyricism, but an imaginative modern interpretation of the biblical story (of Melekh Dovid and Basheva as told in 2 Samuel 11) and of the moral questions raised as a result.
Kahn has taken Cohen’s personal search for love and meaning and given it something particular to the Yiddisher neshomah—that the search for truth and love, even while bathed in doubt and moral failure, can still offer praises to Adonai. This is a very Jewish song and its Yiddish version does it justice; I view it as equal to Cohen’s original version, which says a lot, most notably revealing the heart of the language and its people.
This interpretation was recorded at the studios of the Forward in September 2016 and posted online a couple of months later in November, just around the time that the death of Leonard Cohen was made known to the world, resulting in much sadness and, of course, reminiscences of the music and of the man who created it. A poet is an individual who can see things where others do not. The world, or humanity, becomes the recipient of his gift.
A final note: how this song became a reality can also be read in the Forward.
Yiddish translation by Daniel Kahn,
with help from Michael Alpert, Mendy Cahan and Josh Waletzky
Geven a nign vi a sod,
Vos Dovid hot geshpilt far Got.
Nor dir volt’s nisht geven aza yeshue.
Me zingt azoy: a fa, a sol,
A misheberekh heybt a kol,
Der duler meylekh vebt a haleluye...
Dayn emune iz gevorn shvakh,
Basheva bodt zikh afn dakh,
Ir kheyn un di levone dayn refue
Zi nemt dayn guf, zi nemt dayn kop,
Zi shnaydt fun dayne hor a tsop
Un tsit fun moyl arop a haleluye...
O tayere, ikh ken dayn stil,
Ikh bin geshlofn af dayn dil,
Kh’hob keynmol nisht gelebt mit aza tsnue
Ikh ze dayn shlos,
ikh ze dayn fon,
A harts iz nisht keyn meylekhs tron,
S’iz a kalte un a kalye haleluye...
Oy vi amol, to zog mir oys
Vos tut zikh dortn in dayn shoys?
To vos zhe darfst zikh shemen vi a bsule?
Nor gedenk vi kh’hob in dir gerut,
Vi di shkhine glut in undzer blut,
Un yeder otem tut a haleluye...
Zol zayn mayn got iz gor nishto
Un libe zol zayn kol-mumro,
A puster troym tsebrokhn un mekhule,
Nisht keyn geveyn in mitn nakht,
Nisht keyn bal-tshuve oyfgevakht,
Nor an elnte kol-koyre haleluye...
An apikoyres rufstu mikh,
Mit shem-havaye lester ikh,
Iz meyle, ikh dervart nisht keyn geule.
Nor s’brent zikh heys in yedn os
Fun alef beys gor bizn sof
Di heylike un kalye haleluye...
Un dos iz alts, s’iz nisht keyn sakh.
Ikh makh dervayle vos ikh makh.
Ikh kum do vi a mentsh,
nisht keyn shiluye.
Khotsh alts farloyrn say vi say
Vel ikh farloybn “Adoynay”
Un shrayen vi l’khayem “haleluye.”