Monday, October 30, 2017

Un Mir Zaynen Ale Brider

Yiddish Performance of the Week


Un Mir Zaynen Ale Brider (“And We are All Brothers”) is a traditional Yiddish folk song and a long-time favourite of the old-time leftist-leaning Yiddish workers and labour movement. The lyrics are based on a poem (“Akhdes” or Unity) by Morris Winchevsky [born as Leopold Benzion Novokhovitch in Yanove, Lithuania in 1856–died in New York City in 1932], who himself is an interesting and important figure in di Yidisher velt. Speaking of which, you can also listen to another inspiring version performed by The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen’s Circle. This wonderful and energetic song, about the desire and need for Jewish unity, has helped and encouraged me to think about this: Yidn kenen hobn file meynungen, ober dos zol keynmol teyln aundz. mir zenen, nokh ale, eyn mentshn.
Via: Youtube

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Un Mir Zaynen Ale Brider
by Morris Winchevsky

Un mir zaynen ale brider, oy, oy, ale brider Un mir zingen freylekhe lider, oy, oy, oy Un mir haltn zikh in eynem, oy, oy, zikh in eynem Azelkhes iz nito bay keynem, oy, oy, oy Oy, oy, oy... Un mir zaynen ale eynik, oy, oy, ale eynik Tsi mir zayen fil tsi veynik, oy, oy, oy Un mir libn zikh dokh ale, oy, oy, zikh dokh ale Vi a khosn mit a kale, oy, oy, oy Oy, oy, oy... Un mir zaynen ale shvester, oy, oy, ale shvester Azoy vi Rochl, Ruth, un Esther, oy, oy, oy Un mir zaynen ale freylekh, oy, oy, ale freylekh Vi Yoynoson un Dovid HaMelekh, oy, oy, oy

Akhdes


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern


Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern (“Under Your White Stars”); A beautiful and haunting Yiddish song based on the Yiddish poetry of Avraham Sutzkever while in the Vilna Ghetto, describing the recurring alienation and loneliness, making more powerful the special pleading for a divine intervention, for a sign of reassurance (Under Your white stars/Stretch to me Your white hand./My words are tears,/That want to rest in Your hand). As for the history of this poem, Neil W. Levin writes for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music: “Avraham Sutskever is believed to have written this poem in the Vilna Ghetto, where it was originally set to a haunting melody by Abraham Brudno and sung there by Zlate Katcherginsky in a theatrical production of the play Di yogn in fas (The Hunt in the Barrel—a parody of Diogenes in a barrel).” In this rendition, the musical arrangement is by Gideon Brettler, who also plays guitar; the voice is by Yeela Avital; and the flute is played by Daphna Peled.
Via: Youtube

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Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern
by Avraham Sutzkever

unter dayne vayse shtern
shtrek tsu mir dayn vayse hant.
mayne verter zenen trern
viln ruen in dayn hant.

ze, es tunklt zeyer finkl
in mayn kelerdikn blik.
un ikh hob gornit keyn vinkl
zey tsu shenken dir tsurik.

un ikh vil dokh, got getrayer,
dir fartroyen mayn farmeg.
vayl es mont in mir a fayer
un in fayer—mayne teg.

nor in kelern un lekher
veynt di merderishe ru.
loyf ikh hekher, iber dekher
un ikh zukh: vu bistu, vu?

nemen yogn mikh meshune
trep un hoyfn mit gevoy.
heng ikh—a geplatste strune
un ikh zing tsu dir azoy:

unter dayne vayse shtern
shtrek tsu mir dayn vayse hant.
mayne verter zenen trern
viln ruen in dayn hant.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Always the Question

Sekyl
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”


“Hobn kinder iz shver ober hodeven zey iz nokh shverer”
Yiddish proverb

Is it Good for the Jews? Yidn ask this question, even when times are (seem to be) good, which might seem strange and somewhat neurotic. Neuroses have causes, and in this case historical causes. An article, by Stanley Fish (“Is It Good for the Jews?”; March 4, 2007) in the NYT gives some insight as to why this question is often raised:

A community in which this question is central and even natural will be a community with a sense of its own precariousness. (No one ever asks, is it good for the white, male, Anglo-Saxon graduates of Princeton; it’s always good for them.) Its members will think of themselves as perpetually under assault (even if the assault never comes), and as the likely victims of acts of discrimination and exclusion. (“No Irish need apply.”) As a result it will turn inward and present to the outside world a united and fiercely defensive face. It will be informed and haunted by a conviction that no matter how well things may seem to be going, it is only a matter of time before there is a knock on the door and someone comes in and takes it all away.
This is about history, and the knowledge of how history can and does repeat itself. When this has happened so many times in the history of the Jews, no matter how secure things might appear, one can never know with certainty that it can’t happen once again, that it can’t be taken all away. When we are asking whether this leader or policy is good for the Jews, what we are also asking and evaluating is whether it is bad for the Jews. This is the ultimate fear that plays out in our minds.

When anti-Israel views are on the rise, especially at university campuses filled with mass confusion, and when there is a known correlation between anti-Israel views and anti-Jewish views, there is good reason to ask what is happening. Of course, there are legitimate criticisms of Israel, as there is of any nation in the world, in terms of its policies. But, more often than not, the criticism is unmerited and unwarranted and seems based on things other than government policy. No, davka, Israel is among the better nations in the world.

Mayle, something else is responsible; something both palpable and intangible. Its message of hate comes from both the extreme left and the extreme right; it is not really political, although it seems so. Sure, the hatred is irrational, but isn’t it always? There are always the same questions—Why is this happening? Is there something that we Jews can learn from the past? There are a few good answers, the same ones that have kept us in times of trouble.

You can be assured that mass assimilation, mass conversion, mass appeasement or the destruction of Eretz Yisreal (ארץ ישראל; “Land of Israel”‎), Chas veshalom (חס ושלום, ח"ו; “Heaven forbid,”), are all equally the worst possible ways to protect us or decrease the hatred against us. It might seem counter intuitive, but Jews need to be more Jewish, not less and think more about the needs of our community before wandering around to others. Yes, charity begins at home. Yes, davka, we can learn from the history of the Jews of the power of unity and of sticking together.

When you include the intangible factor of belief in God and the promises of the Torah, it becomes trickier to prove, although faith has undeniable ameliorating effects and should not be discounted. Belief, in my view, does not mean that one should avoid making plans for all eventualities, including defeating our enemies and defending ourselves from any acts of aggression. Even then, the underlying hope is always shalom or peace; such is an ever-present and eternal hope, a messianic one, if you will.

As a parent, I have an added responsibility of preparing the next generation, which includes teaching my children the moral values that are necessary for them to apprehend the world and navigate it in a proper way. For me this means with a particular bent of mind, understanding with increasing clarity and knowledge what our responsibilities are and with whom are our our chief affiliations. Yes, it’s always a good time to pick a side, but this has nothing to do with politics or political parties. Es iz bloyz eyn sort fun Yid; der eyner vos vil tsu lebn a Yid.


Peretz J. Greenbaum, October 27, 2017


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Yiddish Poets & Writers: Chava Rosenfarb

Montreal Yiddish Writers


Chava Rosenfarb delivering the convocation address after receiving a honorary degree from the University of Lethbridge in 2006. This was Rosenfarb’s first university degree, a doctor of laws honoris causa, making her the first Yiddish writer to be honoured in this way by a Canadian university.
Via: Youtube


Chava Rosenfarb, born in 1923 in Lodz, Poland, the eldest of two daughters to Abraham Rosenfarb, a restaurant waiter; and his wife Simma. Her parents were devoted to the secular Jewish Socialist Bund in Poland, a left-leaning organization that had a large following among working-class Jews in Poland. She was sent to a Bundist school.

Such studies, grounded in Yiddishkayt and menschkayt, had a marked influence “on Rosenfarb’s intellectual development, even though her secondary school education was in Polish,” says a biographical website devoted to her. No doubt, the ideas contained within its curriculum, can have a lasting influence on an young mind, notably if the ideas are based on goodness for humanity.

Then Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939; and the Jews in Lodz were forcibly confined within the walls of the ghetto. Before the ghetto was liquidated—its inhabitants killed—in August 1944, Rosenfarb, her sister (Henia who survived the war and also moved to Canada), and her mother and a few others hid in her second-floor apartment. But they were discovered by the Nazis two days later. They were sent to Auschwitz and then to a forced-labour camp at Sasel, where they built houses for German citizens.

From there, they were sent to Bergen Belsen, a concentration camp; when the British army liberated the death camp (on April 15, 1945), Rosenfarb was suffering from typhus, lying near death. She somehow survived. After she recovered, she learned that her father had died on the last transport out of Dachau, when the train was bombed by the Americans near the war’s end.

Rosenarb is among a handful of writers who was able to write about her experiences in the Holocaust using a literary form, but she avoided writing directly about inexplicable horrors. She started writing at age 17 while in the Lodz Ghetto, but in was in Montreal that she did the bulk of her writing and where she produced her most notable works. At the same time, it must be said that she brought the city of Lodz with her to her adopted home, in that it was her life in Europe that was the inspiration for her work. In her case, it was a desire to both chronicle what she both witnessed and experienced and what she viewed as was lost, which was much.

After being homeless and stateless for almost five years in Europe post-war, she arrived in Montreal with her husband Henekh (later anglicized to Henry) Morgentaler in February 1950, pregnant with Goldie, her daughter, during a raging blizzard; they were met at the train station by a delegation of Yiddish writers that included Melech Ravitch.

They brought $20 US with them and hopes for a better life. They had married a year earlier while both were in Europe waiting to emigrate to Canada. She was living illegally as a Displaced Person (DP) in Belgium. (It was the same Henry Morgentaler, another Holocaust survivor, who was instrumental in changing Canada’s abortion laws.) The marriage produced two children: a daughter Goldie (born in 1950), who became a university professor in Canada; and a son, Abraham (born in 1956), who became a medical doctor in the United States. The couple divorced in 1977.

Goldie Morgentaler, a professor of literature at the University of Lethbridge and a strong advocate of her work, writes about her mother as a Yiddish writer:
Rosenfarb was profoundly affected by her experiences during the Holocaust, and her prodigious output of poetry, novels, short stories, plays and essays all deal with this topic in one way or another. She began as a poet, following the publication of Di balade fun nekhtikn vald with a book-length poem about her father, Dos lid fun yidishn kelner Abram (The song of the Jewish waiter Abram). She then published two more poetry collections, Geto un andere lieder (Ghetto and other poems), and Aroys fun gan-eydn (Out of Paradise). Rosenfarb’s play Der foigl fun geto (The bird of the ghetto), about the martyrdom of the Vilna partisan leader Yitzhak Wittenberg (1907–1943), was translated into Hebrew and performed by Israel’s Habimah Theater in 1966.
Chava Rosenfarb receiving the Itzik Manger Prize
Photo Credit: ChavaRosenfarb

Her first published poem was in 1947: Di balade fun nekhtikn vald (“The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest”); her last collection of poems while alive was Aroys fun gan-eydn (1965). There is also a collection of her English-translated poems that were published after her death: Exile at Last: Selected Poems (2013)Besides her notable output in poetry, Rosenfarb wrote novels: Der boim fun lebn (1972; דער בוים פֿון לעבן; The Tree Life:2004–2006), a three-volume series revealing her experiences in the Lodz Ghetto; Botshani (1982; באָטשאַני), a prequel to The Tree of Life, which was issued in English as two volumes, Bociany  (2000) and Of Lodz and Love (2000); and Briv tsu Abrashen (1992; בריוו צו אבראשען; Letters to Abrasha). The latter has not been translated into English, though excerpts were published in The Montreal Gazette (May 7, 1995).

Montreal gave her the safety of being able to write what she had experienced, what was pent up in her bones, in the fibre of her being, and where she could both cry out in despair and hope for a better life. In her 2007 essay, “Canadian Yiddish Writers,” Rosenfarb shows Canada as a place where these European Yiddish writers could live in relative freedom:
[O]ur Canadian Yiddish poets came to see in Canada a kind of merged landscape of their lost home and a better place to live. They saw in Canada the land that gave them the opportunity to cry out their despair over the Holocaust; and in this pristine land of the future, they shyly planted the hope for a new, better life. They saw in Canada a corner of the world where they could renew their communal life, but as they once knew it at home and in its more modern freer, more tolerant present reality. Here they could dream of a welcoming future, where they could live wherever they pleased and however their pleased.
Rosenfarb received a number of awards for her writing, including the Itzik Manger Prize in 1979, Israel’s highest award for Yiddish literature. It was for the masterpiece,  Der boim fun lebn (The Tree of Life). Chava Rosenfarb died on January 30, 2011; she was 87. Her archive can be found at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Barry Sisters: Der Nayer Sher (1940)

Yiddish Performance of the Week


Der Nayer Sher (“The New Sher”) written by Abraham Ellstein and sung here by the Barry Sisters. The Barry Sisters (Claire and Merna) were born as Clara Bagelman (in 1920) and Minnie Bagelman (in 1923) in the Bronx borough of New York City. The duo were in the 1950s and ’60s big stars in the Catskills and Miami Beach; they got their start on Dick Manning’s (born Samuel Medoff) “Yiddish Melodies in Swing” radio program on New York’s WHN, which was broadcast between 1938 and 1955. As for this song, Neil W. Levin for The Milken Archive of Jewish Music writes: “Der nayer sher (The New Sher [i.e., new dance tune]) was written in 1940 expressly for recording, and according to one recollection, it was composed in an automobile between rehearsals or concerts (or perhaps broadcasts) for a session with Seymour Rechtzeit for the RCA Victor label. It was an immediate commercial success and was sung by many radio and stage singers, including Molly Picon, the Bagelman (Barry) Sisters, and the famous clarinetist Dave Tarras. Ellstein subsequently published it (1948) in two orchestral versions—with and without voice—and labeled them as a “special rumba,” with some rhythmic modification. It was also performed in an English version by Edmundo Ross, as The Wedding Samba. This version is likely taken from A Gala Concert with Moishe Oysher & The Barry Sisters: Vol 2 (Side 3; track 6), released in 1973 by Greater Recordings Co. of Brooklyn, NY.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What’s the Matter with the Klezmer?: The Peter Sokolow Story


The Peter Sokolow Story: A nice entertaining short documentary film on klezmer music, as told by Peter Sokolow (aka “Klezmer Fats”), who started playing klezmer in “the Catskills” in 1958 as a college student. The Catskill Mountains, approximately 100 miles or 160 kilometres north of New York City, was viewed then—reaching the height of popularity post-war, a reputation that lasted until the late 1970s—as an idyllic and ideal vacation spot for Jews to spend summers away from the sweltering city, where hotels like Brown’s, Grossinger’s and the Concord became popular with their all-inclusive packages for kosher food, entertainment and activities. There were many well-known Jewish performers and comedic acts, and there was also klezmer, or Jewish music, which was then considered primarily as dance music for weddings, bar mitzvahs, dances and other such Jewish community celebrations. The last few decades, however, has seen klezmer become a genre of its own, possibly driven by nostalgia and marketing. The Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project writes: “Sokolow tells his compelling life story, from growing up the son of a musician in New York, to performing for the Yiddish-speaking communities in the Catskills, to ultimately discovering and mastering klezmer under the mentorship of some of the genre's most renowned musicians. As he sits at his piano, Sokolow ponders whether cultural authenticity will persevere or become a vestige of the past.” Who can tell? Yet the past seems better in so many ways; and klezmer does have a soulful searching sound grounded in the past traditions. Afilu azoy, shpil mir a kleyn klezmer.
Via: Youtube & Yiddish Book Center

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Eat, Survive & Celebrate

Heimishe Essen/Jewish Soul Food 
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”
“A sated soul tramples honeycomb,
but to a hungry soul all bitter is sweet.”
Proverbs (Mishlei) 27:7

One of the greatest pleasures of life is eating. Truly. It is a mekhaya and few would disagree, certainly none of the Jews that I know. Food plays a central role in the lives of Jewish families, regardless of their level of religious observance. Friday night Shabbos dinners as well as yontif (holiday) meals are often large family gatherings, with plenty of food on the table.

No one appreciated a good meal like my father, who enjoyed a good bowl of soup, even in July. My father rarely talked about his years growing up in the inter-war years in Poland, or in the war years or in the immediate post-war years in Europe, but he did tell me one story when I was a yingeleh, which I translate roughly from Yiddish: “I was walking around for days looking for food, for something to eat; I finally found something in a garbage bin, which I ate because I was hungry. You don’t know what hunger is, Perkeleh,” using the diminutive form of my name as a term of endearment.

No, not really, but I have been hungry, but for no longer than 25 hours. Growing up as I did, I now like to have our fridge packed with food. It’s a feeling that many children of East European Jews share. I have no plans on finding first-hand  out what my father and his landskayt from Poland faced during the war (“the krieg” or “the milkhume”), but I would like to know by words of knowledge what he experienced.

I have a desire to understand. My father is long gone from my presence, as are his friends, so this seems unlikely. So, I read about the experiences of others more famous, contemporaries of my father (who was born in 1911), to gain some understanding. There are other ways, filled with meaning. Fasting for Yom Kippur is not the same, but the 25-hour fast comes the closest. What joy there is in breaking the fast and having that first bite of challah or matzah ball soup. It tastes better than usual, better when you are not denied food. Even writing about this is whetting my appetite.

In our family, as is common with many Jewish families (and immigrant families, in general, I suspect), “wasting food is a sin.” Such was the message; and as much as I like my boys to not “waste food,” I do not make them guilty about it. There is no good reason to do so, and, moreover, I would like them to remain open to trying different kinds of foods—not always easy with younger children. But, there are surprises, like my two boys’ love of sushi, which my wife learned to make at home.

Now, I have eaten foods prepared from different regions of the world, but when I want to eat something that brings comfort, I turn to my long-time favourites: the heimish foods of the Askenazic or Eastern Europe Jews; beet borsch (sometimes with flanken), matzah ball soup, chicken soup with lokshen, beef brisket, varinikes, holishkes. The list is seemingly endless. Over the years, I have come to enjoy Sephardi and Israeli recipes like baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, tomato soup with Israeli couscous, lubiya, and Sephardi spiced chicken rice with lemon and mint relish.

These recipes are found in many good Jewish cookbooks, but the one that I and my wife use as a valuable reference guide time and time again is Jewish Cooking: the Traditions, Techniques, Ingredients, and Recipes (2002), by Marlena Spieler; she writes a message of comfort in the “Introduction”:
For Jews, eating is a celebration of survival. A meal enjoyed with family, friends and community means “we are alive”, and we are grateful. A basic tenet of the Jewish table is that good food is a gift from God. Jews take every opportunity for offering thanks and appreciation, with blessings for the food and also for the good health that allows them to enjoy it. However different, culturally, Jews might be, we are united by beliefs and laws, as well as an interwoven history—in the way we pray, speak, eat, drink and celebrate life; the laws of Kashrut that guide what we eat and how we prepare it, and the prayers that sanctify it all. Our food is more than just a cuisine represented by recipes; it is part of the glue that holds us together. (p.7)
Now, this is geshmack writing, especially the part about health, prayer, gratitude and survival—each of these words is worth thousands more, telling a tale of who we are and what we can and wish to beWe continue to discover and learn, even as we return to the old familiar foods of our past. The taste is both the same and different.
—Peretz J. Greenbaum, October 20, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Declaration of Human Rights in Yiddish

Human Rights/Mentshlikhe Rekhtn

Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Yiddish
Via: Youtube


The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in Paris, France, on December 10, 1948. Article 1, which in English reads:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
And in Yiddish reads:
Yeder mentsh vert geboyrn fray un glaykh in koved un rekht. Yeder vert bashonkn mit farshtand un gevisn; yeder zol zikh firn mit a tsveytn in a gemit fun brudershaft.
It is neither a universal document nor a perfect document, but an attempt through compromise to do something good, to make a statement, to provide a secular vision bathed in humanistic language. How well it has educated or changed the world towards good, after almost 70 years, is debatable. How much it is valued and cited today by a majority of the world’s nations is also debatable, as are the merits of the United Nations itself as a world body devoted to goodness, to fairness, to justice.

The words sound nice, the height of humanistic language. Yet, the words become insincere to the point of absurdity when nations with clear records of denying human rights sit on human-rights councils and other UN organizations. Such is the way it is.

I know; this is politics. a concession to the way that the world is and will be for a long time. As is the knowledge that in a good many nations of the world—all members in “good standing” of the U.N.— its governments don’t give its citizens the kinds of human freedoms commonly found in western civilization, which they view as immoral, corrupt and unrestrained. Yes, they have their own history, their own understanding of government and what it means to rule.

I doubt that human rights will ever become universal, since there is little appetite for it in many parts of the world, including in nations who wield much power and influence in the world. You can’t force human rights; you can only encourage its adoption, which seems less important today than seven decades ago. Such is the way it is.

Looking around, I find most of the world as inhabitable places, as places in which I would not want to live. There are only a handful of places in the world in which I would want to reside. I am fortunate that I live in Canada, where human rights are part of the laws of the land.

The Yidn have long fought for it, for human rights and justice, for the freedom to live as Jews, for the right to exist as a people, long before the U.N. was formed, long before the U.S. existed, long before western civilization, and rarely receiving the recognition they deserve. When the Yidn fight for human rights, workers rights, etc., many others benefit. Such is the way it is.

There is no Yiddish nation, of course, but there is a Yiddishlayt, places where Yiddish and the people who spoke Yiddish was allowed to thrive, which goes hand in hand with human rights and religious freedom. Such places are no longer in Europe, but in New York, Montreal and Israel. For the record, the complete “Declaration” in Yiddish can also be heard and read here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Anna Hoffman: Chicken, a Yiddish Song (1922)

Yiddish Performance of the Week



Chicken, a Yiddish Song:
Via: Youtube and Yiddish Penny Songs


Such is indicative of what often passed for amusement and entertainment in 1920s America among Yiddish speakers of New York City’s Lower East Side, where Jews then resided in large numbers. I am not sure if the general population enjoyed this song. Anna Hoffman was a major star of New York musical comedy. On Yiddish Penny Songs, where I first heard this song, Jane Peppler writes:
This song and Ikh bin a boarder bay mayn vayb are probably Rubin Doctor’s most famous songs. It was recorded by several people back in the day including Nellie Casman, and unlike most of the penny songs, it continues to be recorded to this very day, probably because people who don't know any Yiddish are happy to recognize the word “chicken” in the lyrics.
And who doesn’t like a good chicken song? Kmet vi geshmak vi a frish hindl aoyf shabbes.

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Chicken, (aka Tshiken)
by Rubin Doctor

Ikh veys fun a guter zakh
Vos iz gut far ale glaykh
A chicken, oy, oy a chicken.
Geyt ir af a simkhe, a bris
Est nor nit keyn fleysh, keyn fish
est chicken, est nor a chicken.
Keyn mol vet ir zikh baklogn
Dreyen vet aykh nit der mogn
Un baym hartsn vet aykh keyn mol drikn.
Libe mentshn, folg mayn fraynt
Vilt ir zayn gezunt un fayn
Est chicken, est nor a chicken.

Chicken, chick chick chick chicken
S'iz a maykhl vus vet aykh derkvikn
A pulke, a fis a shtikl beylik
S'iz geshmak dos yeder kheylik
Chicken, chick chick chick chicken.

Meydlekh zaynen ikh bakant
Un me ruft zey do in land, chicken
Yeder hall un yeder stoop kukt oys vi a chicken coop
Mit chicken
An alte moyd fun fertsik yorn, dar un mies un opgeforn
Paint un powder un ale zibn glikn

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chaim Grade: The Simple Jew in Yiddish Literature (1958)


Chaim Grade [born in 1910 in Vilnius, Lithuania—died 1982 in New York City, USA] gives a powerful lecture on the important place, and thus significance, of modern Yiddish literature in Jewish History. For one, it lifts and ennobles the simple Jew; many stories in Yiddish literature are about the simple pious Jew, written with feeling by writers who are secular but who were given a religious education. Such is the paradox of Yiddish literature. This is from a lecture held at the Jewish Public Library of Montreal, on December 7, 1958.
Via: Youtube & Yiddish Book Center

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: My Jewish Punim

Old School
Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn


“Dos lebn iz nit mer vi a kholem—ober vek mikh nit oyf.”
Nahum Stutchkoff
Der Oytser fun der Yidisher Shprakh (1950)

When I was a student at McGill University, I applied for a part-time job at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (“the M.A.A.A.”) for a front-desk position. This was around 1981, when the principal was David Lloyd Johnston, who later became Governor-General; and the chancellor Conrad Fetherstonhaugh Harrington. McGill was every much an elitist British institution of higher learning.

It was established in 1821 from a bequest of land and money (£10,000) from James McGill (1744–1813), a fur trader originally from Scotland. The university was originally called the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning before it bore the name of its benefactor. I happen to know a lot about McGill, because I was a tour guide—giving tours peppered with facts to prospective students and their parents—for many years.

The M.A.A.A. was equally British, equally elitist, and considered a pre-eminent place to play squash, have a few drinks and conduct business and, perhaps, make a few ethnic jokes. It dated to June 1881. It was, after all, a private men’s club for the anglo elites. I paid this no mind, since I was referred to this position by the university’s job-placement service for students. It was also then that I admired the British, which I wrote about in a previous post for this column. I thought that I would make a good impression.

I was met by a tall thin man with a thin mustache; he was impeccably dressed and well-mannered. The interview took place with both of us standing up in the lobby; it was short and perfunctory. I knew right after that I had no chance of getting the job, even though I was dressed appropriately: white shirt, classic blue McGill tie (with diagonal stripes), grey slacks and blue blazer with black oxfords on my feet. My hair was combed, my nails trimmed, my teeth brushed. All this could not compensate for one thing. I guess that he didn’t like my Jewish punim.

My mother had told me that McGill University had a quota system in place for Jews, and that Jews had to get better marks than non-Jews to get admitted; this lasted from 1920 till after the war, and for medicine until the 1960s. Many universities in America had similar restrictions, chiefly as a way to keep universities white Protestant; merit and marks were not as important as appearance.

To be fair, my personal experience took place decades later, and at a private institution, not a public university, and nothing of this sort happened to me at McGill. It was a relatively minor form of anti-Semitism, closer to bigotry I think, and I hardly gave it much thought afterward (I had, after all, suffered much worse as a child, including name calling and physical attacks.) That’s the way it was back then, and sad to say it was expected and no one made a fuss about it. I did not tell anyone this story, until recently.

I guess that this is the primary meaning of Old School.

—Peretz J. Greenbaum, October 13, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Klezmatics: Simkhes Toyre Time (1994)


Simkhes Toyre Time is the forth song on Jews With Horns, the third album by American klezmer group, The Klezmatics, released in 1994. This song was written by Mark Varshavski [1848–1907], originally titled “Kinder, mir hobn simkhas toyre” (Children, It’s Simkhas Toyre). Tonight at sundown, following Sukkot, begins Shemini Atzeret (“the assembly of the eighth day”), followed the next day by Simchat Torah (or in Yiddish, Simkhes Toyre); “rejoicing in the Torah”), which completes the series of holidays during the Jewish month of Tishrei. Outside Israel, these holidays last two days: 22 and 23 Tishrei, while in Israel, they are combined and last only one day (22 Tishrei). Simchat Torah also celebrates the reading of the last Torah portion or parshah (Deuteronomy 34) and the proceeding first one in Genesis—thus showing that the Torah is a never-ending circle. There is much dancing in shuls, with congregants holding Torah scrolls, dancing around the bimah, which is called hakafot.
Via: Youtube


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Simkhes Toyre Time
by Mark Varshavski

Oy Kinder mir hobn simchas toyre Simchas toyre oyf der gantzer velt Toyre is di beste shkoyre Azoy hot der rebbe mit undz geknelt Oy, oy, oy oy oy Freilach kinder ot azoy! Rendlech faln fun ale zek, Freilach on an ek. Khtosh ikh bin an orem yidl Un es dart mir gut der moyekh Simkhes-toyre, zing ikh a lidl Un makh a gute koyse oykh Dvoyre, gib mir di naye kapote Ikh vel zi onton take atsind. Ikh vil dir zogn: altsding iz blote Abi m'iz borekh-hashem, gezint. Dvoyre, gib-zhe nokh a glezl Fun dem yontevdikn vayn. Vos hostu aropgelozt dos nezl? A ruekh in mayne sonims tatn arayn! Oy vey, Dvoyre vos hostu moyre? - Kh'bin a bisl freylekh kh'kon nit shteyn? - Dvoyre-lebn, um simkhes-toyre Ver iz nit freylekh zog aleyn! Tsi es dreyen zikh mit mir di gasn? Tsi es dreyt zikh mit mir di shtib? Dvoyre, ot hostu beemes genosn - Lebn, zolstu, dos lebn is lib! Simkhes-toyre - fun got a matone - Zol undz tomid heylik zayn! Afile di shtern mit der levone Zenen gegangen trinken vayn .

Yiddish Poets & Writers: Melech Ravitch

Montreal Yiddish Poets


Melech Ravitch addressing members at the 35th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Public Library of Montreal, on November 27, 1949. This would be the library building at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Mont-Royal Avenue.
Photo Credit: Jewish Public Library Archives


The Yiddish writer Melech Ravitch [1893–1976] is the pseudonym used by Zekharye-Khone Bergner, born in Radymno, eastern Galicia (which today is in Poland), the son of Efrayim and Hinde Bergner (nee Rosenblatt), the latter of whom holds an important place in the annals of Yiddish literature for her portrait of shtetl life, which was published by her two sons after her death; Hinde Bergner is believed to have died “in the German extermination camp of Belzec in 1942,” the Jewish Women’s Archive writes.

Zekharye started to write in Yiddish in 1910, emboldened by the Czernowitz Language Conference (1908), the first international conference in support of the Yiddish language. During the first decade of the 20th century, he worked as a bank clerk, served as a soldier in the First World War and lived in Lemberg and Vienna. He changed his name to Melech Ravitch when he moved to Warsaw in 1921, when he began to be influenced by modernism, and where he belonged to a literary group called Di Khalyastre (“The Gang”); its other prominent members were Uri Tsevi Grinberg and Peretz Markish. Its purpose, it seems, was to rail against realism and to advocate for modernist Yiddish poetry.

As for this period, the Museum of Jewish Montreal writes:
In 1921, Ravitch moved to Warsaw and published Nakete lider (Naked Poems), in which he attempted to integrate the modernist themes of secularism and spiritual alienation with the Yiddish language and strongly East European context. A leading figure in Warsaw intellectual life (he translated Kafka into Yiddish in 1924, the year of the latter’s death), Ravitch served as executive secretary of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw, the epicentre of the Yiddish literary world, from 1924 to 1934. As the situation for Jews in Europe deteriorated, Ravitch decided to leave Poland, living briefly in Australia, Mexico, New York, and Argentina, before settling in Montreal in 1941.
Yet, another Jew who wandered around trying to find a place outside Europe to call home. After witnessing the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism, he saw no future in Europe and he left Poland for Australia in 1933 (warning others that they should leave, too). At that time, Ravitch saw Australia as a possible place where Jews could permanently settle, possibly in a part of Australia (the Northern Territory) that “nobody wanted.” He was armed with a letter from Albert Einstein and Jewish hopes of utopia; it was called the Kimberly Plan, which neither the Jews in Poland nor the Australian government supported.

While there, he helped establish the first Yiddish school—an I.L. Peretz school in 1937 in Australia, in the city of Melbourne. He served as its first headmaster and stayed in Australia until 1938, then moving on again, for a time in  Argentina, in Mexico and in New York City before coming to Montreal.

Ruinengroz (Ruin Grass), by Melech Ravitch. (Brno: Jüdischer Buch-und Kunstverlag M. Hickel, 1916 or 1917).
Photo Credit: YIVO

It was in Montreal, where he lived for more than three decades, apart from the two years (1954–56) that he lived in Israel, that he spent the most time after the war. When he first landed in Montreal, he more than likely lived in the old Jewish neighborhood of Mile End, near Park Avenue and Mont-Royal, in close proximity to the mountain and the Jewish Public Library, where Ravitch briefly took on the role as director shortly after his arrival in the city.

The Encyclopaedia Judaica writes: “During his active association there with the Yidishe-folksbyblotek (Jewish Public Library), he revived the Yidishe-folksuniversitet (Jewish People's Popular University) to offer adult education programming in Jewish and non-Jewish topics from 1941 to 1954.” He was very active in Montreal, the same article says; “In 1946 he and his brother H. Bergner published the memoirs of their family as recorded by their mother Hinde Bergner (1870–1942) on the eve of World War ii.”

I did find out that between 1965 until his death in 1976, he lived at 5413 Trans Island Avenue, near Lacombe Avenue, which is the same Snowdon area that many Jews resided in around this period. It was close, within walking distance, to the Jewish library after it relocated westward. He wrote prolifically, often of the life he left behind in Europe; he was, after all, almost 50 when he came to Montreal.

His most known works include  a comprehensive anthology Di lider fun mayne lider (“The Poems of My Poems;” 1954) and his two-volume series Mayn leksikon (“My Lexicon;” 1945–1947), which offer intimate portraits of Yiddish writers in Poland. His memoirs, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (“The Storybook of My Life;” 3 vols., 1962–1975), describe his life in Galicia, Vienna, and Warsaw.

He viewed himself as “the first modernist of Yiddish literature,” recounts Irving Massey, son of Yiddish writer and organizer Ida Maze, who was a neighbour of Ravitch. He was married to Fania, a singer from Lodz; they had a son, Yosl Bergner, who became a famous painter who settled in Israel; and a daughter, Ruth Bergner, a dancer who settled in Australia. His brother, the Yiddish writer Herz Bergner, settled in Melbourne in 1938.

No doubt, Ravitch is one of the leading Yiddish literary figures with published works after the Holocaust. The poet and his poetry were acknowledged during his long career; he was awarded numerous literary prizes including the prestigious L. Lamed, Yud Yud Segal, and Itzik Manger Prizes.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky: Milchige, Fleiszige Iden

Yiddish Performance of the Week


Milchige, Fleiszige Iden 
Via:Youtube

I could not find out much information about this record other than it was made between 1930 and 1939 in inter-war Poland and that Koussevitsky is identified as the chief cantor (oberkantor) of the Warschauer Synagogue. This was the first record label in Poland, changing its name to Syrena-Electro in 1929. It was famous for its popular dance music, and for making records in both Polish and Yiddish. The record company, Wikipedia says, “was established in 1904 by Juliusz Fejgenbaum. It took the name of Syrena Rekord in 1908. The company produced gramophone records till the invasion of Poland in 1939. The company’s discography includes around 14,000 titles.” When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, it destroyed the record factories and the large collection of titles. What remains is found in private collections. As to who wrote the lyrics and the background behind the song, it is thus far a mystery. If someone could help solve it, all the better. Until then, enjoy this song.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Abraham Sutzkever on Poetry and Partisan Life (1959)


Abraham Sutzkever [1913–2010] recalls some of his experiences in the Vilna Ghetto, in the Narach Forest and as a Jewish partisan during the Second World War, both of which influenced his poems. This lecture, recorded on May 24, 1959, was given during a public program at the Jewish Public Library of Montreal. This wonderful library had many such lectures for the public. I plan to write more about this famous Yiddish poet in a future post. Here is an interesting fact: Abraham Sutzkever, one of the great poets of the 20th century and  Moshe Koussevitzky, one of the greatest hazzanim (cantors) of the 20th century, were both born in Smorgon, Belarus, or what used to be called White Russia. This was a town of no more than 40,000. And as Wikipedia writes: “In 1939 there were 375,000 Jews in Belarus, or 13.6% of the total population.” After the war, that number dropped by two-thirds, since the Nazis and their local collaborators murdered 66% of the nation’s Jews, or some 246,000 Jews. In this lecture, Sutzkever speaks about the particularities of the Vilna Ghetto, infamous for the massacre at Ponary; he says many things that are true, including what it is to be a poet, and notably a poet who is a witness to tragedy and loss.
Via: Youtube and Yiddish Book Center

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Montreal’s Jewish Public Library

Biblyotek
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

Jewish Public Library of Montreal: Large crowd at Dedication Ceremony for New Library Building at 4499 Esplanade Avenue, in the Mile End neighbouhood, on October 04, 1953. 
Photo Credit: Federal Photos & JPL


I have long enjoyed libraries, since this is where the books are kept. One of my first libraries that I visited—I was six or seven when my father took me— was Montreal’s Jewish Public Library (Yidishe Folks biblyotek) at 4499 Esplanade Avenue at the corner of Mont-Royal Avenue, the first time that the library would have a building purposely built for it. This was a beautiful building in a beautiful location in Montreal’s Mile End neighbouhood: across the road from Fletcher’s Field and a five-minute walk from my school.

It was also supposed to be a permanent location, after decades of residing in temporary or rented premises. On October 19, 1952, a cornerstone was laid with great hope and with ideas of presence and permanence:
In front of a crowd of over a thousand Allan Bronfman delivered a moving speech on behalf of his brother Samuel. He spoke about the enduring Jewish spirit and traditions and the centrality of books. The speech ended with the line “Today as we dedicate this Library for its people, let us also dedicate its people for the Library.”
Also within the walls of the new building were two stones. One was a “grim memorial of the past” and the other a “bright augury for the future.” The first was a part of a pillar from the Tlomatzky Synagogue in Warsaw which was donated by the Polish government and the other was from Mount Zion and was made available by the Government of Israel
Another Photo, from a different angle, of the October 1953 opening, overlooking Mont-Royal Avenue and its beautiful grey-stone residences.  
Photo Credit: JPL Archives

Almost a year later, on October 4, 1953, there was a Dedication Ceremony, with many dignitaries and writers in attendance, including Samuel Bronfman, Dr. Jean Bruchési, H. Carl Goldenberg, S.I. Segal, Melech Ravitch, Jacob Shatzky and David Rome. Yet, despite its original intentions, the JPL would remain at this Esplanade location only for a little more than a dozen years. By the 1960s, the Jews were moving out of the area, and the building was sold to the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, writes Zachary M. Baker in an excellent 2014 article (“A Goodly Tent of Jacob, and the Canadian Home Beautiful: The Jewish Public Library in the Civic Sphere during the 1950s”) for Canadian Jewish Studies:
On 18 June 1966, the Quebec government took possession of the property at 4499 Esplanade, on behalf of the nascent Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (formally established the following year), and the JPL moved to rented space on Décarie Boulevard, where it remained until Cummings House–the home of the Allied Jewish Community Services (now, Federation CJA)–opened in 1972. No longer would the JPL be housed in a building of its own.
There it has remained for more than 40 years at its present location at 5151 Côte-Ste-Catherine Road, at the corner of Westbury Avenue. It has become the building that 4499 Esplanade Avenue was supposed to be. By then, we had also moved westward, joining the rest of the Jewish community. I was once again a young patron (a teenager) of the library, no more than a short bus ride away.

My father also attended many lectures in Yiddish; sometimes I would go along, only to get a ride by car. Later on, I returned to the library as a member and used its services regularly, that is, until moving to Toronto almost five years ago. (Despite having a large Jewish community, Toronto no longer has a Jewish library; it closed in 2008 and sold off all of its books.)

No matter where it is located, JPL has always been more than a lending library; it has always been a people’s library and in the first decades of its existence completely a volunteer operation. The purpose of the JPL has always been clear:
The Folks-biblyotek was more than a library to its founders and members. David Rome states: “From day one the Jewish Public Library considered itself and was considered by others as one of the great institutions of the world, regardless of how small it was.”[19] Rather than a library whose main function was to circulate books, the Folks-biblyotek became a centre of culture, in particular Yiddish culture, for every element of the community.[20] Sack describes the Folks-biblyotek as “the focal point around which intelligent Jews focused their energy, in particular the intelligent Jewish youth.”[21]
As the library site says, it had modest beginnings: “The JPL opened its doors on May 1st, 1914 in a modest cold-water flat at 669 rue St. Urbain with a small collection of 500 books.” By the time that it moved to its current location in Montreal’s west end Snowdon neighbourhood, the size of its holdings increased to more than 150,000 items in five languages: English, French, Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. the JPL celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014; I hope it remains open for another 100 years.

True, it might not be (or seem) as cozy as it was on Esplanade Avenue, but alts shtendik oyskumen beser ven ir zent a kind vas hat gefunen a gut bukh tsu leyenen (things always seem better when you are a child who has found a good book to read.) I was fortunate to have spent so much time at the JPL. It is a beautiful and wonderful library that has given me many happy memories, in attending lectures, in finding particular books that I needed for the purposes of research and in just having the pleasure of finding a book to read while wandering through the stacks—a pleasure any book lover knows. A shaynem dank to the staff at the JPL.

—Peretz J. Greenbaum, October 6, 2017


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Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project: Eva Raby, former director of the Montreal Jewish Public Library, describes the origins of  the “biblyotek un folks universitet,” and how Yiddish culture was like a religion for secular families like hers.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Gates of November by Chaim Potok

The Jews of Russia


“This book is about the Slepak family. It seeks to answer two questions. First. What conditions will drive individuals living in comfort at the very summit of a political system, suddenly to turn against that system and bring ruin down on their lives? And second: Can a single family serve as a microcosm that might shed light on what ultimately happened to all the peoples of the Soviet Union? This was once a land so filled with hope; than a slowly growing skepticism, and a slide into cynicism, disillusionment, alienation, rage, separation, and, in the end, a general disintegration.”

Chaim Potok, p. xiv


The Gates of November (1996) by Chaim Potok. The title is taken from a line in Alexander Pushkin’s famous novel in verse, Eugene Onegin (1833).
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum


Chaim Potok [1929–2002] is best known as a writer of American fiction infused with Jewish themes, found in such novels as The Chosen (1967), My Name is Asher Lev (1972) and Davita’s Harp (1987). This book is neither American nor fiction, but a true recounting of how and why one Jewish family in Russia (Volodya and Masha Slepak and their two children, Alexander and Leonid), part of what is now called the Former Soviet Union (FSU), wanted to leave it. It being a nation that failed to keep the promises of the Old Bolsheviks, one of whom was Solomon Slepak, the father of  Volodya.

A bit of background information on Potok, whom I consider a fine writer with a good moral questioning and critical eye; I have read all of whose books. Given his talent, I am not sure why he is not held in as high esteem as other Jewish writers of his generation like Bellow, Malamud and Roth. It might be that his novels are written for Jews who care about being Jewish, and who struggle with the ideas and ideals of Judaism, including truth and justice and righteousness.

This would undoubtedly make critics uncomfortable; and assimilated Jewish even ones more critical, all for very obvious reasons. I should know, since I too have wandered deeply into the opposing camp, seeking universality, only to eventually turn around to the particularities of what I know, to find comfort and familiarity in der Yidisher heym. After all, a writer can’t change his background, not if he’s honest. Potok was raised in an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, was ordained as a Conservative rabbi and holds a doctorate in philosophy.

It was in 1985, while visiting Russia, that Potok spent time with Volodya and Masha Slepak, this being the times of the Iron Curtain, where it was not a simple matter for Soviet citizens to apply for a visa and then hop on a plane to your desired destination. The Slepaks were dissidents; they were “refuseniks.” The USSR didn’t want anyone to leave, especially Jews. The Slepak Family did not want to stay and the Soviet government didn’t really want Jews like the Slepaks to stay. It was Kafkaesque.

Yet, they refused to let them go for political reasons, making them political prisoners. Such explains much about Soviet ideology during this time: from right after Israel won the Six Day Way in 1967 until the collapse of the USSR a little more than 20 years later. Although the Soviet Union was not Russia it was Russia when it came to the Jews and its systemic anti-Semitism–why it failed can be answered in why it failed the Jews, who at one time, in the beginning, wanted desperately to believe in the promises of the Old Bolsheviks, especially that all citizens were equal and would be treated as equals.

But that lie unraveled over time, the promises unfulfilled; it was doomed for failure from the very beginning, chiefly because it did not allow religious freedom and it persecuted the Jews more than the czarist regime before it did. It so effectively weakened the lines of cultural and religious transmission that a generation or two of Jews did not know what it meant to be a Jew. The Jews in the Soviet Union could not live as Jews; they were, as an example, forbidden to celebrate the holidays and festivals common to Jews around the world (like Sukkot) and all outward expressions of religious affiliation were discouraged, if not outright banned.

Yet, Jews, even if they considered themselves fully assimilated and acted so outwardly, could never be considered as full citizens, as Russians were—only because they were Jewish. All citizens were required to carry internal documents; the fifth line designated nationality or ethnicity. Even without such documents, Russians and Jews alike could generally spot a Jew, at times from a distance, not only by his face, but also by his mannerisms and way of walking and talking. This is what my wife and other Jews from Russia have told me. Jews stand out, even when they don’t want to.

Truly, this was not a place where Jews could comfortably live as Jews, whether religious or secular or in any way in between. A Jew knows this in his deepest soul, the yechidaheven if he does not know or understand this intellectually; he is awakened by the divine spark, dos Pintele Yidthis indestructible core of Jewishness that might be hidden or dormant for decades but can never be completely snuffed out. It is an idea that is steeped in kabbalistic thought. In such thought, the Pintele Yid resists the darkness and can’t accept or rationalize the evil as normal. This can also be viewed as  sparks of righteousness and justice.

The Slepaks were acting in accordance to this Jewish spark, this divine spark, which guided their conscience; they were among a handful of families who let this absurdity be known publicly, no doubt embarrassing the officials of the Politburo, who viewed such inconsistencies and irrationalities as unexceptional. In truth, they were, and very much so. Any hopes of sanity meant not only exposing the facts, but also doing so publicly and collectively, so as to ensure that insanity never returns, or as a minimum to reveal the symptoms of it.

For this reason, this book is also about the disease of totalitarianism (and, one can argue, of atheism), as much as it is about one family’s fight for their right to leave for Israel, and how their fight for freedom became the right for freedom for all Jews not only in Russia, but in all of the FSU. If freedom could not be found in the Soviet Union—and it couldn’t—it had to be found outside of it.

Volodya & Masha Slepak were finally free to leave, 17 years after they applied for an exit visa (their two boys were allowed to leave earlier, in the late 1970s); the couple landed in Israel a day before Volodya  Slepak’s 60th birthday, which was on October 27th, 1987. They were finally home.

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Tonight, 15 Tishrei, begins the seven-day holiday of Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת;the “Festival of Booths”), or Succos in Yiddish, where it is traditional for Jews to build a temporary structure adjoining one’s dwelling called a sukkah. Or if you can’t build a sukkah (e.g., you live in an apartment building), you can make sure to visit someone who does have one to eat at least one meal in it. Moreover, most synagogues build sukkot for communal meals. This is one of the three Shalosh R’galim (pilgrimage festivals) cited in the Torah. It is  traditional to eat meals in the sukkah and shake the four kinds (arba minim), reciting the blessing over the lulav and etrog. This holiday is a joyous one.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Isa Kremer: Die Poiliche Juden (1922)

Yiddish Performance of the Week


Die Poiliche Juden (“The Polish Jews;” 1922): Isa Kremer [born in 1887 in Belz, Bessarabia; died in 1956 in Córdoba, Argentina] sings “Die Poiliche Juden” in this 1922 recording for a 78 record produced by Brunswick in New York City; this is recorded shortly after Kremer came to the United States from Europe, and a couple of months after her performance at Carnegie Hall. This song, composed by the Yiddish folk poet Mark Varshavski [1848–1907], has a piano accompaniment by Kurt Hetzel. Isa Kremer has both an interesting background and an interesting story as a singer of Yiddish folk-songs. Kremer began her musical career as an opera singer, but changed course after her marriage to Israel Heifetz and after meeting the intellectual writers of Odessa, writes the Jewish Women’s Archive: “After her marriage to Heifetz (twenty-seven years her senior) around 1912, Kremer became involved in the intellectual life of Odessa and was especially influenced by the circles of Mendele Mokher Seforim, Mark Warshawski, and Chaim Nachman Bialik. Bialik convinced her to sing Yiddish folk songs, which she started to collect. At that time only men, usually cantors, performed these traditional songs of home and hearth on the stage.” As for the town of Belz, it had 6,100 inhabitants, 3,600 of them Jews, by the beginning of the First World War; today, its total population is less than 2,500, and there is no Jewish presence. Belz, which changed hands many times in the last 150 years, is now part of Western Ukraine, close to the border of Poland. For more about the Jewish life of Belz, you should view the Belz Memorial Book, published in 1974, and made available by JewishGen and the Yizkor Book Project.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky: El Malei Rachamim

Yizkor/Remember


El Malei Rachamim/Kel Maleh Rachamim/אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים
Via
Youtube:


Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky was born in 1899 in Smorgonwhich was then in Russian Poland (and now is in Belarus, near the Lithuanian border). Here he sings the pyet (“prayer-hymn”), “El Malei Rachamim” (אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים; “God full of Mercy” or “Merciful God”) at a memorial service for Holocaust victims (date unknown), in keeping with Jewish custom and tradition of remembering the departed souls or “memoralizing the souls.”

This is a prayer said at funerals (including the walk to the grave), at Yahrzeits of relatives called up for an aliyah and at communal Yizkor memorial services in shul four times a year, including on Yom Kippur, which was yesterday on Shabbat. The other Yizkor services on the Jewish calendar are on Shmini Atzeret, the last day of Pesach and the last day of Shavuot.

Some say that this prayer dates to medieval times and the “Christian Crusades.” Mayle, this prayer is said with a purpose in mind (“Therefore, may the All-Merciful One shelter him with the cover of His wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of life.”) To say that this is moving and emotional in an understatement; it stirs my soul like few prayers can, especially when done by a great hazzan (cantor) like Koussevitzky.

His beautiful tenor voice saved him a number of times, writes Neil W. Levin in the Milken Archive of Jewish Music:
During the Second World War—with the help of the Polish underground and the Partisans, according to some reports—Koussevitzky was able to save himself and his family from the Germans by retreating into Soviet Russia. While there, he adopted the name Mikhail Koussevitzky and, after the German retreat, sang operatic roles in such productions as Boris Godunov, Rigoletto, and Tosca at the Tiflis National Opera Company in Georgia. Returning to Poland after the war, he performed at a concert in the presence of the British and United States ambassadors, who interceded in order to obtain visas for him for both countries.
Koussevitzky chose the United States and New York City in 1947. He was the eldest of four brothers (Simcha, David, and Jacob), each who became well-known cantors, a rarity among families. Moshe Koussevitzky died in 1966 in New York City, and is buried in Jerusalem. His reputation as one of the greatest hazzanim (“cantors”) remains intact more than fifty years later; it is by him and handful of others to whom all cantors are compared and measured.

In the same article cited above, Levin writes: “At the time of his death, Koussevitzky was the hazzan of Temple Beth El of Borough Park, in Brooklyn—one of New York’s largest and most prestigious orthodox pulpits with a long tradition of hosting world-class hazzanim.”

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The prayer, for men and women can be found below, along with the transliteration, as well as here. Immediately below are a few other cantors saying the El Malei Rachamim; each does justice to the words of the prayer.


Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt [1882-1933]
Via: Youtube

Cantor Shalom Katz [1915-1982]
Via: Youtube


IDF Chief Cantor Lt. Col Shai Abramson
Via: Youtube

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Kel Maleh Rachamim: Prayer for the Soul of the Departed (Courtesy of Chabad.org)

For a Man:

Hebrew and Transliteration:



Translation:
O G‑d, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the soul of

(mention his Hebrew name and that of his father)

who has gone to his [supernal] world, for charity has been donated in remembrance of his soul; may his place of rest be in Gan Eden. Therefore, may the All-Merciful One shelter him with the cover of His wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of life. The Lord is his heritage; may he rest in his resting-place in peace; and let us say: Amen.

For a Woman:

Hebrew and Transliteration:



Translation:

O G‑d, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the soul of

(mention her Hebrew name and that of her father)

who has gone to her [supernal] world, for charity has been donated in remembrance of her soul; may her place of rest be in Gan Eden. Therefore, may the All-Merciful One shelter her with the cover of His wings forever, and bind her soul in the bond of life. The Lord is her heritage; may she rest in her resting-place in peace; and let us say: Amen.