Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

1. Link to list of posts on this site
2. Link to songs for sale
3. Click here for our music videos of Yiddish songs with English subtitles (mainly post-1925)
4. List of the still lost songs. Do you know any of them?
5. Warszawa zumerkurs song links

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Birobidzhan: Stalin thought you should want to live there and this song agrees.

UPDATE: Somebody asked me for a sing along version, so here it is, the recording is still from "I Can't Complain" at Bandcamp
This Yiddish song of propaganda and emigration is often called Yugn Zikh Tsvey Taykhn - lyrics by Betsalel Friedman and music by Ben Yomen. I didn't know this until yesterday and when I looked up Ben Yomen's songbook Lider far shul un heym I found it (thanks to Jack Falk):

Yiddish song Birobidzhan original sheet music

There is also a cute song in the book called The Biro Bidzhan Freylekh. I can only assume Ben Yomen sincerely believed Birobidjan could be a good place for Jews to settle.

I was very startled to see this sheet music, because it's so different from what I learned - somewhere along its way to me the melody morphed into something quite different. I've never heard a recording of the song: I learned it from a pianist who had learned it from a cassette (which he can't find for me now).

Click below to hear the version Aviva and I recorded (and buy the sheet music of our version, if you like it):




This is the video Aviva and I made at our first concert together:

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Friday, September 3, 2021

Khsidemlekh zingen (Khsidemlekh tantsn) - Yiddish theater song by Yosele Kolodny

UPDATE:Reposted to add (on the right) a brand new singalong version (I hadn't thought of that back in 2016 when I last posted this song). On the left, a live version from the very first time pianist Aviva Enoch and I performed the song. Maybe 2011? Ah, time flies.


Yosele Kolodny, composer of this song, died in the Holocaust. Little is known about him. He was composer of another song in the Itzik Zhelonek collection - Dem Rebns Shirayim - which I have not been able to find (it's possible it was sung to a tune very much like this one, the scansion is similar). In the book The Jews of Pinsk, 1881 to 1941 Yosele Kolodni is mentioned as a young actor, a Pinsker, married to Ulia Rabinowitsch, performing in a comedy called Dolarn in 1923.

Zhelonek sold (and transcribed) a 78 made by Yossele Kolodni himself, but I haven't found it. Ben Bonus sang the song - as a cheery tango - and that's what I transcribed (download his version here). It's at the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive. At the Freedman catalogue you can find mention of quite few recordings of the song, which is sometimes called Khasidemlekh Tantsn and sometimes Khasidemlekh Zingen. These include a performance by Ben and Florence Belfer available online in the Florida Atlantic University collection: Khasidimlakh. Chava Kramer sent me the link.

Click the album cover below to hear and/or buy this track and all the others from our cd Nervez!




hasidic dancing




The slippers and socks mentioned here are cited in Wikipedia:

Hasidim in the mid-19th century show a far more Levantine outfit (i.e. a kaftan lacking lapels or buttons) that differs little from the classical oriental outfit consisting of the kaftan, white undershirt, sash, knee-breeches (halbe-hoyzn), white socks and slippers (shtibblat). This outfit allegedly had a Babylonian origin before its later adoption by Jews, Persians and lastly the Turks, who brought it to Europe.

Here's my translation:
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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Goodbye New York by Pesach Burstein (aka Gud-bay Nyu York)

UPDATE:Reposted because a reader of the blog found a recording of this song, by Aaron Lebedeff, at the Mayrent collection in Wisconsin. Have a listen: גוד־באַי, ניו יאָרק.

Here's a 1-minute Instagram video. It's fun making short videos and the square size is entertaining! Here it is:


Click the album cover to listen to and/or buy our recording of this song, Good-bye New York, from the In Odess cd.

On page 130 of Pesach Burstein's autobiography Oh, What a Life! he mentions this song as being sung in Warsaw, and it appears in one of the Itzik Zhelanek books along with "Zi Hot Es," another number from the same show. Zhelanek says the show was Gasn Zinger but Burstein says it was from Radio Singer.

On my trip to Harvard's Judaica collection I found orchestra parts for this song, but not a lead sheet. That was the case for a number of other songs; I wonder if this was because the singers were afraid their songs would be stolen so they committed them to memory and ate the lyrics pages. I reconstructed the tune from the fiddle part, so it might not be exactly right - I've never heard the song as it was sung. If you "click to order" you can buy the sheet music with translation etc for $2.50 (includes the mp3 of the song):



I think it's pretty obvious why this song became "lost" - the protagonist says he has had ill luck in New York and is going back to Eastern Europe. Nobody would have sung such a thing after the Holocaust. Nikolai Borodulin found, maybe, the town our protagonist was returning to - Berëzovka [Russia], Berezivka [Ukraine], Berezówka [Polish], Beresowka, Beresovka - in Ukraine, 223 miles south of Kiev.

As always, if you have information about this song let me know. I reconstructed the melody from a hand-written fiddle part for the score in Harvard's Widener Library Judaica Collection, it might not be quite right, I've never actually heard anybody sing the song.

Here's the transcription:

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Yamtsa daritsa a tsa tsa - Pesach Burstein's hit of the 1930s

Burstein has been featured on this blog many times, because his songs were popular in Warsaw (where he was known as the Vilner Komiker!) between the wars. This song was not printed in any of Zhelonek's books but it's from the same era - though he probably continued to sing it throughout his career.

I have to give huge thanks to Arye Mechachem's Cornucopia of Yiddish Song, a Youtube channel with unusual and wonderful songs, and some of them (like this one) even have transliterations in the comment section. Thanks, Arye!

It is rare for somebody to have the skills and take the time to write down the words from these recordings, and people who do so are tayerer fun gold.

I couldn't find information about this recording online, but I did see that the refrain appears in a famous Russian book from 1930, the Golden Calf: "There was tram number ten / Someone died on the site / Pull-pull the dead / Lamtsa-dritsa-tsa-tsa-tsa." It's also pointed out that this refrain appeared before the revolution in the collection of 1921 "Couplets of the Russian army in the Turkish emigration."

Here's the recording I made, adding transliteration and translation on screen:



Transliteration and translation after the jump

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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Dir a nickel, mir a nickel - from Fishel der gerotener, a song about getting ahead as a trolley conductor

This song is in the Kemmen Folio of Famous Jewish Theatre Songs I bought on eBay. It's from the show Fishel der gerotener. Gerotener means a well-made, all round class A type of person, but Menashe Skulnik played the hapless trolleyman so you know the nickname was sarcastic. The lyrics are by Isidore Lillian and the music is by Joseph Rumshinsky.

It could be "Dir a nikl mir a nikl," but the correct way to spell nickel in Yiddish is problematic, since at the time the Jews were cramming English into their vocabularies as fast as possible. You'll also find it as Fishl der Konduktor. Fishel is enjoying the shmirn (smears, bribes) that come his way.

The idea was stolen from a previous (1917) Yiddish theater hit, Fifty-fifty, in which we see:

Mayn bruder iz arumgegangen gebrokhn a lange tsayt.
Keyn zakh iz im nit gelungen, vos er hot getrayt.
Af eyn mol kumt er aheym mit gelt un zogt tsu mir; you see,
Ikh bin conductor af a kar un teyl zikh mit der company—

Fifty-fifty, Fifty-fifty, oy oy oy, fifty!
Ikh kling di bel gor on a shier.
A nickel far zey un a nickel far mir;
Fifty-fifty! es geyt bay mir af stim.
A tsi dos shtrikl, s'iz do a nickel
Mit fifty-fifty-skem!
My brother's been going around broke for a long time. Nothing he's tried has been a success. Once he came home with money and told me: "You see, I'm conductor of a trolleycar and share with the company: Fifty-fifty! I ring the bell endlessly, a nickel for them and a nickel for me! It's going gangbusters. A tug on the string, there's a nickel, with the fifty-fifty scheme!"

I hadn't intended to make a video of this song because Bruce Adler did a great one, with subtitles, and an orchestra! His version is featured at the Milken Archive where you can read the plot of Fishl der gerotener. (I have special interest in this show because Ola Lilith played one of the love interests.)

But then my friend Aviva Enoch and I ended up doing a version one afternoon just for fun and I forgot about it until I started trying to figure out why the song "Fifty-fifty" sounded so familiar... Anyway, the file lay in my computer for six years. Here it is.


If you want the sheet music with lyrics, translation, chords, etc., here it is:




My translation:

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