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

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mendele - a Yiddish theater song recommending emigration to Israel

UPDATE: Here's a 60-second Instagram video of this song, which is on our cd Nervez!:


sheet music for A Brivele der KaleMany of the songs in the Itzik Zhelonek collection are flippant, whimsical, and ephemeral. There are, however, also dark songs included among the "most popular" songs of Yiddish cabaret in Warsaw in the mid-1930s.

I have never heard a recording of Mendele, but luckily it says at the top of the page: "Sing to the tune of A brivele der kale" and I was able to find that sheet music at the Library of Congress. What a wonderful cover.

It's not hard to understand why this song became extinct. It is concerned with the pogroms that preceded the Holocaust, and after the war they probably seemed irrelevant. Also, there is something jarring about the marriage of this tune and this text: the beginning works well, but the words of the refrain seem too grim for the melody.


Randy Kloko and Jane Peppler at the pianoI was lucky enough to have my favorite bass singer, Randy Kloko, up here for the weekend from Florida where he mainly sings in barbershop quartets. He sang this song for our cd Nervez! straight from our living room session (in the picture taken by our friend Mitzi Quint you see us working on one of the songs).



My translation from the Yiddish:


Last night I lay thinking about my beloved brother. I'm always hoping to see him again. My heart is heavy, I drop a tear, I want to see him again, his fine figure, (even though he's old).

Just hear what happened, a bang on the door woke me up and I was given this letter [from him]:

"Mendele, stay where you are, because you've lost your home. They wanted pogroms to bury us. They burnt our house, we don't have a home. They shamed our sister and drove us out of town.

"Our father lives no more, you should say kaddish for him. I'm having a very hard time, truth to tell. Your only son Moshele feel on the battlefield, a sacrifice. His bride, let it not happen to any others, died from hunger. The streets are wet with bloody tears, it's a cemetery in the street.

"In the whole land all the shuls are burnt, it makes my limbs shudder. Women and children are disgraced, let me never see this again. The streets are white as snow from bed coverings and pillows.

"The cry can be heard all the way to heaven, tears pour from the eyes. Listen, brother, to my last word, because only Zion is our own place.

"So, Mendele, don't stay where you are, because you've lost your home. Obey me, be a colonist, because that's what a Jew is born to. Because there is our holy fatherland, where we won't be bothered any more. Obey me today, brother, I don't have any more to say."

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