THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY
presents its

YIDDISH VINKL
POETRY CORNER

 

The Translations of Leo Dashefsky

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You can read English translation of poems written by some of the more popular and well-known Yiddish writers within this exhibition, courtesy of the late Leo Dashefsky z"l who produced each one of the translations that are being made available to you here.

The poems listed are but a small number of the total of poems translated by Leo Dashefsky; perhaps more will be made available for your perusal in the future.

Currently, you may read a short biography of each of the poets, as well as one or more of their translations. The original Yiddish is not included here, though if anyone possesses a copy of a particular poem in Yiddish, it may be  sent to the Museum via e-mail so that it may be added alongside the English translation.  If you have the original Yiddish-language version, please contact the Museum at postmaster@museumoffamilyhistory.com.

Please read the lovely dedication of Leo's daughter Batya which is being presented to you as  a PowerPoint presentation.

Mordechai Gebirtig
1887-1942

Mordechai Gebirtig

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Mordechai Gebirtig was born in 1887 in Cracow, Poland. He lived there all his life and never left that city. He started to write Yiddish poetry in 1904 and became famous when he began to sing his own poetry. Like all other troubadours, Gebirtig created both the lyrics and the music.

The hallmark of Gebirtig's poetry is simplicity of style and language.  He became so renowned that Jewish actors frequented his house and placed orders with him for Yiddish stage productions.

During World War II, he, together with other Jews, were interned in the Cracow Ghetto. Even though he suffered from starvation and pain, he did not cease to  create his Yiddish poetry. He died in the gas chamber.

Gebirtig loved children and wrote poetry for them and about them. In the poem that follows ("Motele"), he describes a boy who is actually acting like a boy. He is mischievous and full of fun.

In the next poem included here, "It Burns", it seems as if the author had a premonition of things to come; the Second World War and the Holocaust. The village on fire can be taken literally and symbolically.  next >>


Itzhak Katzenelson
1886-1944

Itzhak Katzenelson

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Until the outbreak of World War II, Itzhak Katzenelson was known as a dramatist and Yiddish-Hebrew poet. His poetry was replete with cheerfulness, joy and happiness. He wrote poetry especially for children. In both Yiddish and Hebrew day schools in Poland, children would learn and sing them on festive occasions.

Under Nazi Occupation in Poland, his mood changed but his writing became more prolific. Obviously, the new mood was due to his witnessing the annihilation of his people. His greatest achievement at this time was the "Song of the Slaughtered Jewish People".

Katzenelson died in the gas chambers on April 17, 1944.

In his poem "The Sun is Sinking in Flames", the poet has mixed emotions. On one hand he sees the decline and frustration in the world, and on the other he believes it will make a comeback in happiness and sunshine. As for him personally, he beholds only sorrow and affliction.

"To the Heavens" is a fragment of a much bigger literary work called "The Song of the Slaughtered Jewish People". The author is angry with the heavens because they witnessed the annihilation of the Jewish people, especially the million Jewish children, and did not do anything.  
next >>

H. Leivick
1888-1962

H. Leivick

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Leivick's theme in Yiddish literature is the suffering of mankind and the Jewish people.

At the age of seventeen he joined the revolutionaries of the Jewish Labor Movement in Russia. In 1910 he was arrested and imprisoned. He was sentenced to a life term of hard labor in Siberia. There he wrote his first drama, "The Chains of Messiah".

In addition to writing dramas, he also wrote poetry and essays. Other works of his are: "The Golem" and "In the Days of Job".  Leivick was constantly in search of the reasons for man's suffering.

In the poem, "My People are Being Slaughtered", the poet takes to  task the world for its callousness to the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis.

It was noted above that Leivick's theme in Yiddish literature was the suffering of mankind including the Jews. The following poem "Eibik" is a classic example. Each one of the stanzas deals with a different catastrophe that occurred to the Jewish people. The road of Jewish history abounds in pain and suffering. Leivick fuses his personal suffering with that of the Jewish people such as: hopelessness of the Russian Revolution, the futility of trying to depose the Czar, the Spanish Inquisition, prison, the proletariat, and the gentile workers' betrayal of their Jewish comrades. Is it a poem of hope or frustration? It is probably neither...It is a poem of the Holocaust. The reference to the constant burnings are evidently the fumes of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

In the poem, "Two Silver Goblets", Leivick portrays the anguish and suffering of a mother in Israel who lost two sons in the prime of life in the war for independence.  next >>

J. L. Peretz
1852-1915

J. L. Peretz

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J. L. Peretz was born in Poland. He was a versatile personality and prolific writer. Like all Jewish writers of his time, Peretz began his literary career by writing in Hebrew, but in 1888 he switched to Yiddish. His home was in Warsaw which had become a center for all Jewish authors whether they wrote in Yiddish, Hebrew or Russian.

Peretz had a profound impact on the Jewish community life. He helped to raise the self-respect of the Jewish people, and became the spokesman of the downtrodden and inarticulate masses. He was particularly interested in the conditions of the working class, and he joined the Bund, i.e. the Jewish Socialist workers. He was the leading figure at the Czernowitz World Conference on Yiddish in 1908, and first of the builders of the Yiddish school.

In his little poem, "Hope and Trust", the poet speaks of the better times that are bound to come to mankind if you believe and strive for it. He also hopes that this happiness will come to the Jewish people who have been persecuted for generations. Peretz also wrote poetry for children.

"Ettie" is a classic example of this genre that he enjoyed. next >>

Avraham Reisin
1876-1952

Avraham Reisin

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Avraham Reisen was born in Russia, and at the age of thirty-two he settled in the United States.

He was a good-natured man and had compassion for the weak and the poor, the meek and the downtrodden. He wrote poetry about the unassuming and plain folk; about tailors, shoemakers, storekeepers, maid-servants and Yeshiva students.

Reisin never wrote poetry exclusively for children. However, his poems are so well written that both child and adult can enjoy them. They are a paragon of simplicity. He was very much concerned with the suffering of mankind in the world, but optimistic with regard to redeeming it from grief and sorrow. He was not a belligerent person, but rather meek. He was a poet, teacher and friend. Because of his popularity among the Yiddish-speaking masses, many of his poems were set to music and sung by both young and old.

In the poem, "The Gemara Melody", the poet describes the plight of the Yeshiva bukher (student) whose ambition is to become a learned man, a rabbi. He tells us of the hardship s the student had to endure, e.g. homesickness, sleeping on a bench, loneliness, shyness and hunger, not the least of which was lacking "days to eat" because no host invited him.

"On the Nile" is a charming poem, almost an idyllic scene. Although the king is vicious, the water in the Nile seems to have respect for the child in the basket. next >>

Sholem Aleichem
1859-1916

Sholem Aleichem

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Sholem Aleichem (pseudonym for Sholom Rabinowitch) was born in the town of Pereaslov, Russia. He was the third of twelve children. At thirteen his mother died, and at twenty he married and settled in Kiev. In 1905 he came to America, but did not stay very long and returned to Europe. After the outbreak of World War I, he managed to escape with his family to the United States and settled in New York City.

Sholem Aleichem manifested a talent during his boyhood when he managed to discover a ridiculous aspect in every situation and a caricature in every person. One of his contemporaries was a writer by the name of Shomer, who fed the Yiddish reader with nonsense such as: the Melamed, the Hebrew teacher who became a Lord, and the Jewish cleaning girl a princess, and other embellishments of the trite French-type novel.

Sholem Aleichem was a realist. He wrote about the simple folk, good-natured Jews, plain women, crude craftsmen, Jewish girls and Jewish musicians.

Sholem Aleichem is known far and wide throughout the world. He has even been translated into Chinese and Japanese. What makes Sholem Aleichem so popular is his humor and the universality of his themes.

Regrettably, he is mainly known for his prose and not for his poetry. The following is a fragment of a cradle song which Jewish mothers used to sing to their babies, how the father has gone to America and he will soon send them steamship tickets to come to the United States.

The Museum of Family History presents one of Aleichem's poems, entitled "Sleep My Child". next >>

Yehoash
1872-1927

Yehoash

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At the age of sixteen, Yehoash was acclaimed as a gifted poet with a bright future ahead of him. No other than J. L. Peretz admired his talent and encouraged him.

Yehoash (pseudonym for Shlomo Blumgarten) was born in Lithuania, and in 1898 arrived in New York. His type of poetry was different from his contemporaries like Bovshover and Wintchevsky whose main theme was class struggle. He revealed in his poetry a universal trend, a love of nature and delved into Jewish history seeking poetic perfection. In 1907 he began to implement his great dream -- a translation of the Bible into Yiddish. However, he never ceased to write fables, children's poetry, travelogues and legends.

In his poem "A Jewish Feeling", he reiterates his view: when you hit the Jews, they grow stronger and more unified.

The poem, "Rachel's Tomb", is based on Hebrew folklore. The Bible tells us that when Jacob returned from Padden-Aram to Canaan, a short distance away from Bethlehem, Rachel gave birth to a son and died. She was buried in the vicinity of Ramah, alongside the road leading to Bethlehem. Later, a monument was erected over the grave, and it was regarded as a holy site.

Tradition has it that in time people began to believe that at night bitter weeping is heard. This is the voice of Rachel, weeping for her children who had been driven from their land into exile. next>>

 

 





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