Zog es mir nokh amol
Tell Me Again
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Zog es mir nokh amol, with lyrics by Jacob Jacobs, is a song from Ellstein and Israel Rosenberg’s operetta Der berditchever khosn (The Bridegroom from Berditchev), which starred Ludwig Satz and Zina Goldstein and opened the 1930–31 season at the Public Theatre in New York.
The plot is set in the Ukranian city of Berditchev prior to the First World War. It was the custom throughout eastern Europe for well-to-do merchant-class households to provide meals for out-of-town students at local yeshivas, with specific nights assigned to each of them on a weekly basis. In this play, a yeshiva student named Avremele is assigned his weekly esn teg (eating day) at the home of such a wealthy Jew, Isaac Varshavsky, who has pursued worldly cultured enlightenment—having sent his children to Paris for secular education—while still fully observant of traditional Jewish life and law and a member of the religious community. Avremele falls in love with Varshavsky’s daughter, Reizele, but he conceals this from her father, as well as his secret ambition to become a painter. A more socially and economically suitable student from her own circle, Boris, is also in love with her, but she is ambivalent about Boris’s marriage proposal.
During a party for Reizele at her home, her parents and other adults step out, leaving the young people celebrating on their own. Meanwhile, Avremele shows up for his esn teg meal. Reizele’s friends, knowing of his feelings for her, tease him by staging a mock wedding ceremony, with her complicity, simply as a party joke. Her father returns home just as the mock ritual has been completed. Astounded, he informs Reizele that joke or not, she is now legally married according to the provisions of Jewish law (since the prescribed words have been said in the presence of legally acceptable witnesses), and she must get a get (a bill of divorce) from Avremele. Avremele refuses, even when offered various enticements. In Jewish law, a married woman cannot be divorced if she cannot obtain a bill of divorce directly from a husband known or presumed to be alive—in which case she is known as an aguna. As a man who refused to give his wife a get, Avremele would become a pariah in the community, subject to ostracism, and perhaps even harm. So he runs away to Italy to study painting. Isaac manages through unspecified means to secure a rabbinical annulment of the marriage, but after two years Avremele returns as a famous painter to find that Reizele is about to be married to Boris. Avremele gives her a picture he has painted of her in Italy, demonstrating that he has never forgotten her. Reizele asks his forgiveness—telling him that in the end, he is the most charming of all suitors. In the song Zog es mir nokh amol (Tell Me Again), Avremele pleads with her to marry him (properly, this time). He sings that he will do anything to gain favor in her father’s eyes: become a Zionist (presumably like Isaac), or return to religious orthodoxy. Most important in the song is Avremele’s plea to Reizele to repeat what she has just told him, having longed for more than two years to hear it: “Tell me again, oh, tell me again, I’d like to hear those beautiful words from you. Tell it to me again.” Following the song, Reizele goes off to the marriage canopy with Avremele instead of Boris.
The review in the Forverts, the largest Yiddish daily newspaper, criticized the play as tired and uninventive, but the music was praised as the redeeming element: “The operetta is full of beautiful melodies composed by the young Abe Ellstein.”