Der dishvasher 04:31

Liner Notes

Yablokoff wrote Der dishvasher (The Dishwasher) as an independent song before it was subsequently included in his full-length production of a “musical romance” of the same name at the Second Avenue Theater in New York in 1936. Because the song was so successful on its own, he later decided to write a play around it. In the original production, in Yiddish, a young Walter Matthau played the role of a cellist. Long afterward, when Matthau was an established Hollywood cinema star, he observed in a New Yorker interview that he could never have learned in any drama school what he had learned in the Yiddish theater.

Yablokoff considered Der dishvasher his finest play. He played and sang the role of Abrashe the dishwasher in the staged production, which also featured such celebrities as Bella Meisel (his wife), Leo Fuchs, Annie Thomashevsky, Esther Saltzman, and Dave Lubritsky. Most or all of the score, apart from Yablokoff’s song, was written by Ilia Trilling.

Der dishvasher is the lament of an elderly man, abandoned by his children, so that he is forced to wash dishes in a restaurant for bare subsistence. It was a familiar theme, especially resonant among elderly audiences, even though it was largely (and typically) exaggerated in this song for the usual dramatic effect.  Although Der dishvasher was probably intended to portray the seriousness and genuine pain of the dishwasher’s plight, the overall mantra of parental complaints about their children’s neglect became a recurring theme in American Jewish humor—as late as Mel Brooks’s original 2,000-year-old man routine, where he has thousands and thousands of children, “not one of whom ever calls or comes to visit!”

By: Neil W. Levin



Lyrics by Herman Yablokoff

In a restaurant I saw
an old man standing in the kitchen;
there’s commotion swirling around him; he says not a word.
He stands and washes the dishes there,
and with much feeling
he sings softly to himself:

“I wash with my weak hands.
I wash and wash, for a few pennies,
from early till late for a stale piece of bread.
I wash and wish for my own death.

“Once I was somebody.
I had a home, I was rich.
My father was good to me.
Now I am old; no one has any use for me.
And in the tumult
I stand and wash.

“I have four children, all well educated.
My sons- and daughters-in-law toss me out.
My daughter argues with me that I should go to my son.
He just screams: ‘There’s nothing I can do.’
And in the tumult
I stand and wash.…”

Lyrics by Herman Yablokoff

in a restoran—hob ikh gezen
an altn man—in kitchen shteyn,
arum im rasht— er red keyn vort.
e sheyt un vasht—di dishes dort.
un mit gefil
brumt er shtil

“ikh vash mit mayne shvakhe hent.
ikh vash un vash, fardin ikh a por cent,
fun fri biz shpet far a trukn shtikl broyt.
ikh vash un bet af zikh aleyn dem toyt.

“a mol geven—mit mentshn glaykh.
gehat a heym—gevezn raykh,
geven iz dan—der tate gut.
itst bin ikh alt—keyner darf mikh nit.
un in dem rash
shtey ikh un vash:

“kh’hob kinder fir—gebildet groys.
di eydems, shnir—varfn mikh aroys.
mayn tokhter fight—ikh zol geyn tsum zun.
mayn zun er shrayt—ikh ken gornit ton.
un in dem rash,
shtey ikh un vash.…”



Composer: Herman Yablokoff

Length: 04:31
Genre: Yiddish Theater

Performers: Robert Abelson, Baritone;  Elli Jaffe, Conductor;  Vienna Chamber Orchestra

Date Recorded: 10/01/2001
Venue: Baumgartner Casino (A), Vienna, Austria
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Music Sales Corp.
Arranger/Orchestrator: Ira Hearshen
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation


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