Ever since Dos yidishe lid (The Jewish Song) was made famous in the mid-1920s with its premiere recording by the world-renowned cantor Mordecai Hershman, it has been perceived as an independent, quasi-cantorial Yiddish concert number. In fact, Dos yidishe lid began its life as a showstopping rendition written expressly for a newly expanded 1924 production of Sholom Secunda’s full-fledged musical melodrama In nomen fun got (In the Name of God)—with lyrics by Anshel Schorr (1891–1942) and a book by Shlome [Solomon] Shtaynberg [Steinberg].
An earlier version of the show was produced in Brooklyn in 1923, and it also played the next year in Montreal. But for its 1924 production at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theater, where Secunda was the resident composer, the show was augmented to include several new musical numbers (the advance publicity boasted ten)—Dos yidishe lid among them.¨
Press descriptions refer to In nomen fun got as “an old style melodrama.” Indeed, its story, in which separated lovers are reunited only through ironic tragedy, exhibits pretensions to moral and ethical counsel. But there is still a sufficient amount of requisite comedy in its subplots, satirical character portrayals, and routines. “Something for those who come to cry, and something for those who come to laugh,” wrote a reviewer of the 1923 production.
The plot unfolds in a small eastern European town, where a wealthy and religious elderly widower and curmudgeon, Reb Nison Kluker, also the town’s cantor, seeks to marry a much younger woman—D’vorale—the daughter of a poor tailor. Though her father welcomes it, she resists, primarily because she is having a secret love affair with Reb Nison’s son, Yitzḥak, who has inherited his father’s musical talent. When D’vorale becomes pregnant and is about to be driven from the town, Yitzḥak swears “in the name of God” that he will always love her. But she disappears, and he loses touch with her completely, going to Italy to study music. The surviving scores indicate that he sings Dos yidishe lid at some point in that first act.
Secunda wrote Dos yidishe lid expressly for Joseph Shayngold, an accomplished singer-actor (and son-in-law of the Yiddish stage idol Jacob P. Adler) who also had the ability to interpret the idioms of virtuoso cantorial art and who had already been engaged to play the part of Yitzḥak. Because Shayngold possessed what Secunda considered one of the “few cultivated voices in the Jewish [Yiddish] Theater,” he decided to compose something that would justly exploit his gifts. At the same time, since the show was scheduled to open just around Rosh Hashana, he aimed at something that would represent Judaic religious culture while resonating equally “with those who attend synagogues and those who don’t.” What emerged was a song that contains, integrated within its descriptive Yiddish “lied” framework, three of the most familiar Hebrew prayers and cantorial harbingers of the upcoming holy days: hinn’ni he’ani mimma’as, the cantor’s plea on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for worthiness to intone the liturgy on the congregation’s behalf; kol nidrei, the recitation on the eve of Yom Kippur of an ancient legal formula absolving Jews from vows they are unable to keep; and sisu v’sim’ḥu, a traditionally lively expression in the liturgy for Simhat Torah.
It is not clear how—or on what dramatic grounds, if any—this song was made to fit into the show. By the last act, all the characters have immigrated to New York, where Reb Nison has become a well-known cantor. Yitzḥak is engaged to a millionaire’s daughter. While driving himself to his wedding, he accidentally runs over and kills a young boy who has darted in front of his motorcar chasing after a ball. The child turns out to be D’vorale’s and his own son. He and D’vorale reunite in grief, and instead of going through with his wedding, he pulls the ring from his pocket and presents it to her as a marriage pledge—renewing his vow “in the name of God” to remain steadfast forever.
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics Anshel Schorr
Translation of prayers by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
The Jew might be poor; still he’s very wealthy,
for he’s rich with spiritual treasures.
The Jew is patient; his faith in God is great.
Even the inferno doesn’t consume him.
He is considered a descendant of kings, of honored lineage and wealth,
yet every country slams the door in his face.
He laments and he weeps; he can’t take any more.
Even his laugher, oy, is mixed with a tear.
When it sometimes happens that things go well for him,
the world soon reminds him that he is a Jew,
and they again hand him his “wandering stick,”
and he must search for a new home.
When their New Year arrives, all other people
sing and dance until they drop from exhaustion.
But the Jew on Rosh Hashana sits in the synagogue with pious intent
and hears the cantor sing a different kind of song:
“Standing in the presence of Him who dwells in the midst of the glorious praises of the
people of Israel, I become more and more aware of the poverty of my deeds and abilities
and am overwhelmingly frightened and humbled. Nevertheless, I am here before You
pleading on behalf of Your people Israel, for it is they who have sent me.”
Enter the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve
and you will hear the cantor sing
with great emotion:
“We declare that any and all personal vows, oaths, obligations, undertakings, or pledges
that we might make as a commitment to God and involving only our relationship to
Him—that if subsequently the oath be forgotten or is not able to be fulfilled, then let it be
that beginning on this Yom Kippur and extending to next year’s Yom Kippur, these vows
are abandoned and made null and void.
”But it also happens at times
that Israel is merry
and sings joyously, with abandon,
as it happens on the holy day of Simhat Torah:
“Celebrate, be happy on Simhat Torah.
Torah is our treasure, our honor.
Its value is beyond any reckoning.
Its precious worth is more than can be perceived.
So exult over this, our Torah.
It is our strength and our light.”
Lyrics Anshel Schorr
Translation of prayers by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
der yid meg zayn orem, dokh iz er zeyer raykh,
vayl gaystike oytsres hot der yid zeyer a sakh.
der yid iz geduldik, zayn bitokhn iz groys,
fun a brenendikn oyvn kumt er lebedik aroys.
men ruft im ben-meylekh, a yakhsn, a gvir,
yedes land farshlist far im di tir.
er klogt un er veynt, er ken shoyn nit mer,
afile zayn gelekhter, oy, iz gemisht mit a trer.
makht zikh a mol s’geyt im shoyn gut,
dermont men em bald, az er iz a yid.
un men git im vider a shtekn in der hant,
un er zukht a naye land.
ot kumt a nay yor, ale felker biz gor,
zingen un tan sn un vern azsh mid,
un der yid, rosheshone zitst in shul, mit kavone
un hert fun zayn khazn an ander min lid:
“hineni he’oni mima’as,
nirash v’nifḥad mipaḥad,
yoshev t’hilot yisra'el
boti la’amod ulhisḥanen
l’fanekha al ammkha
yisra'el, asher sh’lakḥuni.”
haynt yomkiper baynakht, geyt arayn in shul,
vet ir hern dem khazn zingen,
dort mit a gefil:
“kol nidre, ve’esarei, ush’vuei, vaḥaramei,
v’konamei v’khinnuy’ei, v’kinusei,
[d’indarna, ud’ish’taba’yna, ud’a!arim’na,
ud’asar’na al nafshatana]
miyom kippurim ze
ad yom kippurim haba aleinu l’tova.”
ober se makht zikh oykh a mol,
ven oykh freylekh iz yisroel,
un er zingt zikh freylekh, on moyre,
ven es kumt on simkhes to’yre:
“sisu v’simḥu b’simḥat tora,
utnu kavod latora,
ki tov saḥ’ra mikal sḥhora
mipaz umip’ninim y’kara.
nagil v’nasis b’zot hatora
ki hi lanu oz v’orah."
Composer: Sholom Secunda
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Barcelona Symphony-National Orchestra of Catalonia;
Elli Jaffe, Conductor;
Benzion Miller, Tenor
Date Recorded: 05/01/2000
Venue: Centre Cultural de Sant Cugat (A), Barcelona, Spain
Engineer: Kornacher, Bertram
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Music Sales Corp.
Arranger/Orchestrator: Elli Jaffe
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin