|Got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht
Together with lyricist Louis Gilrod, David Meyerowitz wrote Got un zayn mishpet is gerekht (God and His Judgment Are Just) for a 1903 New York production of Zalman Libin’s (1872–1955) serious play Gebrokhene hertser (Broken Hearts), known in its original production by the longer title Gebrokhene hertser oder libe un flikt (Broken Hearts, or Love and Obligation). A drama rather than a musical, that 1903 production at the Grand Theater apparently had only one other known song, Sisu v’simkhu, by Louis Friedsell—a setting from Hebrew liturgy—and it starred Jacob P. Adler, the reigning dramatic actor, who introduced Got un zayn mishpet in the play.
Libin’s four-act play turns on a major area of conflict in the religious-cultural clash of mores and customs between the insular world of an unmodernized orthodox community and the lure of freer choices for the second generation in the New World. The play also explores timeless tensions between romantic love and moral obligation. Despite the seriousness of the subject and its social commentary, the characters remain mostly the unmined, underdeveloped, and unidimensional stereotypes popular with Second Avenue audiences of that era.
All of the action is set in New York. Nokhum Estrin is an apparently faded cantor of a local synagogue founded and populated chiefly by landsmen—immigrants from the same city in the Czarist Pale—whose president is the wealthy Mr. Tashkin. Nokhum and his wife, Feyga, have two daughters. The first is Mekhele, a widow with two small children, who sacrificed a life with the man she loved and allowed herself to be pressured by her family into an arranged marriage. The second daughter is the frail but beautiful and good-natured Gitel, who is passionately in love with Benjamin, although she barely knows him or anything of his past. But Nokhum has in mind an arranged marriage for Gitel with Mr. Tashkin’s son, which would solve the family’s severe financial predicament and ensure their security. (His comment that in America, Jews seemed less interested in synagogues and cantors than they were in Europe, is not without some truth in that time frame, which preceded the arrival of virtuoso star cantors and the era of their immense popularity in America.) Nokhum has found a shadkhn (matchmaker) who can organize the match with Tashkin’s son, but Gitel will not hear of it. Imploring her, Nokhum reminds her that he is past his prime as a cantor: “I stand on a bridge that may collapse at any moment,” he pleads. “Your aged mother, your widowed sister and her children, and I will all drown. You alone, Gitele, can save us.” But despite her devotion to her family, it is too late. Not only does she detest Tashkin’s son, but she is pregnant with Benjamin’s child. And she wants to marry him.
Unknown to Gitel, Benjamin has a wife and children, left behind temporarily in Europe. He has never been able to ignite any love for his wife, and he considers himself a victim of the arranged marriage system, which claimed him when he was practically a boy. But he agonizes over the inner conflicts generated by the situation and by his love for his children, multiplied by his love for Gitel. He reveals the truth to her, telling her that he wants to divorce his wife, but he has been unable to summon the courage. Rather than encourage him, Gitel, although she is both shocked and even more in love with him, cannot bring herself to be a party to abandonment of a wife and children. She insists instead that he remember his commitments and reunite his family—which he does.
It is in the second act that Nokhum composes and sings—together with the choir—Got un zayn mishpet, ostensibly for entertainment at the signing of the t’no’im (engagement rituals) for Tashkin’s son’s marriage to another woman, which—since Tashkin is tantamount to his employer—Nokhum must attend. Obviously the song, which recalls Jews’ steadfastness to God and faithful acceptance of His judgments despite suffering, persecution, and injustice throughout history, also reflects his own dejected mood and his family’s plight. That it could have been but is not Gitel who would benefit from Tashkin’s wealth is yet another painful judgment he must accept. But the song also presages harsher judgments to come at the end of the play.
Gitel cannot hide her condition for long, and eventually she reveals the truth to her parents, without reference to Benjamin. Nokhum ejects her from his home in anger, and she leaves town to give birth and try to rear and provide for her child on her own. When she returns to New York six years later, she is in the final stages of consumption. Benjamin—who is now extremely poor and prematurely aged—visits her, but she sends him back to his children and wife, who is also in bad health. Gitel implores him not to forget her—their—daughter after she dies. Meanwhile, Nokhum and Feyge, by now impoverished, visit her as well. Still angry, Nokhum will not accept his illegitimate granddaughter, but he wants to arrange for her to be left permanently in the orphanage where she is staying temporarily. Gitel will not agree. At her deathbed in the hospital, her cousin Avigdor accuses Nokhum of responsibility for the tragedy, which he says is the result of Nokhum’s earlier insistence on Old World religious standards and ways, and of his failure to compromise. But Nokhum, who repeats that “got un zayn mishpet is gerekht (God and His judgments are just),” begins reciting the viddu’i (confessional) with Gitel. Benjamin shows up and offers to take Gitel’s and his child to his home and rear her. With her last breath, Gitel says that she can now die in peace.
The reference to Haman in the third strophe concerns the quintessential enemy of the Jewish people and the unsuccessful architect of its annihilation throughout the Persian Empire, as related in the biblical Book of Esther. “Ivan” is used there simply to indicate a Russian. And “the dog”, Krushevan, refers to Pavolaki Krushevan (1860–1909), a virulently anti-Semitic Russian journalist whose series of articles on “the program for the conquest of the world by the Jews” is considered to have formed the “argument” for the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Krushevan edited a newspaper in Kishinev that accused the Jews of exploiting Christians while at the same time supporting revolution. In 1903 he was instrumental in the manufacture of a blood-libel rumor upon the death of a Christian child, which fomented and became the pretense for the bloody Kishinev Pogrom on Passover, 1903. Gebrokhene hertser opened in New York in September of that year, when the pogrom was still very much on the minds of Jews in America. Graphic depictions of rows of Jewish corpses lying in Kishinev streets had appeared in the press, and a wave of immigration was spawned by the pogrom. The reference to Krushevan in the song was not random. In a subsequent variant of the stanza, however, when the name was less recognizable, it was replaced—apparently after the Bolshevik Revolution, when Poland was for a time an independent nation—with a reference to Polish anti-Semitism (in addition to the “Ivan” reference). And mention of the “Czar’s Empire” was of course removed and substituted with the words “the same in every land.”
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics by Louis Gilrod
Throughout his life the Jew has
a word of consolation for his misfortunes,
and this was passed down to him through the generations.
And whatever misfortune befalls him,
whatever happens to him,
he bears it all and is content,
as though it were nothing at all.
But his face becomes pale,
his eyes become wet,
his heart gets drained of blood.
To uplift his heart
and to ease his suffering,
he consoles himself with this:
God and His judgment are just!
One may never say that God is wrong;
God knows what He is doing:
He punishes no one without just cause.
God and His Judgment are just…
The Jew never finds happiness;
He has always suffered.
Broken into little pieces
is the Jewish nation.
He has no home, no land, no friend;
no warm, consoling words.
The beautiful sun doesn’t shine on him,
He is hated everywhere.
An accursed stranger,
he is a foreigner;
everywhere he is tormented.
He has countless sorrows.
Yet he bears his sufferings in silence;
he cries his eyes out and he says:
God and His Judgment are just….
In nearly every generation
a Haman arises
and attempts with all kinds of terror
to destroy the weak, defenseless Jew.
Now too, in the twentieth century,
recall how he is without friends.
They rob the Jew and plunder him,
in the Czar’s empire.
An evil Ivan,
a dog, Krushevan,
has spilled the blood of the Jew.
A sea of blood
was caused by the pogrom.
Yet the Jew keeps on singing his song:
God and His judgment are just.…
Lyrics by Louis Gilrod
der yid hot in zayn lebn
a treystvort af zayn brokh,
un dos hot im gegebn zayn alter zeyde nokh.
un vos far a shlekhts es treft dem yidn
vos zol im nit geshen,
trogt er durkh un iz tsufridn,
glaykh vi gornit geven.
nor zayn ponem vert blas,
di oygn vern nas,
zayn harts vert fargosn mit blut.
tsu shtarkn zayn harts
un tsu shtiln zayn shmerts,
nemt er zikh treystn dermit:
got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht!
men tor keyn mol nit zogn got iz shlekht.
got veys vos er tut:
umzist shtroft er keynem nit.
got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht …
der yid iz keyn mol gliklekh;
er laydt fun eybik on.
gebrokhn in shtik–shtiklekh
iz di yidishe natsyon.
er hot keyn heym, keyn land, keyn fraynd nit.
keyn treysten, varem vort.
di sheyne zun far im, zi shaynt nit.
me hast im do un dort.
a farsholtener ger,
a fremder iz er.
iberal vert er geplogt.
er hot tsores fil.
un dokh laydt er shtil;
er veynt zikh gut oys un er zogt:
got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht …
kimat in ale doyres
shteyt a homon uf
un zukht mit kol hamoyres
dem shvakhn yidls sof.
oykh yetst in tsvontsikstn yorhundert
on fraynd, erinert aykh.
men hot dem yid geroybt, geplundert
dort in tsarn–raykh.
a shlekhter ivan,
a hund, krushevan,
hot fargosn dos blut fun dem yid.
a blutikn yam
hot gemakht dem pogrom.
dos yidl zingt vayter zayn lid:
got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht …
Composer: David Meyerowitz
Genre: Yiddish Theater
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
Arranger/Orchestrator: Patrick Russ
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation