Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
(A Companion to MENDELE)
Dorfsyidn ('Rural Jews') – Part Two
Subject: This issue of TMR
*** An agricultural-lexicographic note: the last issue of TMR lists suggested glossary corrections. Harkavi directs the user of his dictionary from shenik to the dialectal syenik. His English definition of the word is 'hay mattress' and not Professor Taube's 'straw mattress' (the text has "in shtroy fun shenik"). However, Harkavi's Hebrew definition is khatsir, whose meaning may be 'kash' or 'teven', i.e. 'straw'. Hay (Yiddish hey) and straw (Yiddish shtroy) are not the same. Straw is cheaper than hay and hay has more seeds. Hay is the first cutting from the hay fields, the top growth of the plants. Straw, cut afterwards, is the stalk of the plants. ***We now go on to a brief discussion of those Jews in Eastern-European derfer or small countryside shtetlekh, loosely naming all of them dorfsyidn, who most certainly knew this distinction. (Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish [New York: Yivo, 2005] brings evidence of a rich Yiddish botanic terminology.) The general discussion of dorfsyidn serves as background to an analysis of Mendel Mann's chapter "Ven epl beymer blien" in his autobiographic Di yidish-poylishe milkhome. *** We conclude with sections on books and periodicals received and an announcement of a one-day symposium at Leyvik House in Tel Aviv on January 3, 2008.
Subject: Notes on dorfsyidn ('rural Jews')
In his hilarious early novel Coming from Behind (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983), Manchester-born Howard Jacobson effectively mines the stereotype of the Jew as city creature, stranger to country and country ways, hardly ever a farmer. Here is his hero, Sefton Goldberg:
Jewish, Sefton did not know much about the names or breeds or needs of
fish." [p. 20] "He often struck Sefton as resembling a little English
garden bird, though which garden bird Sefton Goldberg, being Jewish, couldn't
be expected to know." [p. 22] "Charles, I'm Jewish. What am I going
to do in the country? I don't own a pair of
Jews who leased or owned kretshmes ('inns') or raised, sold, processed
or in some other manner dealt with the raw materials for manufacturing spirits
of various kinds – knew about beer and they had terms for numerous plants in
their environs. They were Sefton's cousins who belonged to a different world.
As with many stereotypes there is at least a crumb of truth in the
careless generalization that Jews don't engage in agriculture. Statistically,
especially in Western Europe and
Judaism in its halachic culture preserves memories of an agricultural past (e.g. see the Mishnaic Seder Zeraim) and among the Orthodox numerous rules and customs relating to agricultural products and practices continue to apply (see http://www.webshas.org/lead/food.htm). But it was precisely because of their country way of life, their distance from synagogues and study houses, mikves and cemeteries – from all the institutions required to maintain a traditional Jewish life – that yishuvnik became a demeaning term, name for an ignoramus, a blockhead, an uncultivated country bumpkin. Manual labor in general tended to be looked down upon and shnayder ('tailor') enjoyed more prestige than a shuster (cobbler). The farmer had to carry out certain chores at certain times and this made city life Judaically more attractive. The term yishuvnik can often be found in Yiddish literature in a pejorative sense. There are, however, many exceptions: instances where the yishuvnik, (possibly because of his exceptional character or achievements in business or learning) while referred to as a yishuvnik is nonetheless respected. Shtetl and village Jewish life are often sentimentalized in Yisker bikher accounts, but judicious surfing can gather up much objective information. What follows are excerpts and paraphrases from a number of websites, including several from excellent JewishGen reports.
could be prosperous, owners of fields, etc. --
The "Yishuvnik" had fields, cows, a house, and most important - a Torah…. Mother, Father and the other Vishniveans would walk 6 km to the Shtetl Rosh synagogue to pray and be among Jews. This was not convenient both for the Jews in Rosh who felt too crowded and for the Vishniveans. Finally they decided to stay in the village and pray at the "Yishuvnik". He was a "Shmid" (blacksmith) and disabled. He had a wooden leg below his knee…. His house served as a small synagogue for the daily "Minyan." (see http://vishnive.org/e_viho.html).
2. Many country (and small shtetl) Jews kept vegetable gardens (as well as cows, goats, chickens, etc.): Gardening in Ivenets
Christian and the Jewish residents of
3. Ora of Ivenets -- no ordinary yishuvnik (Translation of Sefer Iwieniec, Kamien ve-ha-seviva; sefer zikaron, Tel Aviv, 1973.
But after Yom
Kippur a serious question arose, what to do in order to build a new bath house.
A bath house is one of the most essential public needs, without which no Jewish
community can exist…. The Holy One sent them a redeemer, a farm-dwelling
[yishuvnik] Jew named Ora Brikovshtziner, or Aaron of the
Ora was no
boor, but neither was he a great scholar. He could read a chapter of Mishna and
understand it superficially, but he was a good businessman. He leased a flour
mill and some land from one of the landowners, and built a brewery in the
village, which made him rich. Since he was a yishuvnik who belonged to Ivenets
(he owned the house where the town's rabbi lived), he donated lumber from his
woods to build the bath house, gave some cash, and paid the builders…. Ora had
one ambition -- to buy pedigree for his money. He married his son off to a
daughter of one of the most illustrious families of that time -- the daughter
of the great Rabbi Israel Salanter. [For
dishonest business practices] Ora was sent to
4. Yekhezkl Kotik's father, a zealous hasid, could not bear to pray with misnagdim yishuvniks
From TMR vol. 4 no. 3:
gedavnt hot der tate shabes oykh in der heym, khotsh ale yishuvim fun a vyorst, tsi fun tsvey vyorst arum, kloybn zikh oyf, loyt der traditsye, tsu eyn yishuvnik davnen shabes mit a minyen. in aza minyen leyent men oykh di toyre, vi es firt zikh umetum: tsvey yishuvnikes, gaboim, rufn oyf tsu der toyre. es iz oykh do sine, kine far alies. yederer vil di fetere aliye, un di gaboim kenen keyn mol nisht yoytse zayn. teyl mol kumen derfun aroys groyse makhloykesn biz masrn oder biz oysdingen bay yenem zayn kretshme, tsi zayn pakt.
der tate hot keyn mol nisht gevolt davnen mit di yishuvnikes misnagdim, nor az es hot gefelt tsum minyen, flegt er muzn kumen. ober er flegt bay zikh nisht kenen poyeln tsu davnen mit zey betsiber. er flegt shoyn demolt hobn ongegreyt bay dem yishuvnik a medresh oder a zoyer un flegt beysn davnen kukn in di sforim. gedavnt hot er in der heym far zikh.
5. Shmarya Levin [1867-1935] was born and grew up
in Swizlowitz, a shtetl at the confluence of the Svisla and
6. In Der fremder ('The Stranger') by Y.-Y. Zinger (I.J. Singer) we see one pattern wherein the sole Jewish farmer in a village is forced to leave for the greater security of a Jewish community in a town. I concluded my commentary on the story as follows: (see TMR vol. 3 no. 11)
The point is not that Jews can only live among other Jews -- this is obviously not so historically and actually -- but that Jews (or any other group with a highly defined moral code of its own) cannot be integrated in societies whose mores and manners conflict sharply with their own. Traditional Jewish religious and communal life requires a certain concentration of Jews in a circumscribed area to fulfill ritual needs, but the hero of our story is a yishuvnik who davens but obviously can not maintain the higher degrees of observance. Yet it is not because of difficulties in observance -- one reason that yishuvniks left their farms for city or town -- that Refoyl must leave Lyeshnovke. Following ... the ostracism imaged in the breaking of all his windows, he felt he must abandon his native village. Ironically, in the town or city to which this yishuvnik will move, he is more than likely to remain always a rustic outsider, "a fremder."
7. The first two paragraphs of Leyb Rashkin's Di mentshn fun Godlbozhits introduce us to a dorfsyid who has prospered in his village and seems comfortable there, yet who is eventually drawn to the nearby town with its many religious, social and other advantages. See http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/PDF%20Stories/di_mentshn_leyb_rashkin.pdf
Subject: Mendel Mann's "Ven epl beymer blien" [Commentary]
epl-beymer blien": A
theme of "Ven epl-beymer blien" ('When Apple Trees Blossom') --
albeit expressed in a daytshmerism in the very opening sentence -- is
awakening: "Arum Shvues hobn mayne feters dervakht." The story (which
can be read as fiction whether or not it attemps to report real persons and
events or is an imagined narrative) begins at dawn before Shvues (a harvest
festival) in a shtetl in
Uncle Elye goes to the synagogue at the break of day and from gossip that inevitably arises when neighbors meet he learns that so and so's orchard remains unleased, a particular peasant is selling two cows, and other news which will determine his day's movements. He is happily pious, as a hasid should be: "Der feter Elye, tsurikgeyendik fun der shul, nokhn shakhris, hot oysgezungen far zikh aleyn, shtilerheyt, etlekhe psukim fun tilim (*) -- "Hashmieyni va-boker khasdekho" un zey glaykh iberzetst in yidish, azoy vi der feter volt gevolt, az nisht nor der reboyne-shel-oylem zol im farshteyn, nor oykh der zamdiker shliakh...." [p. 42]. Prayer and commerce mingle in an easy alliance as Uncle Elye sings out: "Oy oy, gotenyu, loz mir hern in frimorgn dayn khesed, vorem oyf dir hob ikh mikh farzikhert"... In preparation for the day's business, he takes money from a straw mattress on a bed in the same room where his nephew, Menakhem, has been sleeping and may have seen what transpired. Elye's sudden notion to take Menakhem with him for the day's dealings is at least partly born of a fear that his hiding place might be accidentally revealed by his nephew to beggars passing through the shtetl or to others. This suggestion of possible evil helps make the near-idyllic atmosphere of a wholesome pastoral life more believable.
When Elye and the soon-to-become a bar-mitsva, city-bred Menakhem, arrive at the estate of a Polish nobleman to lease an orchard, the dogs bark fiercely and they are turned away by the gate-keeper. They learn that the baron has been drinking hard, fighting with his wife, whipping his best horse mercilessly and had ordered that no one be allowed to enter the farmyard. Elye loosened his horse's reins and lay down on the grass, singing his earlier refrain with a surprising addition: "Hashmieyni va-boker khasdekho... ay,ay,ay... to vos eytsestu mir, Menakheml" ('What do you advise me to do, Menakheml?') The boy presumably remained speechless; the uncle fell asleep. It is during his nap that events occur which Elye has not directly influenced and in which rancor is transformed to amicability. The uncle's prayers are answered, but this is not the prime meaning of what occurs during his sleep. That meaning is the experience of Menakhem.
The landowner's young daughter came out of doors after being indoors for a long period. She was delighted to have a young companion with whom to chase butterflies and soon invites him home. "Zi hot nisht aroysgelozt Menakhem's hant un ir fremder otem hot im tsuersht gelokt, dernokh opgeshtoysn." ['She did not let go of Menakhem's hand and her strange breath at first attracted but afterwards repelled.'] The boy is welcomed by the landowner's wife and the nobleman's anger subsides. He is so delighted by his daughter's happiness and his wife's softening that he leases his orchard to Uncle Elye at extremely favorable terms – with the condition that Menakheml spend the summer, the picking season, on the estate where he can be a companion to his much isolated little daughter.
Elye and Menakheml set out for home, Elye pleased that he need not continue his business pursuits that day (by buying the peasant's two cows as originally planned). He is teaching Menakhem the virtues of moderation and of graciousness in business matters by making him a partner in the orchard transaction which the nephew had made possible . The boy, sensing the uncle's indebtedness, sees the opportunity to ask to take the horse's reins while they ride home; the uncle agrees, counseling him to ride at a leisurely pace, not whipping the horse. "Menakhem hot gekukt oyf gots velt un a benkshaft mit a troyer hot im arumgenumen nokh epes vos iz vayt un umbakant". [my emphasis – ed.] ['Menakhem looked out at God's world and was seized by a sad longing for something distant and unknown'.] One can almost hear Wordsworthian intimations in this line. The author shows his psychological grasp of the pains of growing up. So much is attractive, confusing and disturbing – the beauty of nature which demands response, the responsibilities of material life (leasing an orchard), the hierarchies of class and wealth (the nobleman's estate and family), human behaviors (anger and love), the mystery of sex (the lovely young Polish girl held his hand), the familiar and the unknown (uncle's home and the silent backroads), power over some other – even a dumb animal. In short, awakening.
Mendel Mann's concluding paragraph is masterful: "Di erev Shvuesdike sheynkeyt fun di poylishe botshne vegn hobn im geshrokn. Er hot gevolt oyfvekn dem feter un nisht gevakt. Dos ferd iz gegangen shpan nokh shpan, nisht gekukt oyf der shalve, hot es azoy vi oysgefilt dem umru fun yidishn yingele un zikh umheymlekh tsehirzhet." [' The Shvues eve beauty of the Polish backroads frightened him. He wanted to wake his uncle but did not. The horse trotted on, pace after pace. Oblivious of the evening's calm, it countered the young Jewish boy's uneasiness with an uncanny neighing'.]
Subject: Books received.
àÇìò÷ñàÇðãòø ùôÌéâìáìàÇè – âøéðòø àåîòè, ìéãòø – úì-àÈáéá: ä. ìééååé÷ ôÏàÇøìàÇâ, 2007
Aleksander Shpiglblat. Griner umet; lider. Tel-Aviv: H. Leyvik Farlag, 2007
from Shpiglblat's most recent volume of verse, Griner umet, are given
here, ample evidence that he stands at the very apex of the dwindling group of
Israeli Yiddish poets of stature. His style is spare and each poem of his is
masterfully etched. He is also, or even primarily, one of
àÇ ôÏøòîã÷Öè àÇ ÔÖÇñò
èåè æéê àÈï àÕó îéø
Ôé ãòí æÖãðñ ÷éèì
ÔàÈñ òø ôÏìòâ àÈðèàÈï
ëÌãé öå æÖÇï àÈôÌâòùÖãè
Ôé àÇ îú.
áòð÷ àéê àÇöéðã
ðàÈê ãòí äÖîéùï áâã
ÔàÈñ àéê äàÈá ôÏàÇøæòöè
áÖÇí ìàÈîáàÇøã ôÏàÇø àÇ çìåí
àéï àÖðòí îéè èìéúÎàåïÎúÌôÏéìï
àåï ÷òï æÖ ùÕï àéöè
îòø ðéè àÕñìÖæï.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,
Weiss, was ich leide!
Goethe, Lied der Mignon
ãé áòð÷ùàÇôÏè àéæ àÇï àÈôÏòðò ÔåÌðã,
ÔàÈñ ðàÈø ãòø èÕè ÷àÈï æé äÖìï.
àÈáòø, çìéìä, ãé áòð÷ùàÇôÏè æàÈì ôÌìåöòí
æéê Ôòìï àÈôÌèàÈï ôÏåï îéø.
òñ èøéôÏè ôÏåï ãòø áòð÷ùàÇôÏè ÷àÈìéøé÷òø öòø,
àåï îÖÇðò èÕèò ÷ìàÈâï àéï àéø.
æàÈì îéê, çìéìä, ãòø âåøì ðéè ùèøàÈôÏï
àåï àÈôÌèàÈï ãé áòð÷ùàÇôÏè ôÏåï îéø.
øá÷ä áàÇñîàÇï äàÈè âòìÖòðè ãòí ôÏéøÎàåïÎðÖÇðöé÷Îéòøé÷ï ôÌàÈòè àÇáøäí ñåö÷òÔòø ôÏåï ãòí ÷àÇôÌéèì „ãé âàÈìãòðò ÷Öè", àéï îÖÇï áåê ãåøê ôÏàÇøøÖëòøèò ùÖÇáìòê. àÕó øá÷äñ ùàìä ÔàÈñ æé æàÈì îéø ôÏåï æÖÇï æÖÇè àéáòøâòáï, äàÈè òø àÇøÕñâòùòôÌèùòè ãé öÔÖ ÔòøèòøÓ „áòðèùï, áòðèùï".
áòðèùï, áòðèùï, äàÈè âòùòôÌèùòè ø' àÇáøäí ñåö÷òÔòø äîùåøø,
àåï ãé áøëä æÖÇðò äàÈè àÇ áøé âòèàÈï îéø èéó áîòî÷éí,
æéê âòìàÇùèùòè àåï âòöéèòøè îéø àéï àÕòø,
àåï àéê äàÈá àéï àéø ãòøäòøè àÇ úÌôÏéìäÎæëÌä.
ãø' ùîåàì ìéáøæåï –øàÈæùéð÷òñ îéè îàÇðãìòï, àéåøéí ìùéøéí ðáçøéí áééãéù – çéôä, 2007
Shmuel Liberzon – Raisins and Almonds, illustrations to Yiddish songs.
individual homely style,
Date: 30 December 2007
Subject: Periodicals Received
The veteran Bundist periodical Lebnsfragn under the able editorship of Yitskhok Luden continues to appear both in print (see Table of Contents below) and online at http://www.lebnsfragn.com.
Click on the picture to get a larger resolution
Yidishe heftn (its French name is Les Cahiers Yiddish) has been
Yidishe heftn/ Les Cahiers Yiddish
Click on the picture to get a larger resolution
Leyvik House in Tel Aviv cordially invites you to a symposium celebrating
End of The Mendele Review Vol. 11.014
Editor, Leonard Prager
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