Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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Russian for his coreligionists with a claim to culture. Neverthe-
less, he too could not resist the lure of the hated jargon, even
though he raged against it and once referred to it as the saddest
phenomenon in the historic life of the Jewish people. In his
Yiddish lyrics, published in 1886, he displayed mastery of the
Yiddish heroic couplet and the Yiddish picturesque phrase even
while attacking this linguistic medium in satiric verses.
Frug was a trilingual poet. Beginning with three volumes of
Russian lyrics, he reached the height of his fame with Yiddish
songs. He turned to Hebrew in his last years. Hearkening to the
cries of the dying and the maimed during the pogroms of the
eighteen-eighties, he proclaimed his most famous slogan, “Give
shrouds for the dead and for the living bread.” He refused to
sing joyous songs while streams of blood and rivers of tears
flowed about him. He called for a homecoming to Zion and
blessed every calloused hand that wielded the scythe and every
sweat-drenched brow that followed the plowshare. His stirring
lyrics inspired the early colonists who left Russia to reclaim
the barren Palestinian earth.
Mark Varshavsky’s songs of Zion also once brought hope and
comfort to Russian Jews. But today he is best remembered for
his simple folksongs that had a therapeutic effect and evoked
gaiety. One of these songs, which begins with the line “Oifn
pripetshek brennt a feierl,” has been intoned by millions of
Jews, even by some who know little Yiddish. Another of his
songs with the refrain “Veen, kallele, veen,” is not meant to
be depressing, since weeping was, in his opinion, the Jewish
form of emotional release befitting even joyous occasions like
weddings. Another of his wedding songs, “Di Mezinke Oisge-
geben,” reverberates with the joy of the father who is marrying
off his youngest daughter and invites all his relatives to join him
in the circle of the dance. Among Varshavsky’s dancing songs is
one most appropriate for a golden wedding anniversary. Its
lilting, caressing stanzas, with the refrain “eighty he and seventy
she,” review the harmonious traditional life of an aging couple
surrounded by children, grandchildren and well-wishers.
Interest in Yiddish folksongs was at its height at the turn
of the century. Pesach Marek (1862-1920) and Saul Ginsburg
(1866-1940) published their rich collection in 1901. Their stand-
ard volume paved the way for all later collections such as those
of Y. L. Cahan (1881-1937) who devoted a lifetime to research
in this field.
Lyrics in the Folksong Genre
Among poets who rose to fame with lyrics in the folksong
genre, Abraham Reisen (1873-1953) was the most talented. His