Page 153 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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was soon to become for the Jewish Labor Bund: a new hymn
whose diction and western melodic line made the Jewish claim
to the brave new world of tomorrow.3 At issue were the songs
of tradition. Was there room in the folksong revival for the
melancholy and mysticism of the synagogue and study house,
or was the authentic core of the folk repertoire plebeian, and
above all, secular?
Secular love songs were all the rage in I.L. Peretz’s salon in
the late 1890s when he and Judah Leib Cahan began doing
fieldwork among the Warsaw “laboring masses.” The Jewish life
that Peretz saw mirrored in Yiddish love songs was a life of
individual longing, of thirst for beauty, of innate rebelliousness,
while the religious song repertoire bespoke gender discrimina­
tion and the stifling atmosphere of the old study house.4 Still,
to express their adoration for Peretz, his youthful disciples could
think of nothing better to sing him than a repetitive song con­
sisting of the one word
Rebenyu, oy, oy rebenyu
(“Rebbe, oh Reb-
And anyway — who even knew what the “authentic core”
was? When, in 1898, two young Russian-Jewish historians
named Saul Ginzburg and Peysakh Marek appealed in Russian
and Hebrew to members of the urban intelligentsia to collect
Yiddish folksongs, they offered no guidelines whatsoever.6 The
stamp of the songs’ authenticity, so far as the collectors were
3. See Jacob Kabakoff,
Naphtali Herz Imber ‘Baal hatikvah’
(Lod: Habermann
Institute for Literary Research, 1991), chap. 5. For Ansky, see my “Introduc­
tion” to S. Ansky,
The Dybbuk and Other Writings
(New York: Schocken, 1992).
4. I.L. Peretz, “Dos yidishe lebn loyt di yidishe folkslider,”
Literatur un lebn,
vol. 7 o f
Ale verk
(New York: CYCO, 1947-48): 129-57; Dov Noy, “Mit der
nay-oysgabe fun der Ginzburg-Marek zamlung,”
Yidishefolkslider in Rusland
dish Folksongs in Russia], photo-offset o f the 1901 ed. (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan
University Press, 1991), pp. 14-18.
5. See “Undzer rebenyu,” in
Pearls o f Yiddish Song: Favorite Folk, Art and Theatre
compiled Eleanor Gordon Mlotek and Joseph Mlotek (New York: Work­
men’s Circle, 1988), pp. 125-26.
6. The open letter was published concurrently in
no. 58 (March
23, 1898),
no. 71 and in
Nedyelnaya Khronika Voskhoda
nos. 11, 19
(1898). In his aforementioned introduction to
Yiddish Folksongs in Russia,
Noy claims that the Russian text was probably the more influential.