Page 154 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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concerned, was the Jewish historical experience they reflected:
the status of women in traditional society, the establishment of
the first agricultural colonies in the south of Russia, the forced
induction of minors into Cantonist brigades, and the abortive
attempt to modernize elementary Jewish education. Many of
these songs, the open letter claimed, were being forgotten,
pushed out by more recent songs and by the ever more dramatic
events of the past decade. What little had been collected thus
far was published in scholarly journals in the west, while here,
in the Pale of Jewish Settlement, in the godforsaken
where the old songs were still sung by those who still lived ac­
cording to the old way of life, nothing had yet been done.
The open letter produced eastern Europe’s first cadre of am­
or collectors, who, in fact, could not distinguish
between a real or invented folksong. One of them, a young
recruit named Avrom Reisen, was doing his service to the Tsar
by playing in a military band. Reisen and four of his
from Lithuania contributed over 80% of the 300-odd songs in
the Ginzburg and Marek edition of
Yiddish Folksongs in Russia
(1901).7 To compensate for the amateur quality of the submis­
sions, the editors eliminated all songs of literary origin, or those
written by
professional wedding jesters. Operating
with an a priori concept of naive folk poetry, Ginzburg and
Marek excluded any text deemed too sophisticated. And this
is where all the trouble began. For apparently, word had not
yet reached Moscow and St. Petersburg that for quite some time
now modern writers had been fashioning folk-like songs which
the “folk,” in turn, had adapted for its own ends. Despite all
precautions, such recycled songs stole their way into the
Ginzburg-Marek anthology.
Because they prized Yiddish folksongs as a Jewish memory
bank, Ginzburg and Marek favored the songs that preserved
the oldest stratum of that memory. Though “Religious, Nation­
al, and Holiday Songs” accounted for merely 41 songs out of
the total, the editors put them first. Thus they threw down the
Zionist gauntlet as well, privileging the very songs that followed
their prescription for the future. (Reformed) religion, nation­
7. All further references are to the photo-offset edition edited by Dov Noy.
This edition also supplies a Yiddish translation o f the introduction and notes.
O f the 376 songs published (in Yiddish with romanized text), 38 were variants.