Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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hood, and the celebration of one’s (national) holidays were the
three pillars of cultural Zionism. A sense of the past, as em­
bodied by the “Historical Songs” that came next, was their per­
sonal agenda as engage historians. The largest rubric by far,
that of “Love Songs,” they sandwiched into fifth place. Small
wonder that when Peretz’s chief informant Judah Leib Cahan
reached America and was able to publish his own collection,
130 love songs appeared in first place, as “the most beautiful
and most important of our folksong repertoire,” as the Yiddish
folk lyric par excellence.8 The aesthetic revolution in Yiddish
poetry that began on New York’s Lower East Side now had
the folksong to fall back on in lieu of Jews, God, and History.
For all their competing political agenda, Ginzburg, Marek,
and Cahan agreed that songs composed by the class of profes­
sional wedding jesters known as
were inauthentic. “A
hired rhymster” was Ginzburg and Marek’s way of dismissing
this venerable institution (p. 31). A mere mood manipulator
at weddings, the
richly deserved the low status accorded
to him in society and his comical portrayal in literature (p. 32).
The jester’s arcane humor, according to Cahan, contributed to
the “dry atmosphere” that so characterized petit-bourgeois Jew­
ish life (p. 27). A
s songs remained his alone, never pen­
etrating the folk (pp. 33-34). Why then the animus, if the poor
was almost a thing of the past? Because the “real”
folksong had to be — according to romantic notions — an un ­
mediated expression of the folk, and the folk — according to
progressive Jewish politics — were “women, children, workers,
and soldiers” (Ginzburg-Marek, p. 33). Instead of doctoring the
evidence, the way modern Yiddish storytellers were learning
how to do, the collectors of Yiddish folksongs simply redefined
the cultural norm. At the center of Jewish folk culture they
placed that which once occupied no status at all: lullabies, chil­
dren ’s rhymes, soldiers’ songs, ballads, songs of work and play.
8. Judah Leib Cahan, “Dos yidishe folkslid” (1910), in
Shtudyes vegn yidisher
[Studies in Jewish Folklore], ed. Max Weinreich (New York: YIVO,
1952), pp. 9-42. The quote is on p. 41. A shorter version o f this introduction
originally appeared in
2 (1910): 122-34, thus forging a link to the
Yiddish aestheticists o f the Lower East Side.