Page 161 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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sician outsmarting the miserly moneylender) to equally good
use.21 Like Dik, furthermore, he saw America as the great op­
portunity for starting Jewish life all over again on emancipated,
productive ground. In the wake of the pogroms of 1881-82,
Zunser began passionately to advocate a return to Zion.
From then on, the Yiddish folksinger was the voice of utopian
change. Though adhering to the same rhyme schemes and
rhythms and using the same kind of melodies as before, Zunser’s
ideas turned to more radical solutions.
In sokhe
ligt di mazl-
began his most popular song, “In the hook plow / Lies
the blessing.” It was a rhyme he had played on before, yoking
as it did the Slavic
with the doubly beneficent Hebrew
compound of
(good-fortune-and-blessing), but never
to espouse the agrarian ideal of “true” productive labor in the
newly-founded colonies on Palestinian soil.22 Failing that pio­
neering route, which was open only to the young and chosen
few, there was the American Zion, where all Jews could prove
their worth. Encouraged by the New York branch of the Lovers
of Zion, Zunser set sail for America in 1889 and wrote “Co­
lumbus and Washington” on board ship.
he buoy­
antly rhymed with
“es kumt vider zayn friling on,
his [the Jew’s]
spring returns once more” and “
zeen keyn tsenzur nit on,
experience censorship.” Within a few months, Anglicisms like
“basket,” “pin,” “jewelry,” and “manufacturer” started cropping
up in his songs, a sign that all was not well with the immigrant
masses. Some had sold their soul and their kinsmen to climb
the ladder of success (“The Laments of a Rich Manufacturer”),
while the vast majority had reverted to their old parasitic prac­
tice of schnorring -— only now it went by the name of peddling
with a pushcart (“To the Peddler”).23 So short-lived was Zunser’s
love affair with America, that of all his songs, he finally de­
termined that the songs of Zion would live on. At his last public
appearance in New York, honoring his fiftieth anniversary as
a folk poet, he improvised a song to the tune of his own popular
Der karger mit Yekele bas
(Vilna, 1869), rpt.
The Works o f Elyokum Zunser
22. “Di sokhe” (1888), ibid., 1:352-55; music in 2:895. For the same rhyme,
see “Di farmaskirte velt” (The Masked World, 1867), 1:138-43, 11: 172-74.
23. “Tsum pedler” (June 20, 1890), 1:411-13; music on 2:869; “Di kines fun
a raykhn manufektshurer” (1891), 1:428-32. The first song was extremely pop­
ular, the second remained in manuscript.