Page 168 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
or too parochial to express the most exalted sentiments of global
revolution. Edelshtat’s
in letstn kamffun blut un shmarts,
his vision
of the Armageddon that would precede the final victory of the
proletariat, was a perfect rhyme for
un vel begaystern zayn harts,
i.e., that even from the grave his freedom song would inspire
the hearts of the faithful. Though written by intellectuals, some
of whom had only recently learned Yiddish themselves, and
in a diction far removed from everyday speech, these protest
songs became an authentic expression of the folk.
‘SHUND’ TAKES OVER
But what to do with the thousands of Yiddish theater songs,
most of them written in America, by professional song writers
and composers, products of the money-grubbing, crass and cor­
rup t star system, and written in an abhorrent mixture of Yid­
dish,
daytshmerish
and English? What’s more, these songs es­
poused the worst petty-bourgeois reactionary values: finding a
good husband; keeping one’s children within the Jewish fold;
nostalgia for the good-ol’ days; making one’s peace with Amer­
ica; hoping for the restoration of Zion. The only word for this
mishmash of sentiment and satire, of patriotism and traditional
piety, of sex and schmaltz was —
shund.
The aesthetics of
shund,
if one can use such a paradoxical
phrase, was not to affect a folk style in order to create a seamless
web between a modern, European sensibility and the traditional
forms of Jewish self-expression. The whole point of
shund
was
to let the seams show through, to let form and content clash
and short circuit each other.
Shund
exploited the traditional pi­
eties of the audience as well their desperate desire to break
loose from the shtetl.
Shund
poked mercilous fun at the hasidic
rebbe while allowing his daughter in the very same act to express
the most heartfelt religious sentiments.
Shund
raised the double
entendre and sexual innuendo to artistic heights that hadn ’t
been reached since Elizabethan times. Off-color
daytshmerish
lyr­
ics could thus be sung to sacred liturgical settings. The glory
of
shund
was that you could eat your cake and have it, too.
Now
shund
also had venerable roots in Eastern Europe, where
it was associated with the name of Shomer, the writer of Yiddish
potboilers. Shomer, we recall, was the man whom Sholem
Aleichem literally hounded out of Russia. In America, Shomer