Page 171 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ban tenement. Rather than hold out for a utopian solution,
whether in Palestine or in workers’ solidarity, Lebedev and his
cohort of professional song writers and performers made a vir­
tue of necessity. They took the disparate parts of the immi­
grants’ past and present and created an American-Yiddish hy­
brid, a patchwork design with all its seams showing through.
Lebedev, whose most famous roles were Lyovke the Smart
Lover, played in Russian, and the Rumanian Litvak, played in
Yiddish; Lebedev, who could affect a
sabesdiker losn,
the pro­
vincial dialect of northern Litvaks, while never appearing in
public without his straw hat and faultlessly tailored clothes —
this man knew that the vitality of Yiddish culture lay in its clash
of opposites. Linguistic and ideological purity were the kiss of
Here is Lebedev at his most outrageous, celebrating the un ­
bridled Jewish appetite for wine, women and song:
Di Rumener trinken vayn
Un esn mamelige.
Ver es kisht zayn eygn vayb
Ah, yener iz meshige.
Zets, tay didl di dam . . .
Yikum purkon min shmayo
Shteyt un kisht di kekhne, Khaye
Ongeton in alte shkrabes
Makht a kigl lekoved shabes
Zets, tay didl di tarn . . . .
The Rumanians drink wine
And eat
And he who kisses his own wife
Must be o f f his rocker.
May salvation come from heaven
Stop and kiss the cook named Khaye
Dressed in rags and tatters
She makes a pudding for the Sabbath.
If it weren’t so hilarious, and delivered with such exuberance,
this song could get one arrested for sacrilege. Khaye, the cook,
who offers herself to all male callers, rhymes with an Aramaic
prayer from the Sabbath morning service.
(Yikum purkon min
must have had comical associations back in the Old Coun­
try as well.) Here, the salvation it announces comes not from