Page 172 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

164
JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
heaven, but from that source of very earthly pleasures. Only
Lebedev could have turned Rumania into a parodic version of
Paradise lost.
PARODY IN POPULAR CULTURE
The kind of Jewish parody offered up by Lebedev and Co.
affirmed group norms and cultural codes by stretching them
to new and impossible limits. Sometimes this was done with great
subtlety, in line with his theme song, “Mikitka.” At others, the
sacred and profane messages were delivered side by side, in
line with the conventions of Vaudeville. Such was the case with
the musical comedy
Der litvisher Yankee,
Aaron Lebedev playing
the lead.
In one justly famous song, the Litvak Yankee takes pot shots
at the rapid physical and moral assimilation of the Jewish im­
migrants to America:
I spared no effort to get to America
Thinking I’d become a rabbi and grow a beard.
I had a beautiful pair o f
peyes,
like every observant Jew,
Now, instead o f the beard, I’ve lost the
peyes,
too!
Now you may ask me, what’s it all about and how can it be?
The answer, my friends, is this:
What can you do? It’s America!
That’s how people look here.
What can you do? It’s America!
Here the Jews look just like goyim!
The English-Yiddish refrain says it all: On the surface,
vot ken
you makh, es iz Amerike,
bespeaks an ironic acceptance of the price
that America exacts; beneath the surface, one cannot but laugh
at how vulgar and ridiculous these Jews look without their
beards and peyes.
Despite the risque character of the song, which is primarily
what recommended it to Kapelye, from whose wonderful rec­
ording I learned the song, the message of the play as a whole
is very conservative.36 It is a warning to the audience not to
throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here is the song that
brings the curtain down. Its message is most unsubtle:
36.
Kapelye’s Chicken,
Shanachie 21007 (1987), Side 1, Band 4.