The Arty Semite

Singing for Your Bread and Butter

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share

Over on the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman discusses the ballad “Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” (“As Soon as the First Wife Dies”), as sung by Lifshe Schaechter Widman.

Formally, “Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” (“As Soon as the First Wife Dies”) could be considered a classic ballad. The first three verses set the stage for the dialogue between the children and their father. As a narrative though, the last verse, which is sung by the father, leaves no resolution to the hopeless situation at all.

The melody in ballads almost always stays the same for all the verses. However, in this song the melody changes for the dialogue verses, becoming more dramatic, as does Lifshe’s moving, mournful singing.

Ethnographically, the song depicts the poverty of the families at this time; even a piece of bread and butter was considered a delicacy. In her memoirs “Durkhgelebt a velt,” LSW writes of her own cruel stepfather who would not allow her to eat bread with butter. Her mother, Taube, turned the buttered side of the bread over when the stepfather entered so he would not see it.

Back in the blog’s very first post, Gottesman described Schaechter Widman’s life:

Lifshe Schaechter Widman was born in Zvinyetchke, Bukovina in 1893. The town is on the Dneister river. Across the river was Galicia. When she was born, Zvinyetchke was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Today the town is in the Ukraine. By an early age she had established her reputation as singer and was often asked by the women, both younger, unmarried and older married women to sing for them. Most of the songs in her repertoire are from the first 14 years of her life. In 1907 she left on her own for America, lived in New York, and returned to Bukovina just in time for the First World War in 1914. She married Benyumin Schaechter in Vienna and settled in Chernovitz, the capital of Bukovina. She had two children Beyle (born in 1920 in Vienna ) and Mordkhe (born in 1927 in Chernovitz). Beyle became a Yiddish poet and songwriter and settled in the Bronx (Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman – my mother). Mordkhe Schaechter became a noted Yiddish linguist in NY. Lifshe survived the war in Chernovitz and arrived in the US in 1951. She died in 1973.

Read the whole post and listen to the song here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, Itzik Gottesman, Lifsche Schaechter Widman, Yiddish Song of the Week

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.