The Arty Semite

The Wife Left Behind

By Ezra Glinter

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Sketch of Jacob Gorelik by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

On the Yiddish Song of the Week Blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”), a song about an agune, a woman who was abandoned by her husband but cannot remarry:

[Jacob (Yankev) Gorelik] sang “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”) in his apartment in the “Chelsea hayzer” (Penn South), on 7th Avenue and 25th Street in Manhattan, circa 1985. This song about an agune, a women who was abandoned by her husband, is part of a genre of agune songs in Yiddish. Chaim Grade’s Yiddish novel “The Agunah” (translated in English with that title) depicts the complexity of dealing with the agune, and the rabbinic disagreements over when to declare the woman free to remarry.

I believe one hears the influence of the great singer Sidor Belarsky in Gorelik’s singing, even when he sings his mother’s songs from his hometown. I have included the spoken introduction below because it was typical of how Gorelik would frame a song he was about to perform for a larger audience. It’s interesting how he implies that by attending the Yiddish theater, the immigrant was thereby just a short hop from meeting new women and abandoning the wife in the old country.

Read the whole post and listen to the song here.


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