The Arty Semite

A Yiddish Writer's Fashion and Misfortune

By Itzik Gottesman

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On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di mode” (“Fashion”), a poem by the early Yiddish writer Yitskhok Yoel Linetski, as adapted by his grandmother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman:

Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski

I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th-century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.

And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work “Der beyzer marshelik” (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion”; “mode” has two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.”

Linetski (1839–1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel “Dos Poylishe yingl” (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.

Linetski’s life story was amazing. He was raised in a strict Hasidic home in Vinnitsa, and when he was suspected of reading “forbidden” literature, he was married off at age fourteen to a twelve-year old girl. But then he convinced his young wife of his path, so they forced him to divorce her and marry a “deaf, half-idiotic woman” (see Zalmen Reizen‘s “Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur”). That didn‘t work either and when they tried to throw him into the river, he escaped to Odessa…

In LSW‘s performance of “Di mode” you get to hear her sing a more upbeat song, with a great melody. The traditional aspects of LSW‘s singing (the ornamentaion in particular) are applied to a more modern song, and the synthesis works wonderfully.

Read the whole post and listen to the song here.


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