Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Yesterday night I went to bed around 11.30 PM. My wife was asleep already and I zapped to see if there was anything entertaining or interesting to watch on television. I stopped at the History Channel, where I watched a rerun of one of Koby Meidan's Nightly Meeting programs, broadcast - correct me if I am wrong - originally in the late 1990s on channel 2. This time Meidan spoke with the woman who is my absolute favorite among Israel's female singer-songwriters, Chava Alberstein ( also here ). I know that Chava Alberstein has worked more than once with poems written by post-war Yiddish poets, but I did not know that she even made a documentary about some of those poets( scroll down on this page, the movie is called Too Early To Be Quiet, Too Late To Sing ). Yesterday a short excerpt of that documentary was shown. In it, the actress-wife of the poet Binem Heller ( 1906 - 1998 ) recites one of his most famous poems, Mayn Shvester Khaye ( My Sister Khaye ). While she recites the poem, you see the emotions getting the better of her husband, and at the end - as an apparent sign of appreciation and love - he lays his hand on her shoulder. While watching this and listening to the poem I found myself crying, just like almost every time that I hear the song that Chava Alberstein made out of the poem. The song appears on one of the best CDs ever made by modern Yiddish-klezmer artists, Di Krenitse ( The Well ), a cooperation of Alberstein and the Klezmatics. Here you can hear a Real Audio clip of the song. What follows is a transcription of the Yiddish original text ( found here ), plus the - not literary but good - English translation found in the booklet that accompanies the CD. The same translation appears on this website. Since the transcription and translation in the booklet and on the website are identical, I do not know whose work they are, Michael Wex's ( who gets the credits for the translations in the CD-booklet ) or Edgar Hilsenrath's. Read and see for yourself how powerful and moving this poem is. Mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn, mayn shvester Khaye mit di shvartse tsep - di shvester Khaye, vos hot mikh dertsoygn oyf smotshe-gas, in hoyz mit krume trep. di mame iz avek fun shtub baginen, ven oyfn himl hot ersht koym gehelt. zi iz avek in krom arayn fardinen dos bidne-drobne groshedike gelt. un Khaye iz geblibn mit di brider, un zi hot zey gekormet un gehit. un zi flegt zingen zey di sheyne lider, far nakht, ven kleyne kinder vern mid. mayn shvester Khaye mit di grine oygn, mayn shvester Khaye mit di lange hor - di shvester Khaye, vos hot mikh dertsoygn, iz nokh nisht alt geven keyn tsendling yor. zi hot geroymt, gekokht, derlangt dos esn, zi hot getsvogn undz zi kleyne kep. nor shpiln zikh mit undz hot zi fargesn - di shvester Khaye mit di shvartse tsep. mayn shvester Khaye mit di oygn grine, a daytsh hot in treblinke zi farbrent. un ikh bin in der yidishe medine der same letster, vos hot zi gekent. far ir shrayb ikh oyf yidish mayne lider in teg di shreklekhe fun undzer tsayt. bay got aleyn iz zi a bas-yekhide - in himl zitst zi bay zayn rekhter zayt. My sister Khaye, her eyes were green, My sister Khaye, her braids were black - Sister Khaye, it was she who raised me In the house on Smotshe Street with tumble down steps. Mother left the house at dawn When the sky had hardly lightened. She went off to the shop, to earn A wretched penny's worth of change. And Khaye stayed with the boys, She fed them and watched over them. And at evening, when little kids get tired, She'd sing them pretty songs. My sister Khaye, her eyes were green, My sister Khaye, her hair was long - Sister Khaye, it was she who raised me She wasn't event ten years old. She cleaned and cooked and served the food, She washed our little heads, All she forgot was to play with us - Sister Khaye, her braids were black. My sister Khaye with her eyes of green Was burnt by a German in Treblinka. And I am in the Jewish state, The very last one who knew her. It's for her that I write my poems in Yiddish In these terrible days of our times. To God Himself she's an only daughter, She sits in heaven at His right hand.

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