[Mendele] Mendele Vol. 19.016

Victor Bers victor.bers at yale.edu
Fri Dec 11 07:38:46 EST 2009

Mendele: Yiddish literature and language
Contents of Vol. 19.016
December 8, 2009

1) song identification sought (Avraham Yehoshua Kahana)
2) serpnzaytik (Denise Braunschweig)
3) Yehupets (Les Train)
4) petsha (Jules Rabin)
5) folktale sought (Lisa Anchin)
6) "The Tempest in Yiddish" (Rebecca Joy Fletcher)
7) "Uncle Joe" (Rebecca Joy Fletcher)
8) kibber (Victoria Lunzer-Talos)
9) shvartser (Eli Rosenblatt)
10) Laurence Olivier and Yiddish (Zevi Ghivelder)

Date:   November 30, 2009
Subject: song identification sought

Hello all,

I would highly appreciate if anyone could figure out which song this is. 
The following words I managed to poorly transliterate from a video excerpt 
where my great uncle gives  his testimony to the USC Shoah Institute. He 
says he will sing a bit of a song his father  used to sing (at Shabbat or 
during Pesach?), which talks about missing a city called  "Slutsk" (this 
is how I understood the name of the city):

mayn tate beyn feygblenken
fin/fem dem mentshn
un zmiros fleygte zingen azoy sheyn*

Thank you in advance,
Avraham Yehoshua Kahana

Date: November 19, 2009
Subject: serpnzaytik

In a poem of Rochel Korn she wrote, "serpnzaytik klor." I looked the word 
up and found  that "der serp," means the sickle. So, does this mean, that 
something gets sharply clear?
Thank you for help and suggestions

Denise Braunschweig

Date: November 28, 2009
Subject: Yehupets

The supposed etymology of the (fictitious) place name Yehupets was first 
dealt with in  August 1993, when Z. Baker cites Petrovsky's hypothesis 
that it might come from the  Ukrainian Yehipet (Egypt). However, after 
reading T. Schrire's "Hebrew Magic Amulets  their Decipherment and 
Interpretation," and taking into account the popularity of
amulets (kameas) by Hasidic Jews, I wonder: might the name be a variant of 
one of the  midrashic shemoth (holy names of God) that appear regularly on 

Since the four- letter name of God (tetragrammaton) is so holy, writing it 
out is not permitted on amulets. Thus, the mekubalim and kabbalists came 
up with elaborate and  substituted names, and these are in common use on 
amulets. The first three letters  (assuming that the name is "originally" 
spelled according to Hebrew orthography) are the  first three letters of 
the tetragrammaton (4-letter name of God) and the last two letters - peh 
and tsade - are another vov and heh, and are found in shemoth such as 
mem-tsade-peh-tsade - a form of the tetragrammaton wherein letters are 
substituted according to the "atbash" code, where aleph is substituted for 
the last letter of the hebrew alef-beys, beys  is substituted for the 
second last letter "shin," etc. Shemoth such as Patspatsia (atbash: 
vov-heh-vov-heh-yud-heh) and Tsaftsafia (atbash: heh-vov-heh-vov-yud-heh) 
are "some of the commoner shemoth which appear most frequently" (page 
112); in both, there is the  peh-tsade combination duplicated. Therefore, 
in Yehupets we might find Sholem Aleichem poking fun (gently) at the whole 
concept of amulets!

For historical context, since the spread of Hassidism - and mysticism - 
after the Baal Shem Tov (late 18th century), not only Hasidim but "even 
among this sturdily rational group (the misnagdim), amulets were in 
regular but concealed use in childbed and in times of personal troubles 
and difficulty" (page 40).

If anyone has any comments, or wants to "zogn mevines" about the whole 
inyen, I'd be glad to hear.

Les Train

Date: November 27, 2009
Subject: petsha

On the trail of the petsha of my boyhood, I have an uncertain memory of a 
word something like "shmeyelen" (accent on the first syllable) that might 
have referred to the process of burning off the hair covering of a severed 
cow's leg.

Does anyone have an accurate idea of the meaning of "shmeyelen" - if the 
word isn't a figment of mistaken memory?

A friend has suggested that I might have mistaken "shmeltsn" ("to melt") 
for "shmeyelen," but I don't think so.  The words sound too different from 
each other; and I
think that the meaning of "shmeltsn," "to melt," is too distant from what 
I remember the reference of the mystery word to have been: the burning off 
of animal hair.

More history: on the 8 or 10 occasions I can remember, when my mother made 
petsha, which we all relished, she began with the hairless leg-bones, 
sawed at the local butcher shop into trim cookable pieces.  My father once 
-- only -- brought home a pair of intact legs, with their hair-covering 
and hooves intact.  With fire and, I suppose, axe, he converted the legs 
into a set of pot-ready petsha bones, which my mother cooked up in the 
usual way.  A couple of weeks ago I acquired from a neighbor a set of 4 
calf/cow legs myself, with their original hair and hooves, and retracing 
my father's method with fire ("shmeyehlen") and axe, and my mother's 
handling of the cookpot, produced a good petsha.

Jules Rabin

Date: November 22, 2009
Subject: folktale sought

I study Yiddish folktales and am looking for a specific story in the 
original Yiddish. The story is about a poor old woman who finds a ball of 
yarn in the woods and uses it to knit herself all kinds of items - 
clothing, of course, but also a little sheep and a mouse and a cat. In the 
story, the old woman thinks to slaughter the sheep and cook it, but her 
pillow hears her thought. Because everything is made from the same ball of 
yarn, the pillow tells her hat, which tells the mouse, who tells the cat, 
who tells the sheep. In the end, when the old woman goes to slaughter the 
sheep, the sheep is ready and runs away. However, the old woman catches it 
by the tail and pulls, which unravels the sheep and then the cat and the 
mouse... down the line... until everything comes unraveled including the 
old woman.
  I was only told about the story. I haven't even seen it printed in 
English and am entirely unable to find the original Yiddish. Has anyone 
heard of the story? Seen it printed? Know of an author? Or a collection 
perhaps? Any clues would be extremely helpful!


Lisa Anchin

Date: December 8, 2009
Subject: "The Tempest" in Yiddish


I am seeking a line from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" in Yiddish.  Does 
anyone have a Yiddish verse translation of "The Tempest"?  If yes, could 
you possibly provide me with the following line: "We are the stuff that 
dreams are made of and our little lives are rounded with a sleep." It 
would be most appreciated.  It is from the early part of Act Four of the 

With thanks,
Rebecca Joy Fletcher

Date:  December 8, 2009
Subject: "Uncle Joe"


I have read that Marshall Pilsudski, president of Poland from 1926-1935, 
was named "Uncle Joe" by many Polish Jews.  I am surprised by the 
similarity - in English at least - to Stalin's nickname given him by 
Roosevelt.  I am wondering first off if that nickname for Pilsudski was 
used in Yiddish or in Polish?  If it appeared in Yiddish, what was the 
exact wording?  Was the name used "Yosl"?  And has anything been written 
on the strange similarity between Pilsudksi and Stalin's nicknames?

I welcome any feedback you may have.

With thanks,
Rebecca Joy Fletcher

Date: November 17, 2009
Subject: kibber

Dear Mendelyaners,

In transcribing letters from Joseph Roth, we came across of him ending a 
letter (about him needing money) with the words

"Dein alter sehr trauriger Kibber betropezter".

"Betropezter" is no problem, but we are completely at loss with 
"kibber."Can anyone of you help us?

Roth was Austrian author born in 1894 and raised in Brody/Galicia. Later, 
he was a (very successful) journalist in Vienna, Berlin, and Frankfurt. 
Roth grew up speaking German in the family, plus had a sound knowledge of 
Polish, Yiddish, even Russian.
The letter is written in German, and Roth was of course fluent in the 
"Yiddishisms" generally used in Vienna as well as in the journalistic 

Thank you very much!

Victoria Lunzer-Talos

Date:   November 10, 2008
Subject: shvartser

A guter morgn oyf aykh un oyf kol yisroel!

I have a question about the etymology of the Yiddish term "Neger," which 
is used often in Yiddish literature to mean, according to Weinreich, 
"Negro." Apologetically,
Weinreich translates "shvartser" as "black man" and I always understood 
"shvartser" to be the Yiddish translation of the n-word!  However, because 
"neger" sounds so close to
the racist "nigger" in American English, I am wondering if there is any 
consensus on the etymology and precise meanings of the term, since it is 
used primarily in
American Yiddish literature. Was there any discussion about the this type 
of terminology and its social implications?

Eli Rosenblatt

Date: November 19, 2009
Subject: Laurence Olivier and Yiddish

In Neil Diamond's version of "The Jazz Singer," the part of the rabbi is 
played by Laurence Olivier, who speaks a few lines in Yiddish better than 
any Jew.

Zevi Ghivelder
End of Mendele Vol. 19.016
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