[Mendele] Mendele Vol. 19.021

Victor Bers victor.bers at yale.edu
Sun Mar 14 08:57:21 EDT 2010

Mendele: Yiddish literature and language

Contents of Vol. 19.021
March 12, 2010

1) kabstonim (Lawrence A. Coben)
2) Leonard Wolf (Michael Everson)
3) Yiddish writers and suicide (Amy Kaufman)
4) Dvoyre foygls lid "fun der benkshaft" (Mio Sibylle Hamann)
5) Finfer-turem, Finfer-shlos (Lena Watson)
6) Pesach Burstein's "Yessir, Zi's mayn kale" (Perele Shifer)
7) "zibeter sheliekh" (Nadia Dehan)
8) gefilte fish (Pearl Hoberman)
9) "gram shtram" (Leonard Fox)
10) Hasidic speech (Zelda Kahan Newman)

Date: March 10, 2010
Subject: "kbtsnim" (kabtsonim) in Kasovich autobiography

I would appreciate help in understanding the following passage from page 
74 in the autobiography of Israel Kasovich, Zekhtsig yohr leben: 
erinerungen eygene un algemayn idishe. Nyu Yor: M. N. Mayzel, 1924.

"Zaslav iz a kleyn shtetele mit etlekhe tsendlik yidishe kabtsonim"

What is the meaning of kabtsonim? [Editor's note: it means 'paupers.'] It 
seems an odd word to describe the Jewish inhabitants of Zaslav, unless he 
is calling attention to their occupation or to some other characteristic.

(Born in 1858 or 1859, Kasovich wrote his autobiography c. 1923.  He was a 
member of an Am Olam group that emigrated to America c. 1882 to be 
farmers, but the venture failed, and he returned to Russia after three 
months.  He was an active Zionist who raised money for Jewish agricultural 
workers, and he was a delegate to the 1902 Minsk Zionist conference. He 
briefly became a farmer in Connecticut in 1907, and was then associate 
editor of The Jewish Farmer.)

The entire Yiddish book can be found on line at


Lawrence A. Coben
Date: March 10, 2010
Subject: Leonard Wolf

I wonder if anyone knows whether Leonard Wolf, translator of 
"Vini-der-Pu," can be contacted. (He was in his late seventies when he 
translated Vini, I believe, so alas one must ask the question....)

Michael Everson
Date: February 14, 2010
Subject: Yiddish writers and suicide
Dear friends,

In his book "The Writer as Migrant," Ha Jin asserts that Isaac Bashevis 
Singer "often thought of committing suicide because of the demise of 
Yiddish." I have not been able to find anything to support this assertion, 
and I was wondering if any of you could point me to any sources that might 
mention this about Singer. I would also be interested in any leads to the 
subject of suicidal thoughts due to the demise of Yiddish in any other 
Yiddish writers.

Thank you in advance,
Amy Kaufman
Date:  March 1, 2010
Subject:  Dvoyre foygls lid 'fun der benkshaft'

Tsum badoyern hob ikh nor zeyer a shlekhte kopie funem lid fun dvoyre 
foygl "fun der benkshaft": efsher ken emetser dos lid un ken mir zogn, vi 
es heyst in di azoy markirte platsn [...] oder veys, vu ikh ken gefinen 
dem tekst (efsher in internets?):

Haynt hob ikh gekoyft gele karshn
vos shmekn vaserik, vi di benkshaft.

di karshn vern keyn mol nisht alt.
di karshn zenen zekhtsn un zibetsn yor alt.

haynt bin ikh glaykh tsu a geler karsh
un fil vider dem etvos pustn tam
fun arumblondzen in nakhtike shtotgasn
tsuzamen mit gele lamterns.

yedn ovnt zol epes geshen in der velt.
epes zol kumen
fun azoy un azoy fil [...?]
vos azoy fil mentshn geyen oys in a tog.

ober vi faryorn
un far tsvey yor un far dray
iz vider gornisht nisht geshen.

nor ikh hob far[...?] dem [...] tam
fun der benkshaft.
A hartsikn dank far an entfer un grusn fun
Mio Sibylle Hamann
Date: February 28, 2010
Subject: Finfer-turem, Finfer-shlos
Dear experts on the Golem of Prague,
In Leivick's "Di Geule Komedie," I have come across a Finfer-turem as the 
location of the Golem's and Messiah ben David's final confrontation with 
the Maharal. A couple of pages later, there's a mention of Finfer-shlos. 
To the best of my knowledge, the drama unfolded in the Old New Synagogue 
in Prague, but I have been unable to find any reference to Finfer, be it a 
tower or a caste. Is it an actual name or just a reference to the tower's 
shape, i.e. pentagonal?

I haven't had the zkhus of visiting the Old New Synagogue, but as far as I 
can see in pictures, it has no pentagonal spires or towers.  Or is it a 
tower of a castle (Prague Castle perhaps)?
Many thanks in advance,
Lena Watson
Date: February 15, 2010
Subject: Pesach Burstein's "Yessir, Zi's mayn kale"

Does anyone know who holds the copyright for "Yessir, Zi's mayn kale" by 
Pesach Burstein?  How can I find out if this is in the public domain?  I 
would like to use it in an animation that I am working on. Thanks so much.
Perele Shifer
Date: February 27, 2010
Subject: "zibeter sheliekh"
khosheve fraynd,
tsi veys emetser vos meynt der oysdruk "zibeter sheliekh" vos Opatoshu 
redt vegn dem in "di poylishe velder" (z' 199 fun dem farlag Novak, NY 
1947). Tsi iz es an aluzye tsu a spetsifishn tekst?

a dank foroys,
Nadia Dehan
Date:  February 22, 2010
Subject: gefilte fish

Peretz Mett asks about why "gefilte fish" exists only in the plural. This 
reply is speculation only, not authoritative, so take your pick of the 
1. "gefilte fish" refers to the balls of chopped fish as served, therefore 
2. gefilte fish is traditionally made of several kinds of fish: carp, 
whitefish, buffall, perhaps others, depending on which European country 
the cook stems from, all chopped together with the other ingredients and 
often wrapped in pieces of fish skin.
3. I don't believe "fish" in Yiddish, as in English, actually has a 
singular or plural.
What "gefilte fish" doesn't mean is "a stuffed fish."

Pearl Hoberman
Date: February 16, 2010
Subject: "gram shtram"
A.L. Rickman inquired about the translation of a Yiddish aphorism, which 
he quotes as "Shtam gram, makh mir a letnik."

The actual saying is "Gram shtram, makh mir a letnik." My mother and 
grandmother often used this saying in the context of responding to 
something ridiculous, absurd, or nonsensical.
Doing a bit of research on the internet, I found that the expression was 
quoted by the author (M. Weissberg?) of "Sprichwoerter galizischer Juden" 
[Proverbs of Galician Jews], part III, published in "Am Ur-Quell: 
Monatschrift fuer Volkskunde," vol. 2, 1891, p. 131 (no. 36). In 
accordance with German spelling, he writes it as "Gram Stram mach mir a 
Letnik," and comments in a footnote:
"Dieses Sprichwort wird angewendet, wenn jemand unlogische 
Schlussfolgerungen zieht; ein bekannter Witzbold uebersetzte 
folgendermassen dieses Sprichwort: Reim, Sabbathmuetze mach mir ein 
Oberkleid!" [This proverb is used when someone draws illogical 
conclusions; a well known joker translates this proverb as follows: 
"Rhyme, Sabbath-cap make me an outer garment!"]

I would take issue with the "well known joker," who may have confused the 
word "shtram" with "shtraiml." "Letnik" is a word that means "summer 
clothing," not "outer garment."

The saying is included in Niborski and Vaisbort's "Dictionnaire 
Yiddish-Franais," glossed as "quel mli-mlo" (What a 
hodgepodge/jumble/mess/muddle), which is obviously not a real translation. 
"Gram-shtram" is defined by these authors as "vers de
mirliton" [doggerel].
So, Mr. Rickman, this is a case where the saying is perhaps as nonsensical 
as the statement for which it is a response!

Leonard Fox
Date: February 16, 2010
Subject: Hasidic speech

On www.talkbank.org, one can now access recordings of 2 Hasidic young 
men's narratives. To get to these recordings:

1) click on CABANK
2) Under DATABASE click on "playback without downloading".
3) in the next window, on the left hand side, you'll see a batch of 
languages listed alphabetically.  Yiddish is at the bottom of the list.

These are recordings of young men I met at Chulent, the weekly meeting 
held in the Millinery Synagogue on Thursday nights.

Zelda Kahan Newman
End of Mendele Vol. 19.021

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