A Very Yiddish Take on the Star Spangled Banner

How Stars and Stripes Became Farfl and Lokshn

Seeing Stars and Pasta: In the early part of the 20th century, poet Abraham Liessin used the expression fafl un lokshn to refer to the American flag.
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Seeing Stars and Pasta: In the early part of the 20th century, poet Abraham Liessin used the expression fafl un lokshn to refer to the American flag.

By Philologos

Published May 26, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
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Frieda Danziger of Manhattan writes to ask whether I have ever encountered the Yiddish term farfl un lokshn as a comical or disparaging way of referring to the Stars and Stripes.

I have, once, in a poem by Abraham Liessin, a well-known Yiddish poet. Liessin, who was born in Russia in 1872 and came to America in 1897, was also a socialist activist and a frequent contributor to the Forverts, whose left-wing but anti-Communist outlook he shared. One of his poems, published in a three-volume collection of his verse that appeared in 1938, the year of his death, and titled “Sereh: Der Banket” (“Sereh: The Banquet”), has the expression farfl un lokshn in the sense of the American flag.

I have no idea who the Sereh of this poem was apart from what it tells us about her, beginning with her name, סערע — which may be a Yiddishized spelling of Sarah and may be a Yiddish name in its own right. (Relatively rare, Sereh, possibly a form of Soreh — itself the Yiddish form of Hebrew Sarà, the English Sarah — was occasionally used as a name in Eastern Europe.) If she was indeed known as Sarah to her American friends, Liessin’s spelling of “Sereh” would appear to be a humorous dig at the immigrant accent, which presumably she didn’t share, of her Yiddish-speaking acquaintances.

We are also given to understand that Sarah or Sereh was a well-known figure in the world of the New York labor movement; that she belonged, like Liessin, to its less radical, anti-Communist wing.

Because of this, we are meant to believe she had been ostracized by local Communists, and that in the mid-1930s, with the advent of the “Popular Front,” the Moscow-directed turnabout whereby Communist parties sought to forge alliances with the same liberal and social-democratic forces they had previously denounced, she was “rehabilitated” and given a banquet in her honor.

The poem begins:

Men brengt zi in likhtikn zal un zi zet:
A nikhpe af zey — nor far ir a banket!

Or in my free translation:

She steps into the brightly lit hall to a stir.
A pox on them all! It’s a banquet for her.


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