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.