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.
Getty Images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

The poem continues, mocking the Communists’ changed strategy of backing Roosevelt’s New Deal and adopting the language of American patriotism:

Ot itzt, ven tsulib dem fareyniktn front
farzorgt men fun tsenter: altz “dant” un altz “dant,”
hot emetsn grad zikh on Sereh’n dermant.

Now that it’s all the vogue to declare a
Popular Front and the center is where a
left-winger should be, they’re remembering Sereh.

Men fokht dokh shoyn lang mit di farfl un lokshn,
un nit mit der fon der royt-proletarisher;
men shteyt far di makht-hober pod-kozirak shoyn,
un mit a farentferung mit aza narisher;
vayl vi men zol dreydlen un pshetlen derbay —
men vert dokh shoyn fort a regirungs-partay.

The farfl un lokshn now waves jauntily
instead of the red proletarian banner,
and one stands and salutes the powers that be
while explaining it all in an upside-down manner;
yet however it’s twisted and turned by some smarty,
one now is a part of the ruling party.

It’s easy to see why “farfl and lokshn” should have become a jocular Yiddish term for the American flag. Lokshn are noodles, the most common kind of which used in the Jewish kitchen are long, stripe-shaped ones resembling fettuccine or tagliatelle. Farfel is pasta, too, but small and round; often called egg barley, it has the shape of a bead or pellet — or, if you wish, of a star. Farfl un lokshn would have been, in pre-Popular Front days, a fine way of making fun of Old Glory.

Liessin’s poem concludes, picturing the banquet:

Un treft men afile a biznes-
agent —
Azoynem vos klept zikh bay im tsu di hent,
to vet men nit makhn shoyn kayn tararam;
men iz shoyn statetshne! Un zidlt men on
a klasn-faynt ye shoyn, to falsh iz der ton —
nito shoyn di hitz un der kvitsh un der tam.

One might even sit next to a businessman-gent,
the hand-pumping kind who claims he’s one’s best friend —
that’s no longer such a big deal.
One’s respectable now! And even if one
still calls for class warfare, it’s done in a tone
that lacks the old heat and old zeal.

To hot men es itzt, mit gemiter mit shvere,
gevolt in perzon fun der khaverte Sereh
der linye der foriker opgebn ere.

It hurts one to do it and nothing’s unfairer,
but a banquet in honor of our Comrade Sereh
lines one up with the line of which she’s been the bearer.

One would love to know who Sarah or Sereh was. Does anyone out there have any idea?

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.