On the 115th yahrzeit of poet Mikhl Gordon, the Forverts’s Pearls of Yiddish Poetry featured this famous Maskl. At the time of his life, this movement in which Gordon played a prominent role was the ideological challenger of the Hasidim, who were the fervent advocates of the “good old-time religion” that raised the heart above the head. Gordon’s movement tried to raise the head above the heart to usher in a Jewish “age of enlightenment.” What follows is a poem he wrote that embodies his philosophy. The transliteration is by Goldie Gold. The English version is by Gus Tyler.
Shtey Oyf, Mayn Folk
Shtey oyf, mayn folk, genug dir shoyn tsu shlofn
Shtey oyf un makh shoyn dayne oygn ofn
Vos iz oyf dir aleyn azoy a groys plog
Vos du aleyn shlofst biz halbn tog?
Tu on dayne kleyder, vi ale zikh kleydn
Vos darfstu di kleyder fun dayn elter-zeydn?
Gey oyfder gas nit aroys in langn khalat
Zoln mentshn nit vayzn: Ot geyt an azyat.
Wake Up, My People
Wake up, my people, for you have slept too long
It’s time to rise and see things clear and strong
Say what is it that has led you so astray
That you do sleep through almost half the day?
Put on your clothes as other people do
Don’t wear the clothes your grandpa gave to you
Don’t walk the streets in lengthy foreign frocks
That look so much like Asiatic smocks.
* * *
Sarcasm was one of Gordon’s primary weapons in his war against the conventional orthodoxies of the Hasidim. In a lengthy poem, he assailed the irrational role that the beard played in Hasidic circles.
Kokhers vayb iz keyn Poltave gekumen
Zi zet ir man un derkent im nit bald
Zi kukt zikh tsu, az er hot zayn bord aropgenumen
Heybt zi on tsu shrayen un makhn a gevald:
“Bistu dos mayn man, bistu dos Kokher?
Ikh derken dikh nit, zest oys a bokher
Tsi volt ikh gleybn, ven ikh volt hern
Az mayn man vet zayn bord opshern
Gevald! Di bord zol mir vern.
Di bord zol mir vern, es zol untergeyn di velt
Di bord zol mir vern, nit a hor gefelt
Di bord zol mir vern, vi gevezn groys
Di bord zol mir vern, ikh halt nit oys!
Gevald! Gib mir di bord aroys.
Vos hot di bord geton a roe?
Tsi hot zi dir gekost epes a hetsoe?
Tsi hot zi dir geshat tsu dayne interesn
Oder hot zi bay dir gebetn esn?
Gevald! Ikh ken di bord nit fargesn.
Gor nit lang hob ikh gezen in kholem
Di gantse bord ole-hasholem
A hor ahin un a hor aher
Un lebn ir iz gelegn a sher
Gevald! Gib mir di bord aher.”
Kokher’s wife to Poltave came
She saw her man — but not the same
She looks again right at his chin
He cut his beard — a mortal sin.
She yells: “Are you the man I knew?
Or are you some other who’s brand new?
You look like some young teenage kid
Now that you your beard got rid.
No matter what, the beard it must return
Or else, my man, in hell you long will burn
I want to see each hair in place
I want to see a hirsute face.
What did the beard e’er do to you?
Was it not a friend and true?
Did it ever ask you for great alms?
Or interfere with your reciting psalms?
I had a dream, and it won’t cease
I saw the beard, oh, rest in peace!
With one hair there and one hair here
And at their side a vicious shear
God help. I want the beard all here.”