DER YIDDISH-VINKL November 26, 2004


Published November 26, 2004, issue of November 26, 2004.
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On the 35th yahrzeit of Leib Feinberg, the pages of the Forverts devoted to Pearls of Yiddish Poetry featured the adventuresome life and the passionate penitent poetry of this unusual genius. A graduate of Moscow University (1919) he became an officer of the Red Guard. For most of his early life, he was a dedicated Communist, singing the praises of the Stalinist regime. He became a staff writer for the Communist Freiheit. Following the Hitler-Stalin pact, however, he broke from the Communist Party and devoted much of his poetry to the theme of penitence.

What follows is one such poem, transliterated from the Yiddish by Goldie Gold and then followed by an English version by Gus Tyler.

Fargib mir, Got: a dikhter — a bal-tshuve,

Ikh lig far dir a zindiker in shtoyb;

Es hot mayn lid demroshe un menuvl

Gereykhert vayrokh un gezungen loyb.

Mir hobn di proste montiks

In yontef farvandlen gevolt

Nor mir hobn aleyn zikh farplontert

Vi malpes, in rod fun derfolg.

Mir hobn vi troymen mayove

Gekholemt a naye velt

Nor gearbet hobn mir sam-hamoves

Un umkum un til-un-tel.

Mir habn gekemft far frayhayt

Far dem vos iz orem un shvakh

Nor der reter gevorn iz khaye

Koym er hot nor bekumen di makht

Mir hobn gehoybn dos hitl

Far a gets vos gefelsht hot in tsil…

English version:

Forgive me, God, I am a penitent

My life in many sinful ways I spent

My poetry in shameful words did praise

A villain vile who darkened all our days.

We turned the weekdays into holidays

To praise a monster and his wicked ways

We dreamt our deeds would bring a better world

The flag of human freedom we unfurled.

Instead we helped to strengthen slavery

By men whose life was sheerest knavery

For once in power they reversed their goal

Forgive me, God, and help me purge my soul!

In his last will and testament, he wrote: Nisht trog tsu mayn keyver undzer rote fon, nor dem tales — Do not carry a red flag to my grave, but a prayer shawl.

What follows is the text of the will and testament as relates to his ultimate beliefs:

Iz viklt mikh ayn in mayn zeydns tales

In dem zelbern kleyd fun mayn likhtikn shtam

Un lernen mayn tate zol a peyrek mishne

Un tsadoke tseteyln mit a breyter hant.

Un zogn a kadesh bay mayn shtiler levaye,

Vayl mayn zun ligt a kodesh in Birobidzhan

Un ven ikh vel lign a toyter in keyver

Mit farvorfenem kop tsu dem mizrakh gevendt,

Kritst oys oyf mayn posheter, groyer matseyve

Mayn tatens tsvey heylik tseduknte hent,

Un unten — mayn nomen un dem nomen fun tatn

In tsvey poshete shures — un mer nisht keyn vort

Poy — nitmen — a kemfer, vemes fon hot farratn

Iy im, iy zayn gantsn farmishpetn dor.

English version:

Cover me in my granny’s prayer shawl

For that’s the garment of my people all

From mishne let my father something learn

To charity his money he should turn.

And at my grave, a Kaddish he will say:

“In Birobidjan, my son a martyr lay.”

And when I’m dead and quiet in my grave

My head turned east as on a giant wave.

Then on the tombstone let someone engrave

My father’s hands in prayer my soul to save

And underneath my father’s name and mine

Two simple lines that will our lives define.

“Here lies a fighter whose flag did him betray

“Both him and all who shared his ill-starred day!”

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