Rapping About ‘My Yiddishe Mame’
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
A recently released music video weaves together the classic Yiddish hit “Mein Yiddishe Mame” (“My Jewish Mother”) with a modern hip-hop tribute to a more contemporary Jewish mother. In its first two weeks on You Tube, the video received a whopping 11,000 hits.
“Mein Yiddishe Mama,” which was written by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack in the early 1920s, was made famous by singer Sophie Tucker, cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, and later, the Barry Sisters. In 1928 it was featured as one of the five most popular songs on American radio. It has since been translated into other languages including Spanish, Hungarian, Polish and Finnish.
In the music video, produced by Sparks Next, 32-year-old cantor Mayer Goldberg sings a heartfelt rendition of the song, while images of young Jewish mothers and their children flash across the screen — young mothers preparing dinner, or older mothers affectionately stroking their grown daughter’s faces.
As soon as Goldberg finishes singing the Yiddish version of the song, a young singer from the Jewish rap group “Brooklyn Mentality” comes on to tell, in hip-hop style, about his youth, his rebellion against his mother and other figures of authority:
It weighed on my mom, she was always in the principal’s office
Becoming good seemed like an impossible process
The mother persists, he explains: “I dropped out, she told me this is the last chance you got now to make something of yourself.” He eventually enrolls in a Yeshiva far from home and “Everything changed.”
I can’t show how deep my feelings of gratitude are That you did more than stand by me You carried me, the faith that you had and have in me I just wanna start making you happy, see
Before Goldberg and his producer, Daniel Finkelman, made the video, they were aware that combining a sentimental Yiddish song with the raw and sharp beat of hip-hop would not go over well with many viewers.
“On the flip side, we also knew that if we went with the old lyrics of ‘Mein Yiddishe Mama’, we would potentially lose the younger generation,” Finkelman said in an interview with the Forverts. As it turned out, it was a risk worth taking. Since the video came out, it was shared multiple times on Facebook to a mostly young audience.
The music video is also remarkable for another reason: both Goldberg and Finkelman grew up in Israel in the 1980’s. Contrary to the stereotype of Israeli society’s negative stance towards Yiddish, they both have fond memories of the Yiddish songs they heard at home. Finkelman’s parents were immigrants from Ukraine, and his grandmother often spoke Yiddish. “Our favorite radio program was ‘Rozhinkes mit Mandlen’, where they constantly played Dudu Fisher and the Barry Sisters,” he said.
Goldberg’s father was a cantor in the IDF, and his family also listened to Dudu Fisher, as well as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, at home in Tel Aviv. “My parents didn’t really want us to listen to the goyishe (secular) love songs, so they played the Yiddish songs before we went to bed,” Goldberger said.
Goldberger and Finkelman originally planned to produce a hip-hop version of a Jewish holiday song, but they realized that it would be very limiting. “A Hanukkah song can only be played on Hanukkah,” Goldberg said. “But ‘A Yiddishe Mama’ is universal.”