Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Culture

WATCH: A Yiddish Version of ‘The Sound of Silence’

This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.

Paul Simon has been prominent in the zeitgeist recently. Ever since the legendary folk-rock singer announced his pending retirement, numerous musicians have paid tribute to the songwriter who has provided a soundtrack to three generations of American life.

The small world of contemporary Yiddish-language pop music is no exception. Until August I had never heard a Yiddish version of a Paul Simon song; now I know of two. And unlike many Yiddish covers of popular American classics they’re superb.

Both are, unsurprisingly, covers of songs Simon originally sang together with his longtime collaborator Art Garfunkel. The first, performed by the Australian band YID!, is a faithful translation of “The Boxer”. With lead vocals by Husky Gawenda (undoubtedly Australia’s best-known rock singer, who grew up in a secular Yiddishist family,) it captures the pain and pathos of the original without sounding the least bit absurd or sentimental, as translations into Yiddish often do.

The second song, from a very different corner of the Yiddish pop scene, is _ “tunklkayt”_ (darkness), an adaptation of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” re-imagined for a contemporary Hasidic audience.

Unlike most Hasidic recording artists who are hesitant to sing about life’s darker moments, Chaim Shlomo Mayesz’s songs often tackle topics like depression, albeit strictly in the context of providing spiritual encouragement to his listeners (in Yiddish: khizek). While nearly all contemporary khizek songs beat you over the head with comforting words about God or the Torah or end with a sudden, unrealistic resolution to the subjects’ struggles, “Tunklkayt” is far more subtle. Although it cites the Yiddish saying that God only gives a person as many problems as he or she can handle, the song is mostly a dialogue between two friends, with one promising the other that one day he’ll laugh about his current troubles.

Musically, the version is first-rate, and the Yiddish translation, by Shragi Lichter, is enchanting, despite some syntax errors that will surely give certain Yiddish scholars heartburn. And as always, Mayesz’s beautiful bass voice is a wonder to behold.

I’m eagerly awaiting Mayesz’s next album. Perhaps he’ll do a cover of a Bob Dylan or a Leonard Cohen song. After all, he already did a great job covering Justin Bieber.

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.