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DER YIDDISH-VINKL February 4, 2005

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.

Di Bord

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.”

The Beard

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.”

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