Yiddish Song

Yiddish Song: “It is a garden with many trees, a book with various chapters, a palace with numerous rooms.” Elie Wiesel

At its simplest definition, a Yiddish song is a song written in the Yiddish language. Yet it is more than that, for “Yiddish” describes not only a language, but a culture – the culture of the Ashkenazi Jews. As you explore Yiddish song, you will find songs about ordinary life – love, loss, poverty; humorous and satirical songs; songs of resistance and politics; songs of the Holocaust; songs for performance; songs of emigration; songs from the New World; songs from the stage and concert hall; and indeed, modern songs, including some from Eastern Europe. These songs have an immediate appeal, an emotional depth, and at the same time a connection to the history of a people. Outside limited circles, the majority of the Yiddish song repertoire is, sadly, relatively little known. Kleznorth gives us the opportunity to spread the word – and the tunes!

A Quick Guide

  • Yiddish is the historic common language of the Eastern European (“Ashkenazi”) Jews. It was primarily used in everyday life, whereas Hebrew was the traditional language of religious life.
  • In Yiddish the majority of the words come from early German, with additional words from Hebrew and Slavic languages: as Jewish people moved and lived in different areas, so some words were absorbed in the culture (as were dances, songs and tunes).
  • Yiddish is written in Hebrew script, reading right to left. However the songs that will be sung at Kleznorth will be presented in transliteration. There is a standard system used for teaching Standard Yiddish which we will primarily use, but for those accessing songs from other sources, you may come upon variations, including Germanic and Russian forms. This can cause a little confusion. There are also 3 main dialects in Yiddish – not surprising given the wide area of Northern Europe joined by this single language, and given the range of other languages Jewish people in these areas will have spoken.