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.
  • The majority of Yiddish 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 also 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. We will mostly use the Standard Yiddish model of transliteration (“YIVO”), but where you access songs from other sources, you are likely to come upon variations, including Germanic and Russian forms. (This can cause a little confusion.)
  • There are 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.
  • Remember that the transliteration is phonetic – once you have learned the conventions, it is written as it sounds.

If you want to find out more about Yiddish, the YIVO website has an excellent paper, “Basic Facts About Yiddish”

Guide to Yiddish pronunciation