Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yiddish folk song "Mayn Rue Platz"

Today in my Internet wanderings, I came across this hauntingly beautiful Yiddish folk song, "Mayn Rue Platz" or "My Resting Place." The text is a poem by Morris Rosenfeld, who wrote about the working conditions of Eastern European textile workers in New York. The Arty Semite blog explains, 

“Mayn Rue-Platz” contrasts natural beauty and pleasure with the realities found in American industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each step begins with the hoped for American experience but ends with the inevitable and oppressive realities of the industrialized world.

Don’t look for me where myrtles are green.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where lives wither at the machines,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where birds sing.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
I am a slave where chains ring,
There is my resting place.

Don’t look for me where fountains spray.
You will not find me there, my beloved.
Where tears flow and teeth gnash,
There is my resting place.

And if you love me with true love,
So come to me, my good beloved,
And cheer my gloomy heart
And make sweet my resting place.

I heard a recitation of this poem and one version of the song as part of the most recent episode of PRI's The World in Words, a favorite podcast. The episode was about a trip some Jewish students took to Europe to the homes of Yiddish poets & novelists -- a trip that was designed as a celebration of Jewish life and culture, instead of as a wake mourning the destruction of Jewish culture like many pilgrimages to Europe are wont to be; visits to historic sites of the Holocaust cast long, cold shadows. 

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With that horrible shadow on me, I was particularly struck by lines like "Where lives wither at the machines" -- so much so that I was almost relieved to learn that "Mayn Rue Platz" was written about American factory conditions and not concentration camps. It feels strange to admit that I can weigh some horrors against others, but my mind's misstep is evidence of the difficulty and importance of remembering and extolling Jewish/Yiddish histories (and the histories of other cultures). How unfair that Jewish culture is seen as victimized, minimized and simplified. This weakened conceptualization of a rich, ancient culture is a lasting legacy of the Holocaust. 

I'm no historian, but from what I know, many would tell me that this version of Jewish culture had been crafted long before the Holocaust. 

Anyway, it's a lovely poem and song.

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