1: Music, lyrics, and recording (ca. 1960) of Bronx schoolchildren singing Mark Varshavski’s “Oyfn pripetshik" (ca. 1901), Yiddish with translation.
This song, "Oyfn pripetshik" ("On the Hearth")—perhaps the most well-known and beloved in all of Yiddish music—is often thought to be from the folk tradition, but was in fact written by Mark Varshavski (1848-1907), a lawyer-turned-songwriter from Kiev who was discovered by famed Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. In the composition, originally published as "Der alef beys" ("The Alphabet"), the cozy atmosphere of the kheyder is set off by the melancholy melody and the lyrics that grow more plaintive as the song progresses. Interestingly, this recording features first-graders from a Yiddish school in the Bronx—young children, like the characters of the song. Note that the “rebe” (as the melamed was often called) urges the children to learn with “groys kheyshek” (great enthusiasm)—the same word used by Sholem Aleichem in a text that appears later in this kit, to describe what the kheyder boys precisely did not have.
Suggested activity: Play the song and have the students follow along with the Yiddish lyrics. Read the summarized English translation that appears below them. Discuss the meaning of the song, and what picture it paints of the kheyder. Who is the speaker of most of the lyrics? What is the speaker’s attitude to the material being taught, and does it change? After discussing the lyrics, play the song again, with students singing along—or teach them the song, so they can sing it without using the recording.
Sources: Chana Mlotek, ed., Mir Trogn a Gezang: The New Book of Yiddish Songs (trans. We Bring Forth Song) (New York: Workmen’s Circle Educational Division, 1972), 2-3.
Mark Varshavski, “Oyfn pripetshik,” on Lomir zingen: Lider far yidishe kinder (Let’s Sing A Yiddish Song!: A Treasury of Popular Children’s Songs) (trans. Songs for Jewish Children), performed by Masha Benya and children’s chorus from Workmen’s Circle School No. 3 (Brooklyn: Famous Records, 1960?). Digitized by Judaica Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University Libraries, accessed December 10, 2015, http://faujsa.fau.edu/jsa/search_music_LP.php?jsa_num=400694.