2: Video, Amy Kurzweil’s “Bubbe Sings a Jewish Song,” 2017.
In this video, we hear Bubbe sing a short song in Yiddish. Her singing is accompanied by animations as well as some fragmented Yiddish text and translations. At the very end, Bubbe explains that the song is about love.
Throughout Flying Couch, the themes of song and language carry through Bubbe’s oral testimony, often in complicated ways. Song, for Bubbe, is a kind of salve. When she is hiding out in the countryside, alone, far from her family, and pretending not to be Jewish in order to survive, she has to attend church every week. Though she is “scared” of church, she recalls how much she loved the singing (see page 98).
The Yiddish language, on the other hand, so intimately connected with her family and identity, is forbidden to her during this time. In hiding, Bubbe does not dare reveal her identity by speaking, or singing, in Yiddish. When she finally returns to the city, she describes trying “to say a little bit of Yiddish words to myself, but I was so scared. I couldn’t do it. Even all alone like that, they were locked up inside me” (page 193).
When Bubbe finally turns to the story of “how I come to live Jewish again” (page 197), she describes meeting her husband, Dave, who took her to a house filled with Jewish families. There, she experienced Shabbat for the first time in four years. In addition, people told horrific stories about how they made it through the war, and they also filled the house with their song and dance. As she describes it, “And the music. The Jews were singing songs always. Yiddish music. Even the people coming from the camps. Piles of women, so skinny, with no hair and wearing the striped suits, messes and messes of them, so sick, but always singing, dancing. That was our pleasure. To have music and to be no longer alone” (page 201).
Suggested Activities: Play the video of Bubbe singing, without showing students the visuals. Pause when she stops singing, before she describes what the song is about. Ask students for their reactions to the song: what do they think it is about? What emotions does it evoke? Once you’ve had a discussion, play them the entire video from beginning to end, and let them see the visuals. Did their interpretations match Bubbe’s description? Did the fragments of translated lyrics help them make sense of the storyline? Did the visuals seem to match what the song was about, and how it felt to hear it?
Ask students if they can recall songs that were sung to them as children. (A brave student or two might even sing to the class.) Can they remember who sang the song to them? When did they first hear the song, and on what occasions was it repeated? Do they know where the song came from, or, especially if it’s not in English, what it means? What associations do they have now with the song (these can include emotions, memories, or images), and with the person who sang it to them?
If you want to add a research component, you might have students look up the history of a song from their childhood: who wrote it and when and where? Was it popular, does it have an interesting origin story? They can additionally interview a person who sang it to them, if possible, or a living relative close to that person, to see if they can find out any additional information. What did the song mean to the person who sang it to them? Where did that person first hear it? Why might the song have had a special significance to them?
Source: Amy Kurzweil, “Bubbe Sings a Jewish Song," YouTube, 15 Dec. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkIuKUjGjfI.