6: Music, lyrics, and recording of song, Mikhl Gordon's “Di Bord,” 1868.
When Jake reunites with his wife Gitl in America, his appearance has changed dramatically since his wife last saw him. One of the most significant signs of his new, secularized, Americanized appearance is that he has shaved his beard. “Oi a lamentation upon me! He shaves his beard!” Gitl cries in the novella (73).
This popular satirical Yiddish song, “Di bord” ("The Beard"), by poet and songwriter Mikhl Gordon (1823-1890), illustrates the potentially dramatic significance of secularizing Jews shaving their beards. The song, written by a maskil (an adherent of the Jewish Enlightenment), pokes fun at pious Jews, as a wife committed to tradition laments her husband’s self-grooming decisions.
Suggested Activity: Read the song together with your students, including the English translation. Ask them which lines they find particularly funny, and why. Then listen to the recording (or watch it being performed here, by a group of London musicians). Try singing it together afterwards. Ask them how they think the music underlines the humor of the lyrics.
Then discuss: why is the wife in the song so upset about the beard? What might it represent to her? Might her husband be making related changes in his life without her consent? To what extent might the husband’s apparent religious choices impact the life of his wife and perhaps their shared household? In what ways do you think the scenario and tone of the song are similar to or different from the parallel scene from Yekl? Ask your students to write a new verse to the song from the perspective of Gitl, or an "answer verse" from Jake.
Source: Mikhl Gordon, "Di bord," in Eleanor Gordon Mlotek, ed., Mir Trogn a Gezang: Favorite Yiddish Songs of Our Generation (New York: The Workmen's Circle, 1972), 128-129.
Mikhl Gordon, “Di bord,” performed by Rachel Weston (voice), Josh Middleton (accordion), and Ben Pitt (violin), from video "Rachel Weston sings Di Bord, accompanied by Josh Middleton Ben Pitt" (YouTube channel silverAJ, January 5, 2016), <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlDfqWUPBow>, accessed February 10, 2018.