|Source (Yiddish)||Translation (English)|
װײסע, ברױנע, שװארצע, געלבע —
מישט די פארבן אױס צוזאמען!
אַלע מענטשן זײנען ברידער…
פון אײן טאַטן, פון אײן מאַמען!
White, Brown, Black, Yellow –
mix the colors all together!
All people are brothers,
From the same father, from the same mother!
אױך — אײן גאָט האָט זײ באַשאַפן,
און — אײן פאָטערלאַנד די װעלט —
אלע מענטשן זײנען ברידער,
דאָס איז אײנמאָל פעסטגעשטעלט!
And one God has created them all,
and one homeland: the world –
all people are brothers,
that is absolutely certain!
* * *
אלע מענטשן זײנען ברידער,
שװארצע, װײסע, ברױנע, געלבע…
אַנדערש זײנען נאָר די פאַרבן,
די נאַטור איז — די זעלבע:
All people are brothers
Black, White, Brown, Yellow…
only the colors are different –
but their Nature is the same!
אומעטום דאָס זעלבע פּראַלן,
כ׳האָב עס טױזנט מאָל געהערט!
און פון זאָגן ביז צו טראָגן —
איז פון הימל ביז צו דר׳ערד!
Everywhere the same bluster,
I’ve heard it thousands of times!
And from talking to bearing (fruit) i.e., from flirting to getting pregnant —
It’s (as distant as) heaven to earth!
אלע מענטשן זײנען ברידער:
געלבע, ברױנע, שװאַרצע, װײסע…
פעלקער, ראַסן און קלימאַטן —
ס׳איז אן אױסגעקלערטע מעשה.
All human beings are brothers,
Yellow, Brown, Black, White…
nations, races, and climates –
it’s all an Enlightenment fiction!
אומעטום דער זעלבער מוסר,
אומעטום דאָס זעלבע לײַגן —
מיטן מױל דער גאנצער עולם,
די פּאָליטיקער מיט שװײַגן!
אלע מענטשן זײנען ברידער!
און — זײ שפּילן זיך אין פלישקעס,
די נשמות זײנען װערעמלעך —
אינעם טאַבעק פון די שישקעס…
All people are brothers!
And they amuse themselves with frivolities, plishkes, probably from pliszka, although literally referring to wagtail, a kind of bird, is used metaphorically to mean “small thing.”
Their souls are (as) little worms –
in pinecone snuff lit., in the tobacco of pinecones. The idioms employed here, “a shmek tabek” (a sniff of tobacco) and “shishke” (pine cone), can have the connotation of something worthless. The simile employed here is to emphasize the second line, “they play with frivolous things.”
The three stanzas of Y.L. Peretz’s “Ale mentshn zaynen brider” left unsung by the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus attest the degree to which Peretz was wielding the poem in a stinging attack of European hypocrisy. Still a popular song thanks to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, its inclusive universalist principles were being ignored in a late-19th and early-20th century Europe awash with anti-Semitism, racism, and nationalist zeal. In this poem, Peretz is shouting at the hypocrisy of a Europe that sings the Ode to the tune of Beethoven, but neglects its meaning.
I have not been able to learn any more details on when and where exactly Peretz wrote this poem. In 1889, Peretz’s license to practice law was revoked by the Imperial Russian authorities on the basis of suspicion of Polish nationalist feelings. From his article on wikipedia, “Y.L. Peretz rejected cultural universalism, seeing the world as composed of different nations, each with its own character. Liptzin comments that “Every people is seen by him as a chosen people…”; he saw his role as a Jewish writer to express “Jewish ideals…grounded in Jewish tradition and Jewish history….While most Jewish intellectuals were unrestrained in their support of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Peretz’s view was more reserved, focusing more on the pogroms that took place within the Revolution, and concerned that the Revolution’s universalist ideals would leave little space for Jewish non-conformism.”
I have transcribed Y.L. Peretz’s poem from Oysgeṿeylṭe ṿerḳ in tsṿey bender (1951), p.278-279. Many thanks to Dr. Raphael Finkel for his help with translation and interpretation and to Dr. Sabine Arndt with her suggestion. –Aharon Varady
|1||i.e., from flirting to getting pregnant|
|2||moral, ethic, instruction, rebuke|
|3||Thanks to Sabine Arndt for offering this interpretation.|
|4||plishkes, probably from pliszka, although literally referring to wagtail, a kind of bird, is used metaphorically to mean “small thing.”|
|5||lit., in the tobacco of pinecones. The idioms employed here, “a shmek tabek” (a sniff of tobacco) and “shishke” (pine cone), can have the connotation of something worthless. The simile employed here is to emphasize the second line, “they play with frivolous things.”|
“בּרידער | “Brothers” – Y.L. Peretz’s Sardonic Rejoinder to Friedrich Schiller’s Paean to Universal Enlightenment, An die Freude (Ode to Joy)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
Works of related interest:
An die Freude | שִׁיר לְשִׂמְחָה | ode to Joy (Shir l’Simḥah), a Hebrew adaptation of the hymn by Friedrich Schiller (ca. late 18th c.)
Man Is Here for the Sake of Others, by Albert Einstein (1930) as excerpted by Rabbi Morrison David Bial
So my father died last night just as I coming from out of town to see him. I got the news from my brother while I was driving on Interstate 95. He had been in the hospital for ten days, and had just been discharged back to the elder care community where he had been living since late April. During his hospital stay, my mother told me that he had joked that a music therapy session was “not exactly Beethoven’s Ninth.” This reminded me that when I was growing up, my parents had in their “record cabinet” a boxed set of all nine Beethoven symphonies on vinyl LPs. I came up with a plan to play a recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Ninth when I had a chance to sit with my father, who was 89 years old and had been in failing health for months as he stopped eating. All food, and even water, didn’t “taste right,” he kept complaining, and then a few weeks ago he started saying he didn’t know whether he wanted to live or die.
The truth is, he never recovered from moving out of the condo where he was living with my mother, his wife of 59 years, to the elder care community, where he had to live in a “unit” separate from hers. Eventually he was hospitalized for depression, but by that point, it was too late, since my previously five foot six, overweight father had dropped well below 100 pounds and his muscles had begun wasting away. I tried to encourage him to “choose life,” a quote from near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy that I had chanted in Hebrew for my Bar Mitzvah back in 1982. Last week, one of my sons came by train from where we live to feed my father and play Monopoly with him.
I was hoping to listen to the entire symphony with my father in silence, which would have been quite an achievement for both of us, the retired history teacher and the writer who both obsess about today’s hellish American politics—just days ago he was asking me whether the Supreme Court had compelled Lindsey Graham to testify in the Georgia election tampering case against Donald Trump. Now that my father has died, I will have to live long enough to piss on Trump’s grave on his behalf as well as my own.
Lest you think I am merely being vulgar, consider that the choral part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony contains the famous words from Friedrich Schiller’s poem, Alle Menschen werden Brüder / Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt—“all people become brothers, where (joy’s) gentle wing abides”—and ask yourself if Trump does not represent the very antithesis of that humane spirit. In searching for a translation of that poem as I wrote this, I found that the great Jewish writer I.L. Peretz (1852-1915) wrote a famously sardonic Yiddish poem that is a riff on the Ode To Joy—not to condemn Schiller or Beethoven, I think, but to scorn the Jew-hating European Christians who pretend to venerate such great art while grasping nothing of its meaning: “Everywhere the same moral / everywhere the same lie – / the whole world with their mouth, / the politicians with their silence!” Such was the dilemma we batted back and forth in endless dialogues, my father and me: he with his eternal optimism that all people will indeed become brothers, me with Peretz’s bitter certainty that people just mouth such sentiments before going out to slaughter one another.
Besides playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for my father, I was going to tell him that my dog, also called Peretz, had taught me something very important. Peretz, or “Pooch-key” as we usually call him, is a mix of Pekingese and half a dozen other breeds, according to a genetics test. He is a fluffy off-white scruff ball who came running when the people we were going to adopt him from brought him into the room where I was waiting, and jumped straight into my lap. He’s not always reliable around guests and he gets very smelly. But then he looks at me with his enormous brown eyes, and he tells me certain things without words, things that cannot even be put into words. It’s like how, on a recent solo camping trip to Assateague Island, I felt my soul shifting around inside me, thoughts or emotions that also came without words. Some of the most important things in life must be said without words, I was going to tell my father, and I was going to hold his hand. My father Harold “Doc” Gorvine, whose Hebrew name was Haim ben Breindel vi’Yehudah, was born on January 22, 1933, and died on November 8, 2022, as I was driving up to see him.
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