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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mitzraim was a big hit for Isidore Meltzer: Passover, ringworm and plucking machines!?

Here's the penny song under discussion today (click on the images for larger views)

Broadside cover: "Mitzraim (Egypt) is to be sung with the well-known melody Der Tayfel (in YIVO transcription, Der tayvl), "The Devil."*

The other clue we are offered: "Sung with great success by Herr Isidore Meltzer in the Peoples Music Hall." I'd never heard of Isidore (Israel) Meltzer, a comedian and actor in vaudeville and the Yiddish theater. Here is a picture of him from a couple decades later. The caption reads: "The Wonder Horse" with Litvak (Isidore Meltzer) on the horse (the horse is Jack Goldman and Harry Bender) from the show We Live and Laugh, 1936. Steven Lasky posted a brief biography: Isidore Meltzer at the Museum of Family History.

So what is going on in this song? Sheva Zucker and Shalom Goldman and I puzzled over it this morning. It's written in a Polish dialect, with English thrown in. The Yiddish word of the day is parkh, written here as parikh. The dictionary offers us "ringworm of the scalp, mange, canker," and also "skinflint, rat, bastard." Ringworm is like athlete's foot of the head and causes hair loss and red patches on the scalp. Was there a ringworm epidemic in New York which this song is mocking? Perhaps the references to Egypt and Shabat HaGadol are meant to invoke the plagues (boils for example). I'm translating parkh as "ringworm sufferer," but possibly the shadow meaning of "bastard" is supposed to come through (especially with the guy who beats his wife)

Now what is this plucking machine? Shalom proposed it might have been an early electric razor and reminded us you are supposed to get a haircut before Passover (Shabat HaGadol is the Saturday before Pesakh).

UPDATE: Miriam Isaacs wrote to me that the song "plays on the fact that Pharoah and scrofula are homophones in Yiddish." Itzik Gottesman discussed this very topic on his blog in 2010 and kindly sent me a link: Parekh on the Yiddish Song of the Week blog. His post included a fake ticket: to Egypt the journey is free. Attention: During the trip you cannot scratch yourself. The transport is leaving Shabes, 2:00 PM. Gottesman assumes tickets like these were distributed on Shabes-hagodl, when the parkhes were exiled to Egypt - symbolically only! Gottesman wrote to me: "no one was sent to Egypt. it was a mock exile, parade in front of the house of jews with a parekh … a "custom" only performed in Galicia, Romania, maybe Besserabia on shaves hagodel."

Sheva opined that this song is just too dumb to worry about and she wondered why I cared what it meant. The answer: "Because it's there." If you're curious too or if you have a more sensible translation please let me know!

A vertl her ikh vi yeder zogt un dos iz oykh bakant
Az velkher mentsh dem parkh farmogt iz mitzrayim dos beste land
A yeder parkh muz forn(?) dort, dos iz keyn shverer 'job'
Dort flikt men im op zofort! Un der krigt a 'clean'em kop

Mitzrayim! Mitzrayim! Nor dort iz zeyer ort
A parkh ven er kumt ahin 'clean' vert er zofort
Zayn kop vert vays vi kalkh - un reyn nor vi a malekh
Ven er kumt nor ahin - flikt im op di mashin dem parkh

Shabes hagodel oy oy a flug, keyn parkh ken nit ruen
Zey zaynen ale oy 'busy' dem tog, dort bay der flik mashin
A yeder parkh vert dem tog reyn, on tuml un on geshrey
Zey shteyn un vartn in der 'line' - nokh 'next' dort geyn zey!

In a teatr bin ikh geven nekhtn af der nakht
A man a parkh hob ikh derzen un hob mikh shtark tselakht
Der man er fregt mikh 'vos lakhtsu vos?'
Geentfert hob ikh nit bald
Gegebn hot her mir a zets in noz! Hob ikh gemakht a gevald.

Ikh ken fil meydlekh do in New York vos trogn fremde hor
Der kop iz bay zey oy veykh vi kork, a plikh tsum shvartsn yor
A yede trogt zikh a groysn het un 'puffs' oykh af ir kop
Un keyn eynore ir plikh iz groys un fet
zikh krotsn hobn zey 'job'

Khaym Krots hot zikh nekhtn bay nakht tss shlogn mit zayn vayb
A noz a trumbe hot her ir gemakht un shtark tsu klopt ir layb
Geshlept hot zi im in 'court' nokh a get, nor nit geklert keyn sakh
Un vi Khaym Krots hot gehoybn zayn het hot der 'judge' geshrign glaykh!

A yeder parkh muz visn git vos shabes hagodl badayt
In Mitsrayim farfeln dos tor er nit vayl 'clean' vert er af a tsayt
"Come" felter nor in Mitsrayim tsu zayn un krigt nit dort keyn flik
Fil tsores hot er zikh oys tsu shteyn zikh krotsn afn shtik!
There's a saying I hear from everybody, it's well known:
That for anyone who has ringworm, Egypt is the best land
Every ringworm sufferer should go there, it isn't a difficult job
There you'll get plucked (shorn?) and get a clean head.

Egypt! Egypt! That's the place for them.
A ringworm sufferer when he goes there, he gets clean right away
His head becomes white as chalk, clean as an angel
As soon as he goes there, the plucking machine takes care of that ringworm

The Shabes before Passover, oy, it seems no ringworm sufferer can rest
They're all busy that day, there by the plucking machine
Every ringworm sufferer gets clean that day, without a ruckus, without shouting,
They stand and wait in line - they wait their turn!

Last night I was in a theater, I saw a guy with ringworm and started laughing
The guy asks me, "What are you laughing at, what?!" I didn't answer quickly.
He punched me in the nose! So I started shouting.

I know a lot of girls here in New York who are wearing other peoples' hair (wigs?)
Their heads are as soft as cork, bald pates! To the devil with it.
Each wears on her head a big hat with puffs on it
And, no evil eye, her bald head is big and fat,
It's quite a job, scratching that head.

Chaim Scratchy was beating his wife last night,
He gave her a nose like a trombone (elephant's trunk) and hit her body hard
She dragged him into court to get a divorce, but didn't say a thing
And when Khaym Scratchy lifted his hat, the judge shouted right out loud!

Everybody with ringworm needs to know well the significance of the Great Sabbath
In Egypt he mustn't avoid it because he'll get clean then
Come, he shouldn't miss being in Egypt and getting plucked there
A load of miseries he endures, scratching himself to pieces!

* I have not found Der tayvel yet. Seems Rund wrote the tune and set several other lyrics to the same melody. For instance, he also used the "Der tayfl" tune for Aher gey (A her geh) "By Rund and Goldberg ... sung by Herr Goidel"

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