Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dos Pintele Yid - The spark of Jewishness - sung by Fannie Simonoff in 1910

It's not that I think anybody will ever again want to sing this song, or songs like it. But I was curious; I've heard OF this song many times without actually hearing the song itself! Thought others might be interested too.

Look at the young kid who sang the song, "Master Tomashefsky" !! It seems like a pretty hardcore lyric for a youngster!

Note spelling: the 1909 sheet music has the title as Das pintele Yud on the front, inside it's Dus Pintale Yid, notice how each of the three words is spelled differently? This matters when you are googling. Use pipes.

This song was a big deal back in the day and I think the show was quite successful too. George Gershwin recorded Dos Pintele Yid on a piano roll!

The lyrics are by Louis Gilrod, music by Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl. There are quite a few recordings of the song (I'm partial to this instrumental of the same name but an unsimilar melody: Max Yankowitz with Das Pintele Yid - Marsch).

I went with Das Pintele Yid sung by Frances Simonoff. On her record label the lyricist's name is mispelled as "Gilroy" and I also found it misspelled on numerous websites as "L. Gilrot"

About the title of the song, the Forward said:

... the Yiddish idiom in question ... should be translated — at least literally — as 'the little point of a Jew.' Yet, this literal translation demands explication. Here, culled from various English sources, are a number of freer translations of dos pintele yid that I have been able to find: 'The core of one’s Jewishness'; 'the very core of Judaism'; 'the Jewish spark'; 'the spark of Jewish spirituality'; 'the innermost Jewish spark'; 'the little point of light in the Jewish soul'; 'the quintessence of Jewish identity'; 'the essential Jew'; 'innate Jewishness’; ‘the heart and soul of each individual Jew'; 'the little Jew within the Jew'; 'the tiny yet brilliant spark which is the unchanging, concentrated essence of Jewishness;' 'the saving remnant, however deeply buried, in every Jewish heart.'

Here's my translation:

In every land, everywhere, the Jew hears just one word:
You're a Jew, leave, we don't need you,
You're a stranger, a proselyte.
The Jew wanders, he doesn't get tired,
He carries in his heart the spark of Jewishness,
He laughs at his enemies. When God is with him,
Who can do him ill, who?
Many times Yisrolik's spirit is broken,
He is bent by the smallest breeze,
But the greatest storm can't root out,
The beautiful little spark --
The spark of Jewishness is very good
It brings you honor and pride, Jew,
Respect it, value it, protect it.

Jew, your crown is the spark of Jewishness,
There's been a lot of suffering for the sake of the spark
Your limbs exhausted, your brothers tortured,
Everyone has bathed in your blood.
Countless blood libels against the spark of Jewishness,
But the spark remains courageous.
The smallest Yisrolik laughs at you, anti-semite,
And remains faithful to the spark of Jewishness.

Jew, remember well, don't rely on a mirage.
Even when you find a land that gives you equal rights
And you can do business with a free hand,
Your clever mind makes the land rich,
But there, too, you must suffer, because you're a Jew,
Men repay you with great evil
So obey me, Jew, enough of deprivation and shame,
A breeze is now blowing toward Zion,
And call your brothers in your own land,
Because Zion is the home of the spark.
The spark of Jewishness is very good

Here's the songsheet, click for a larger view:

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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