Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tsi hot ir nit gezen mayn Moyshn? Have you seen my Moyshe? Yiddish theater song by Hyman Altman, Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl

Hyman Altman, Yiddish theater starI'm knocking out historical recordings with subtitles on Youtube, using any of the early 19th century mp3s for which I have permission or which I own outright. Where a recording of the time exists, it's much more valuable than any recording I could make in my living room.

Here we have Hyman Altman, a prolific songwriter and recording artist of the gaslight era, singing a song from Boris Tomashevsky's show Der Poylisher Yid, staged in 1910. He wrote the lyrics himself, Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl wrote the music:

Bessie Tomashevsky, Yiddish theater star

The sheet music has a lovely picture of the producer's wife, Bessie Tomashefsky, who sang the song in the show. On the sheet music this is the transliteration: Zu hot ihr nit gesehen mein Moishe. Also found as Hot Ihr Nit Gesehn Mein Moishe.

This is an audaciously non-PC text which reflects internal conflict: on the one hand, it cheerfully says Jews don't mind being reviled because they know they are essential to the world (even to Columbus and the Czar). On the other hand, it begs a new Moses to come quickly, one who will lead us to holy Zion where we will not have to be slaves. The tunes is very uplifting and the chorus is catchy, which is probably why it was a popular penny song. Here's my translation, the songsheet is below.

The Jew is hated by the goy, he's driven away everywhere
And when the goy jokes about him, he calls him "Moyshe."
And Moyshe barely hears it, he doesn't respond at all.
In any business, have a look, you'll find a Moyshe there.
And he just laughs at them when they call him out
Because he well knows without him no business would get done.
It may stab them in the heart, but they need Moyshe.
So let's be very proud and and when we encounter this, oy,
Have you seen my Moyshe? He does great things.
Look for him here and there, you'll find Moyshe everywhere.
Gevald, Jewish children, Moyshe belongs to us.

Columbus looked for a long time, to make a new world,
America was found with Moyshe's money
Working with sweat and blood, the place was barely found:
He got here and took a step - he found Moyshe there.
And Moyshe has been there ever since, respected and valued.
He's the right-hand man, he's important there,
Everywhere you look, Moyshe is in politics.
It's a sign of his reputation that Uncle Sam is also a Moyshe!

The czar, today's tyrant, the Haman of the world,
He, too, can't do without Moyshe, because Moyshe lends him money.
Now we're missing one more Moyshe, not a philosophical one --
One who'll come at the right time and make an end to the czar.
We have to keep hoping, now, that a Moyshe will come quickly
With his signal, from everywhere,
This is what he'll be able to do, to bring the Jews here,
And take us straight to Zion, and we'll be free
From slavery in our holy land.

Mem - shin - hey! Moyshe, our Moyshe.

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