Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Dos mezuzele (The Little Mezuzah) - words and music by Hyman Altman, 1909

UPDATE: Reposting because of a conversation this past weekend in Chicago, where I had a little residency presenting the Yiddish Penny Songs to a rowdy congregation, Workmens Circle Chicago, and YIVO Chicago.

My host pointed out a cynical view of this song which I had never considered: the text says that after the anti-semites have come ravaging through, ripping everything to shreds and destroying everything we have --  even the tallit -- the mezuzah is still there to protect us. "What kind of protection is it providing," he asked rhetorically, "if it allowed all that ravaging to happen in the first place, and everything is destroyed?"

Click for a larger view of this lovely sheet music.

I bet this song was written in response to the popularity of "Dos talesl" At first I hated the tune but then I gave it the English country dance treatment and now I like it.

Hyman Altman was the composer / performer of quite a few of the American Yiddish Penny Songs, put his name in the search box to find them.

So here is me on vocals, piano, and four somewhat out of tune fiddle overdubs.

For students: don't be perplexed as I was. Di mezuze is feminine, but the diminutive, dos mezuzele, is neutral. I read carelessly and my mind became snarled.

The letter shin appears on mezuzot and stands for Shaddai, one of the more warlike expressions of the Almighty. As an acrostic its three letters (shin, dalet, and yod) stand for shomer (watching), daltot (doors), Yisra’el - watching the doors of Israel. Hence the role of the mezuzah in guarding the door of the Jewish home. [I don't know why the yod does not appear at the end of the word Shaddai on the lyric sheet!]

Text and translation after the jump.

Di mezuze iz bay dem yidn heylik tayer gor on a shir
Ven er vil in zayn hoyz fridn shlogt er zi on af zayn tir
Okh! Di mezuze vayzt oykh oys kleyn un dokh kusht ir zi yederer fray
Vayl dos hertsele irs iz reyn dortn ligt der nomen Shaday
Dos iz a hiter far di nit giter hitzhe dos op ale ayere teg.
Dem beyzn shotn ken oykh nit gerotn aykh tuen shlekhts vayl dos shteyn in veg.

Gedenkt dos a yeder fargest dos nit
Kusht dos keseyder un hit dos op git.
Vayl dos mezuzele dos kleyninke
Dos hertsele dos reyninke
Dos derkvikt di lipn drikt ven ir geyt farbay.
Vayl dos iz a groyse zakh keyner ken dos nit roybn fun aykh
Ir hot dort Got mit dem nomen Shaday, Shaday

Bay dem yidn geroybt hot men shoyn ales vos er nor gehat
Zayn heymat zayn heylik Tsiyen dokh iz nokh der soyne nit zat zey
Zukhn dem yidn zayn blut fargisn Der yid hot fun zey shoyn fil gelitn
Taleysim af kleyne shtikelekh tserisn Sforim mit di fis hobn zey dort getritn
Di mezuze derfar zi hengt bay der tir der soyne hot zi nokh gornirt dershpirt.
Dos mezuzele aleyn iz undz nokh geblibn reyn fun keyn umreyne hant nit barirt.

The mezuzah is very holy to a Jew.
When he wants peace in his house, he puts it up on his door.
The mezuzah looks small. You all kiss it freely
because your heart is pure. And within lies the name "Shaddai."
It's a protection against the Evil One, take care of it all your days.
The evil shadow can't prevail against you because the mezuzah stands in the way.

Everybody remember, don't forget, kiss it always and take care of it well.
Because the little mezuzah, the clean heart,
it delights; press your lips to it when you go by.
Because it's a great thing - nobody can steal it from you.
You have God there, with the name Shaddai.

The Jew's been robbed of everything he had, his home,
His holy Zion, but the enemy is still not satisfied.
Enemies seek to spill Jewish blood. The Jew has suffered much from others.
They tore tallises into small pieces and stomped on holy books.
That's why the mezuzah hangs by the door, the enemy hasn't yet seen it.
Only the mezuzah remains pure for us, untouched by an unclean hand.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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