Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Friday, January 15, 2021

Oylem habe [iz tayerer fun gelt] - Heaven's worth more than money - Pepi Littman 1913 and Jane Peppler 2021

UPDATE: Reposted to include the video I just made of me singing the same song, but with the lyrics (mostly) as printed on a broadside songsheet in the Morris Rund Penny Songs collection. This version has lovely Yinglish in it, like "ven zi hot di bar-room geklint" (she cleaned the bar room), which Pepi Littman eliminated in her version. Also, it didn't occur to me until I was singing the song myself that the oylem habe the poor girl in the second verse achieves is a baby.


The title Oylem Habe is spelled Ojlom Habu on the recording issued by Frau Pepi Litman. (Aka olam habah, the Next World, the World to Come, heaven.) You can find it on volume 3 of Cantors, Klezmorim And Crooners 1905-1953, a great collection curated by Henry Sapoznik. Her singing is accompanied by flute. Archive.org notes:
Yiddish song recorded by Pepi Littman 1913, issued on 78rpm disc as "Ojlom Habu" by "Frau Pepi Littmann with violin and flute" on Victor record label, catalog number 657185, originally issued on Parlophone record label, catalog number 702. Possibly recorded in Budapest or Lemberg (Polish: Lwow, Yiddish: Lviv), possibly with musicians from Gimpel's Lemberg Yiddish Theatre, exact date and location unknown; date of 1913? is attributed by YIVO music archive in New York.

Pepi lived and performed mainly in Europe, but she made several records in New York. She is a famous darling now for being a cross-dresser: she liked to wear men's clothing when she performed. Read more about her here.

The lyrics (including the first verse, which she did not sing) are found in the Morris Rund Penny Songs collection and it's wonderful to reunite them with their melody. Comparing what Pepi sang to the broadside, we see a number of differences. I believe this is not the first song where Pepi removed the Yinglishisms and substituted proper Yiddish words. Also, on the Warsaw songsheet we have Dos meydl hot keyn shies gemakht [שהיות ‪= delays] while the American songsheet has Dos meydl hot keyn yeshues gemakht [ישהות = Salvation] - let's lay it on the line, the "heaven" the boss achieves is the kind that gives girls like this one a "heaven" that needs diapers.

 Here's a recording:



No composer is given.

Miriam Isaacs says that most theater songs mentioning rebbes are dirty, and this one is no exception. The Forward writes:
Her famous oylem habo ditty brought sex to the staid and the holy in the shtetl where a rabbi decides to ‘help’ a barren woman conceive — so he can enjoy a piece of the ‘world to come.’ With Littman’s help it becomes a term for, well, lightning in your pants.

 Transliteration of the songsheet and translation after the jump.


Mir khsidim megn shtolts zayn khotsh mir hobn nisht keyn gelt
Mir kukn nor in tokh (in essence) keday tsu hobn yene velt
Di apikoyrim megn fun undz khoyzik makhn
Mir hern zey far eyn pitok (pyatak, pitakl, 5-kopeck coin)
Undz felt nisht oys azoyne puste zakhn
Tsu trogn a tselinder mit a kurtse frak

Tsi iz den dos azoy glaykh
Tsi darf men zayn af der velt raykh
Entfert mir ikh freg aykh ale aderabe
Yeder yid muz nor klern az got aleyn zol im bashern
Er zol hobn oylem habe

Chorus:
Vayl oylem habe iz tayerer fun gelt
Oylem habe iz an ort
Vos yeder yid muz kumen dort
Dos iz di rikhtike velt

A meydl hot in a pleyz gedint, zi iz geven zeyer sheyn
A mol ven zi hot dem "ber-room" gek lint
Iz arayn gekumen der boss aleyn
Der boss hot ir gegebn a bisl gelt
Zi zol hobn af nadan
Er zogt ikh vil hobn yene velt
Un du vest kenen nemen a man

Dos meydl hot keyn yeshue gemakht
Un hot aleyn bay zikh getrakht
Es hot zikh ir dervekt der zkhus fun ir bobe
Nor es hot a shtikl tsayt gedoyert
Hot zi bald bay zikh dershpirt
Az zi vet hobn oylem habe
(chorus)

Bay undz in shtetl iz a rebbe geven
Hot im nisht gekent den ver
Az emitser iz tsu im gekumen tsu geyn
Hot er geholfn yedn nokh zayn bager
A vaybl iz tsu im gekumen tsu loyfn
Un hot im gebetn geshvind
Rebenyu oyb ir vilt aykh oylem habe koyfn
Helfn mir az ikh zol hobn a kind

Dos vaybl hot zikh toye geven (made mistake)
Es iz nisht geven der rebbe aleyn
Zi hot an getrofn gor tsum gabe
Der gabe hot bald bay zikh geklert
Az got aleyn hot im bashert
Er zol zikh koyfn oylem habe

===
We chasidim may be proud though we have no money
We in essence look only to having the next world
The apostates may mock us, we don't listen at all
We don't long for empty things like wearing a tophat and a frock-coat

Would that in any way be equal to the next world?
Must one be rich in this world?
Answer, I beg you all.
Every Jew must think only about God inscribing our destinies
So we can achieve the next world

Chorus
Because heaven is dearer than money
Heaven is a place to which every Jew must come, it's the right world

A girl worked in a place, she was very pretty
Once when she was cleaning the boss's room the boss himself came in
The boss gave her a little money so she'd have something toward a dowry
He says, "I want to achieve heaven and you will be able to find a husband"

The girl didn't dawdle. She thought to herself
The merits of her grandmother were awaking within her
But a little time went by, she quickly sensed within herself
That she would end up with [a cooing little bundle of] heaven

v3
There was a rebbe in our town, nobody knew him at sight
If someone visited him, he helped each achieve their desire
A young wife came running to him and quickly begged him:
"Rebenyu, if you want to buy the next world for yourself,
Help me have a child."

The young wife made a mistake - it wasn't the rebbe himself
She'd met up with the gabbe instead
The gabbe soon thought to himself
That God himself had blessed him
And he was going to heaven.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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