« Please Wait | Main | Rough Crossing: dramatis personae »

Shabbos Frivolity: Ale Brider

Your Humble Blogger is a socialist, you know. I’m not active within any sort of socialist movement, mostly because I’m lazy, but as an example there is very little in The Socialist Alternative’s list of beliefs that I disagree with. I mean, the focus on nationalizing the “top 500 corporations” seems silly to me; I would focus on the importance of the industries, rather than the size of the corporations, but even there I’m not so much disagreeing with fighting corporate capitalism with nationalism and community ownership. So, yeah. Socialist.

I bring this up because I think of lefty politics as being an important part of my Jewish inheritance. No, not all Jews are lefties, and certainly a passion for Scripture doesn’t imply support for worker control of the means of production. But some of us, I think a lot of us, grew up with an idea that not only were we Slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, but that we were Lithuanian exiles jailed in Germany for editing socialist periodicals in the late nineteenth century, that we were suffragists and wobblies and Freedom Riders, outside agitators and yipsels and red diaper babies. A lot of this is, in fact, true; not only were there Jews in most of the lefty movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but Jews on the whole supported those fringe movements as they moved in to the mainstream. But a lot of it is bagels and lox, if you know what I mean—there isn’t anything peculiarly Jewish about social justice, or about eating a bread roll with a hole in the middle, and if you went back three generations in the families of most American Jews, nobody ate bagels or argued the relative merits of anarchism and socialism.

One of the people who did argue those merits was Morris Winchevsky, the Grandfather of Yiddish Socialism, also known as the meshugganeh philosopher. He was one of the gang of writers who started the Daily Forward, he was one of the sweatshop poets, and in 1890 (before he came to this country) he published a poem called “Akhdes”, variously translated as unity or brotherhood. Un mir zaynin ale brider/un mir zingen freileche lieder, he wrote, we are all brothers, we all sing happy songs. Un mir libn zich doch ale/Vi a chosn mit a kale, we love all of us, like a groom with a bride. vi der khumesh mit di rashi/vi der kugl mit di kasha, with Scripture and Rashi, or with a kugel and some porridge. Mr. Winchevsky was susceptible to the bagel and lox as well.

This poem was made into a song, as was common in those days, and the song became hugely popular, mostly under the name Ale Brider. Where Mr. Winchevsky’s original poem was aimed (as far as I can tell—I can’t actually find a full text of the poem on-line, and while I have his Lieder und gedichte on my desk, my Yiddish isn’t sufficient to find the text in the book, much less read it if I did) at uniting Jews in brotherhood despite the differences between frum and link or more important between anarchist and socialist, the adaptation into song made for a wider net, bringing everyone together. We are all brothers, we are all sisters, we stick together. It was evidently an incredibly popular song in the Labor movement in New York; the simple structure allowed an even moderately clever singer to ad lib a topical couplet, and the wordless chorus makes terrific sing-along music even if you don’t speak the language and haven’t heard the song before.

I don’t know if this is historically accurate, but I think that the Klezmatics brought the song back into the middle of klez culture, in part by playing it so ecstatically (and as an encore) and in part by adding their own lyric (we are all queer, like David and Jonathan) to liberate the song even further. Here’s a fairly recent concert clip with Loren and friends, which will give you some idea. And here’s a pretty straightforward rendition by a student band at Brigham Young University, the KlezMormons, which I’m really just including because that’s funny. Here’s an oddly slow but haunting rendition from Istanbul. Yes?

Here’s a nice version by a bunch of Chmielnikers:

Now. Here are the Revelling Crooks

And last but far from least, here is… whatever this is:

We are all siblings, you know.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


This makes me very happy. Thank you.

Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.