The greatest song about Jewish mothers is "My Yiddishe Momme" (pronounced "mom' meh). Many famous singers have performed it, and today's the perfect day to hear it again.
I was born on Mother's Day. My mother passed in 1988, when I was 25. I loved her dearly, more than words could say. We always called her "Mother."
At the same time, she could be, how shall I say, a difficult person? She did not stand injustice -- or dissent -- quietly. Though she did not finish the eighth grade, she was extremely incisive, which made some people uncomfortable at times, including me.
But she was my mother and she loved me ferociously. No mother tiger felt love more fiercely.
No better tribute could I give her, and all mothers, than the song "My Yiddishe Momme," of which the best version was and always will be the 1929 Yiddish version sung by the incomparable Yossele Rosenblatt, one of the best Jewish cantors of all time. Toscanini and Caruso fell at his feet and admired him unreservedly.
Video and lyrics after the jump
Though it has been many, many years, long ago and far away, I still love her with all my heart. I spent a lovely afternoon sobbing my heart out with an entire box of tissues while I wrote this post.
As someone who grew up very, very religious, I heard lots of this kind of music growing up, and it never fails to bring back good memories. People don't sing like this anymore in popular music. Styles have changed. Others have sung it more smoothly and with better phrasing. But just as I loved my mother, including both the rough and the smooth, Yossele Rosenblatt with his old-fashioned styling is an arrow straight to my heart.
Here's Yossele Rosenblatt with the 1929 Yiddish version of "My Yiddishe Momme."
Lyrics with translation:
Ich vill bay aych a kashe freygen,
I want to ask you a heartfelt question
Zugt mir ver es ken,
Answer me if you know
Mit vifl tayere farmaygns,
What is the most precious gift with which
Bensht Gott allamen?
God has blessed all of us?
Men kriegt dus nisht far kayne gelt,
You cannot buy it with money
Dus krigt men nur im zist,
You can only get it for free
Und doch, az men farleert dus,
And when you lose it
Vie fiel treren men fargist!
How many tears you shed.
A tzvaite gibt men keinem nit,
Another one you never get
Es helft nisht kain gevain,
Nothing can change this
Und der vus hot verloren,
And only whoever has lost it
Der vays shoyn vus ich mayn.
Understands what I mean
A yiddishe momme,
A Jewish mother
Nisht du kein besser in der velt.
There is nothing better in the world
A yiddishe momme
A Jewish mother
Oy vey tzis bisser ven zie fehlt,
Oh how bitter when she is absent
Vie shayn und lichtig tzis in hois,
how beautiful and light it is in the house
Ven die mama's du,
when the mother is there
Vie traurig finster tzvert,
how truly dark it is
Ven Gott nehmt ihr oyf Oylam habo.
When God takes her to Heaven
In vasser und fayer,
Into water and fire
Vollt sie geloffn fahr ihr kind,
She would have leapt for her children
Nisht halt'n ihr tayer.
Not loving her dearly
Dos iz geviss der greste Zind.
This is the greatest sin
Oy vie gliklich und raych
Oh how happy and rich
Is der Mensch vus hut,
has the person who
Az a tayere matune geschenkt fun Gott,
has this greatest gift given by God
Wie an altechke Yiddishe Momme,
just an old Jewish momme