thanks to Hune Margulies- The Martin Buber Institute For Dialogical Ecology , I have been enjoying Yiddish poetry. While I don’t speak Yiddish, I would love to hear it. I used to, as a boy, hear the various eastern European languages of immigrants to our town. I would envy them; it seemed that they could be happy or angry in more powerful ways than I had ever known people in my family to be.
Morris Rosenfeld, in about 1886, wrote of the Manhattan sweat shops he remembered:
O, kalt un finster iz di shap!
Ikh halt dem ayzn, shtey un klap!
Mayn herts iz shvakh, ikh krekhts un hust;
es heybt zikh koym mayn kranke brust.
Oh cold and dark is the shop!
I hold the iron, stand, and strike!
My heart is weak, I moan and cough,
my sick chest barely heaves.
(I won’t write any more Yiddish here, but I included this first verse so others could see the relationship with German written and Hebrew spoken. Try reading it out loud. It’s cool.)
a theme for the rest of the poem begins now in verse two and continues:
I moan and cough and press and think,
my eye dampens, a tear falls,
the iron glows; my little tear
it boils and boils and does not evaporate.
I have no more strength, it’s all been used;
the iron falls from my hand,
and still the tear, the hot tear
the tear, the tear, boils more and more.
"Perhaps you are a messenger,
telling me that more tears are coming?
I would like to know, tell me:
When will this great sorrow end?"
I would have liked to ask more and more,
of the unrest, of the wild tear,
and then a stream came forth
of tears, an unlimited amount of tears
and I quickly understood
that the river of tears is deep.
In another poem, written several years later, Rosenfeld wrote:
They pay with tears for a tear,
that is all they can afford:
I am a tear millionaire
and I lament the millions.
The tear that will not boil away is like the bush that will not burn, discovered by Moses. Both the tear and the fire are the word of God and revelatory..
I went back to these poems earlier today because I was experiencing the tears of others, spoken occasionally in actual tears, yes, but communicated more often in anger, stereotyping, belittling. Our tears so often have little to do with the points of view we stub our minds against, or in response to the names we might be called by someone who is projecting their own shame onto us. We are most often reacting to ancient hurts, childhood pains, adolescent misunderstandings, or adult questions that never received the answers that would satisfy our intellect or emotions. Our tears are always, it seems. tears-in-waiting, dammed up behind bravado or pretense but let loose when a particular word or thought acts like an opened handle on the riverworks.
The Yiddish factory worker was surrounded in the tears of faraway sadness- faraway from homeland, family, and childhood friends, and very far, it felt, away from hope. The Manhattan factory worker face 14 hour days on wooden floors in an always too hot or too cold factory and then a few hours in a noisy fifth floor walkup where- maybe- a few hours of sleep after a bowl of soup with some bread could be had.
His tears, her tears were of the same substance as our tears, even though formed of different pain. Taste his pain, taste her pain on your tongue as his tear her tears flow down your cheeks. Long ago, your tears, too, were tasted then wiped away with a dusty cloth. But they never ever really went away; they are the same tears still..the river of tears is deep.