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Mameloshn: “Elijah in Shul” by Mani Leyb

Barnett Zumoff
December 19, 2013
Translated by Barnett Zumoff Leybjpeg Mani Leyb (1883-1953) was the greatest and most characteristic poet of Di Yunge, the group of mostly young, lyrical Yiddish poets who preceded and overlapped with the Introspectivist movement in Yiddish poetry. Leyb is credited with refining and purifying the Yiddish language to make it a suitable vehicle for sophisticated poetry. “Elijah in Shul” is one of sixteen rhymed couplets by a broad range of Yiddish poets, selected and translated by Dr. Zumoff in The Waterfall, a book published by Jewish Currents through its Blue Thread imprint. Barnett Zumoff is editor of our “Mameloshn” column and a prolific translator of Yiddish poetry and prose. His own first book of poetry, Late Blossoms, is due for publication by Blue Thread this winter. To read his thoughts about translating Yiddish into English, click here. Mani ELIJAH IN SHUL The Jews in shul read Torah loud — I sit and listen, head down-bowed. The candles’ shadows on the wall — the light on books, on beards of all. Outside, the wind, the snow, the cold — inside, the ancient tales re-told. Elijah comes in through the door — he lays his sacks upon the floor, sits down near oven, warms his feet, hears Jews reciting — oh, how sweet! “Yes, study Torah, pious Jews — there peace and joy reside.” But then Elijah, all at once, hears mournful sounds outside. Outside no beast — in sin and pain a mother comes to child again. He leaves the oven, takes his sack and quickly parts, just turns his back. With sack on back, he looks around — in wind and snow pursues the sound. He finds a shack with none on guard — a pregnant woman labors hard. The shepherd goes a-seeking sheep — he knocks on windows, wakes from sleep. The neighbor women go at night to bring her comfort, ease her fright. Outside the shul, the snow, the cold — inside, the ancient tales re-told. Eliyohu in Beys-Medresh Yidn zitsn in beys-medresh, lernen toyre oyf a kol, un a yid vos ken nit lernen zitst un horkht, vi ale mol. Oyfn tish a likhtl reykhert, vigt di shotns oyf di vent, loykht oyf alte, gele sforim, oyf di alte berd un hent. Un in droysn dreyen vintn, dreyen shney un toyte kelt, nor di yidn lernen toyre—ruen in an ander velt. Efnt zikh di tir fun polish. Vi a betler, in der shtil, shart arayn zikh Eliyohu, leygt zayn torbe oyfn dil. Zetst zikh bay dem altn oyvn, varemt zikh di kalte fis, hert zikh tsu vi yidn lernen, un zayn ponim shmeykhlt zis: --Lernt, lernt, frume yidn. Toyre iz di loyn aleyn… Plutsling shtelt er on an oyer un farnemt a shtil geveyn. Nit keyn khaye veynt in droysn—in yesurim un in zind, vayt far mayln in a shtibl, veynt a froy vos geyt tsu kind. Shart er zikh avek fun oyvn, nemt zayn torbe funem dil. Shtil vi er iz ongekumen, vert er nelem in der shtil. Mit der torbe oyf der pleytse lozt zikh eliyohu geyn, un in shney un in vintn geyt er nokh dos shtil geveyn. Kumt er tsu an orem shtibl. In yesurim un in zind, on a hiter, on a treyster, geyt a yunge froy tsu kind. Geyt er tsu di fremde shtiber. Vi a pastekh ruft di shof, klapt er in fremde fentster, vekt di vayber funem shlof. Un di vayber fun di shtiber in der fintster nemen geyn trogn treyst tsu yenem shtibl, ayntsushtiln dos geveyn. Un in droysn dreyen vintn, dreyen shney un toyte kelt, un di yidn lernen toyre, ruen in an ander velt.