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Mameloshn: On the Road Stands a Tree

September 18, 2015

by Lawrence Bush

In the video below, a Hungarian Jew is singing Itsik Manger’s “Oyfn Veyg Shteyt a Boym” (On the Road Stands a Tree). Watch it for three verses or so and you’ll understand the meaning of being Jewish in the world today...

The singer is Hans Breuer, part of a convoy of people who have been helping refugees get from Hungary to Austria. Here he is, rescuing a Palestinian-Syrian family from Vámosszabadi refugee camp, and taking them to a train station where they will get a train to Vienna.

On the road stands a tree
All bent over
From its branches,
all of the birds have flown

Three to the west, three to the east
The rest to the South
And the tree, left all alone,
stands abandoned in the storm

I tell my mom, Listen
Please don’t hold me back
Before you can blink an eye, Momma,
I’ll become a bird

I’ll sit on the tree
And rock him to sleep
All through the winter, I’ll console him
with a sweet melody

My mother says No, my child
shedding tears,
On the tree you will, God forbid
Freeze yourself to death

I tell my mom, What a pity,
your pretty eyes,
But before you know it,
I’m a bird

My mother cries, Itsik dear
For God’s sake
Take a little shawl with you,
You might catch a cold

Put on your galoshes
It’s a cold and bitter winter
And your fur cap
Ah, woe is me!

And take your warm undershirt
Put it on, you foolish kid,
If you don’t want to find yourself a guest
Among the dead

I lift my wings, but it’s too hard,
My mother has put
too, too many things
on her weak little bird

I look sadly
Into my mother’s eyes
It’s her love that won’t allow me
To become a bird

On the road stands a tree
All bent over
From its branches,
all of the birds have flown

—Composite translation from several sources