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120th anniversary of the first collection of Jewish folk songs.

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

In 1901, the collection "Jewish Folk Songs in Russia" was published in St. Petersburg. This edition was a pioneering undertaking in many respects. First of all, this is the first collection of Yiddish folk songs compiled at an academic level and includes a detailed introduction as well as an invaluable bibliography.

Its title page reads: "With the attachment of a bibliographic index of collections of songs in spoken Jewish language, available in the Asian Museum of the Imperial Academy of Sciences."

Secondly, this is practically the first significant collective work in the field of Jewish folklore. The introductory article contains a large number of names of people who were directly or indirectly involved in this work. The compiler was S. E. Winer, the publication of the collection was taken over by the editorial staff of the Jewish educational monthly magazine "Voskhod", which was published in St. Petersburg in 1881-1906.

Of particular interest are the personalities of two collectors of folk songs and editors of this collection, Peisakh (Peter) Marek and Shaul (Saul) Ginzburg.

P. Marek was born in 1862 in the town of Shadov (Sheduva), not far from Siauliai, in Lithuania. He received a traditional Jewish education from his father, Melamed and a poet who published his poems in Hebrew publications. However, later he graduated from the gymnasium in Siauliai, as well as the law faculty of Moscow University.

Marek was an active member of the Palestinophile group "Bnei Zion", published extensively as a publicist in Jewish publications in Russian, but he never gave up his devotion to the study of Jewish history and culture, traveled a lot throughout the Russian Empire as a representative of the Society for the dissemination of education among Russian Jews. In 1909 he published Essays on the History of the Enlightenment of Jews in Russia. Two upbringing, collected materials on the history of book publishing among the Jews of Russia, participated in the preparation of the “History of the Jews of Russia”. He managed to publish several important research papers in Russian and also wrote prose in Yiddish. P. Marek died in Saratov in 1920.

The second editor of the collection, Sh. Ginzburg, was born in 1866 in Minsk. He also, like P. Marek, received a traditional religious education, graduated from the law faculty of St. Petersburg University. He has collaborated with many Russian-language publications, edited a Hebrew magazine, published a large number of essays on the history of Russian Jewry, and, in addition, created the daily Yiddish newspaper "Friend". In 1930, Ginzburg left the USSR and moved to New York, where he mainly appeared in numerous publications in Yiddish. He also died there in 1940.

Another important innovative aspect of the collection is the classification of folk songs by subject matter. The 376 songs included in it are divided into eleven groups:

- national, religious, spiritual and festive;

- songs of historical content;

- lullabies;

- for children and school;

- love songs;

- songs of grooms and brides;

- wedding;

- family;

- household;

- soldiers;

- various.

This classification provided the starting point for numerous collections of Jewish songs that have since been published.

All songs are given in Yiddish (in outdated spelling), as well as in Latin transcription, which allowed people who do not read Yiddish to use this collection for research purposes.

The big drawback of the collection is the lack of sheet music. Therefore, many songs, the sound of which has not been preserved in the people's memory, will forever remain only verbal text and will never again sound in their original form.

In the introductory article, Ginzburg and Marek openly express their sympathy for the language of the broad Jewish masses - Yiddish, which in those years in enlightened circles was considered not entirely unacceptable: a tool for educating the masses. And now, simultaneously with the expansion of the civil rights of the Jews themselves, a similar tendency begins to appear in the literature of the latter: the plebeian jargon is gradually winning back the right to exist alongside the noble language of the prophets. "

The editors in the introductory article also explain concepts from Jewish tradition and religious life that help the non-Jewish reader understand the meaning of many of the songs.

They touch upon the main, at that time, political, demographic and social processes in Jewish society and their reflection in folk songs, such as, for example, the mass emigration to America that had already begun by that time, the collapse of the dream of an American paradise at the moment when it faced a difficult reality.

As already noted, Ginzburg and Marek, both sympathized with Zionism, which, as a political movement, at the time of publication of the collection was on the initial path of its development. They called it "Jewish populism" and noted that so far this movement has not yet found widespread reflection in folk songs.

At the end of the article it is said: “No one will suspect our essay of claiming completeness. On the contrary, we only thought of how to bring the begging details to the level of a synopsis. We just wanted to give a guiding thread to the raw material we collected. And if there are imitators, we will gladly meet any new attempt at a fuller and broader study of Jewish folk art."

In 1991, on the initiative and efforts of the then head of the Yiddish Department at Bar-Ilan University, prof. Gershon Weiner's collection was reissued as a photostatic copy of the first edition, but at the same time, the 1991 edition included a detailed article by the founder of academic Jewish folklore prof. Dov Noy, where the Ginzburg-Marek collection is scientifically evaluated 90 years after its release. Thanks to this reprint, the collection became available for future generations of researchers.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this collection, which for the first time adequately presented the treasury of the "singing people", illuminated folk song writing, and through its prism - joys and sorrows, dreams and fears, hopes and sadness of an ordinary Jew - a folks-mench. After all, the song has been his constant companion for centuries. She comforted his pain in trouble and stirred his heart with joy.

Shaul (Saul) Ginzburg Peisakh (Peter) Marek

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