At the beginning of the twentieth century, Yiddish music in America served as a bridge between the old world and the new, with immigrants blending English words and phrases into familiar songs from the old country. Jewish music historian Irene Heskes (1923–1999) provided the context for many of the items in the Library’s collections in Yiddish American Popular Songs: 1895–1950, published by the Library of Congress in 1992.
“Auf’n Pripetchik, oder der alef beys” (By the fireside/at the hearth, or the Hebrew alphabet), is a well-known song about teaching the Hebrew alphabet to young children. It was written in Eastern Europe by the prolific badkhen (folk minstrel), M. Warshawsky. “Donkey Monkey Business,” from the operetta Di grineh kinder (The Green [or Naive] Children), cautions unwary greenhorns against “cheap bargains” and other “monkey business.” This cover features well-known Yiddish actress Bessie Thomashefsky, piquantly dressed in men’s clothing. “The Jewish Yankee Doodle,” from the operetta Der Yiddisher Yankee Doodle, introduces new immigrants to the American ethos, explaining that “In America you must work first in order to play later.” The cover features famed Yiddish actor Boris Thomashefsky, husband of Bessie. Two folk melodies, “Hatikvah” (The Hope) and “Dort vu di tseyder” (Where the Cedars [Bloom]) feature noted Zionist leaders Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau on the cover.