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A woman's lament for her husband

This klogenish (lament) is one of several collected by the YIVO ethnographic commission in the 1920s and 30s. The full collection can be found in an article by Itzik Gottesman, 'Yidishe Klogenishn' (Yidish laments) published in YIVO Bleter in 2003. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a few of these klogenishn in English translation. Some of them, like this one, were said at a funeral, the graveside or even the death bed of a recently deceased loved one. Other klogenishn in the collection, some excerpts of which you can hear in the recording below, were said when visiting the dead to ask for their help in times of need, and more closely resemble the tkhines said during the ritual of grave measuring. All of these laments feel particularly appropriate to share now, at a time when we are witnessing so much death and despair. In his study of the YIVO collection of klogenishn, Gottesman found that all of them followed a discernable formula, which might be paraphrased as :

1. A screamed or wailed appeal to the deceased, for example, "oh my darling mother!"

2. A grievance to the dead, such as "why have you abandoned us?"

3. A description of the situation facing those left behind, often with a description of their life before the loss

4. Asking the dead for forgiveness

5. Asking God to protect and look after the living I've chosen to share this lament for a husband from Bialystok as the first of my translations from this collection, because of how clearly it follows this formula. I'm sharing it alongside this incredible recording by Dr Jeremiah Lockwood, in which he sings excerpts of various klogenishn from this same collection with a beautiful cantorial twist. Jeremiah will be premiering this and a few more new songs at a hybrid concert/lecture, “Tikkun nakht: a ghost visitation” along with author and scholar Rokhl Kafrissen, as part of the Shavues festivities at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on June 11. A woman laments her husband - klogenish collected by Berl Verblunski in Bialystok. Published in Itzik Gottesman, 'Yidishe Klogenishn', YIVO Bleter Vol.4 (2003), p. 137-155. Translated by Annabel Gottfried Cohen.

My friend, my dear friend [when a husband dies, you must not say “husband”, because the demons make fun of this]. My darling, the crown has fallen from my head, what will I do now? My sun has gone, it is now dark in the middle of the day. I am left stuck with small children, what will I do now? Now my children will be measured and weighed, their ages calculated, people will talk about how old they are and which of them will be in need and which of them won’t, and people will gossip about them while I myself will have to go out in search of a bit of bread for my orphans, who are now burdened with a new name: orphan.

When their father was alive no one even knew how many children I had, but now everyone will know. Everyone will feel sorry for me as long as I struggle to find food for them, but once they have enough no one will give us a second thought.

Their father has died …. Where can I seek refuge with my children? I will spend my days in one place, and my nights in another. My beloved friend, you have reached eternal heights. You have your own sanctuary. Things are good for you now, better than they are for me, you will not witness the pain of your orphans.

God is just. His judgement is fair. A person cannot make such judgements. I beg you, reboyne shel oylem, master of the universe, provide for my children. You have mercy. You nourish widows and orphans. May the earth now be locked up, that I do not have to suffer any more pain. Please, award me the zkhus, the merit, that I may be a healthy mama.

"Vi loztu undz .... why have you left us", Dr Jeremiah Lockwood

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