A new collective of Yiddish artists in Melbourne has released two videos of Yiddish mystical poetry set to music.
Both poems were written by Aaron Zeitlinauthor of “Dona Dona” – a Yiddish song which, when translated into English, was widely performed by American folk singer Joan Baez as a protest song during the civil rights movement.
The first of two videos, “The Seven Palaces of Breath: The Mysteries of the Flying Bobo”, is a mystical poem based on a story from the 13th-century religious text “Sefer ha-Zohar” (“Book of Shine”), a fundamental work in the literature of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.
The second video, “Kaddish by the Ruins: A Liturgy,” is based on a collection of poems by Zeitlin about the Holocaust, set to original folk-rock melodies.
The collective of artists, called “Di Farborgene Khalyastre” (“The Gang of the Concealed”), takes its name from an important Yiddish cultural avant-garde movement in Warsaw in the early 1920s which brought together poets, novelists dedicated to European expressionism, while firmly committing to building a new secular Yiddish culture. The Melbourne group also aim to create their own contemporary fusions of Yiddish poetry, art and music.
As a self-definition, the website of “Di Farborgene Khalyastre” quotes the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever:
We are just notes. We change, we mix, we confuse.
And we only give for others: tones and chords and sound.
And above the strings and the keys, on every part,
Only the conductor knows us all by heart.