Thursday, October 05, 2006

Moscow, 1958

Paul Robeson, African American, socialist, political activist, performer and attorney was touring the world, occasionally giving performances of pieces he'd collected in his travels. Reaching the Soviet Union, he was welcomed as a fellow proletariat, come to perform many songs from his travels through Africa, as well as Negro Spirituals, etc. A note from a party official from the committee sponsoring the event passed him a note, informing him that it would not be necessary to perform any Yiddish pieces, as no one would be present at the event who understood Yiddish. He took the stage and did several pieces than began to introduce his next piece;

"And now I shall sing an anti-imperialist song for you which you may not have heard in some time. It was written more than one hundred and fifty years ago by a Russian as a protest against the Czar. The name of the author is Levi Yitzhak, and he lived in the city of Berditchev.”

Good morning to You, Lord, Master of the Universe,

I, Levi Yitzhak, son of Sarah of Berditchev,

I come to You with a Din Torah from Your people Israel.

What do You want of Your people Israel?

What have You demanded of Your people Israel?

For everywhere I look it says, "Say to the Children of Israel."

And every other verse says, "Speak to the Children of Israel."

And over and over, "Command the Children of Israel."

Father, sweet Father in heaven,

How many nations are there in the world?…

Persians, Babylonians, Edomites.

The Russians, what do they say?

That their Czar is the only ruler.

The Prussians, what do they say?

That their Kaiser is supreme.

And the English, what do they say?

That George the Third is sovereign.

And I, Levi Yitzhak, son of Sarah of Berditchev, say,

'Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmei raboh'

And I, Levi Yitzhak, son of Sarah of Berditchev, say,

'From my stand I will not waver,

And from my place I shall not move

Until there be an end to all this.'

Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmei raboh - Magnified and sanctified is Thy name."

Jews, who were of course in great number in the audience, tear-drenched gave him a lengthy standing ovation. I don't recall that he was ever invited back.


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