Work is Wealth

Words and music by folk poet Zelig Berdichever (1898-1937). Published in his posthumous collection in 1939. The song, slightly abridged, was popularized by singers Sidor Belarsky and Ben Bonus.

Illustration of musical notes from the books


Whoever doesn’t know,
Let them know now how hard and bitter,
How skimpy and meager is our food.

But be lively and joyful!
What’s the great wonder?
Work is wealth.
Sing and enjoy a Yiddish song!

I am a carpenter.
My name is Reb Fishl.
I make a door, a window, a bench, a table.
My saw dances and sings as it cuts the boards.
Our efforts will dress up villages and towns.

When my hands and feet feel tired and my plane begins to stutter and my heart beats so rapidly — please forgive me.

I am a tailor.
My name is Reb Berl.
I sew with the needle and cut with shears.
I press with the iron, stitch with the machine and a garment is finished for the rich man’s son.
Dressed up, the rich man is full of joy.
But the tailor’s son is an expert on hunger.

I am a shoemaker.
I bang with my hammer.
I wear an apron and don’t need a coat.
I sit on the bench and my hammer dances.
I don’t have a house, so I live in a cellar.
The rain pours and pours and the mud grows deeper.
I sit on a bench and patch and mend.
Well off is a shoemaker in such weather.
When my wife asks for bread, I act as if I don’t understand her.

Ver se veyst nisht, ver se veyst nisht,
Zol atsinder visn,
Vi shver un biter, karg un shiter
Kumt undz on der bisn.

Lebedik, freylekh,
Lebedik, freylekh;
Vos iz do der khidesh?
Zingt bemnukhe
A lidele a yidishs!

Bin ikh mir a stolyerl,
Ruft men mikh Reb Fishl,
Kh’makh a tir, a fentsterl,
A benkele, a tishl.
Tantst un zingt mayn zegele,
Shnaydndik di bretlekh,
Baputsn vet dokh undzer mi
Derfelekh un shtetlekh.
Vern hent un fis mir shver
Hiket tsu der hubl,
Un dos harts — es klapt mir zeyer —
Hot nisht keyn faribl!

Bin ikh mir a shnayderl,
Ruft men mikh Reb Berl,
Ney ikh mitn nodele,
Shnayd ikh mitn sherl;
Pres ikh mitn presele,
Shtep mit dem mashindl,
Fartikt zikh a malbeshl
Farn nogids zindl.

Oysgeputst dos nogidl,
Iz er mole simkhe
Nor dem shnayders yoyreshl
Hungern iz a mumkhe.

Bin ikh mir a shusterl,
Klap ikh mit a flekl,
Ongeton a fartekhl,
Darf ikh nisht keyn rekl.
Zits ikh oyf dem benkele,
Tantst bay mir der hamer,
Hob ikh nisht keyn shtibele —
Voyn ikh in a kamer.

Gist un gist a regndl,
Vakst un vakst di blote,
Zits ikh oyf dem benkele
Lateve un late.
Voyl iz dem vos iz a shuster
In aza pagode.
Mont dos vayb bay mir oyf pite*
Kh’makh zikh kileyode.

*A type of bread

װער סע װײסט נישט, װער סע װײסט נישט,
זאָל אַצינדער װיסן —
װי שװער און ביטער, קאַרג און שיטער
קומט אונדז אָן דער ביסן.

לעבעדיק, פֿרײלעך,
לעבעדיק, פֿרײלעך
װאָס איז דאָ דער חידוש?
זינגט במנוחה
אַ לידעלע אַ ייִדישס!

בין איך מיר אַ סטאָליערל,
רופֿט מען מיך ר’ פֿישל,
כ’מאַך אַ טיר, אַ פֿענצטערל,
אַ בענקעלע, אַ טישל.
טאַנצט און זינגט מײַן זעגעלע,
שנײַדנדיק די ברעטלעך,
באַפּוצן װעט דאָך אונדזער מי
דערפֿעלעך און שטעטלעך.

װערן הענט און פֿיס מיר שװער,
היקעט צו דער הובל,
און דאָס האַרץ — עס קלאַפּט מיר זײער —
האָט נישט קײן פֿאַראיבל!

בין איך מיר אַ שנײַדערל,
רופֿט מען מיך ר’ בערל,
נײ איך מיטן נאָדעלע,
שנײַד איך מיטן שערל;
פּרעס איך מיטן פּרעסעלע,
שטעפּ מיט דעם מאַשינדל,
פֿאַרטיקט זיך אַ מלבושל
פֿאַרן נגידס זינדל.

אױסגעפּוצט דאָס נגידל,
איז ער מלא שׂימחה;
נאָר דעם שנײַדערס יורשל
הונגערן איז אַ מומחה.

בין איך מיר אַ שוסטערל,
קלאַפּ איך מיט אַ פֿלעקל,
אָנגעטאָן אַ פֿאַרטעכל,
דאַרף איך נישט קײן רעקל.
זיץ איך אױף דעם בענקעלע,
טאַנצט בײַ מיר דער האַמער,
האָב איך נישט קײן שטיבעלע —
װױן איך אין אַ קאַמער.

גיסט און גיסט אַ רעגנדל,
װאַקסט און װאַקסט די בלאָטע,
זיץ איך אױף דעם בענקעלע
לאַטעװע און לאַטע.
װױל איז דעם װאָס איז אַ שוסטער
אין אַזאַ פּאַגאָדע!
מאָנט דאָס װײַב בײַ מיר אױף פּיטע,
כ’מאַך זיך כּלא־ידע.

Song Title: Melokhe Melukhe

Composer: Zelig Berdichever
Composer’s Yiddish Name: זעליג באַרדיטשעװער
Lyricist: Zelig Berdichever
Lyricist’s Yiddish Name: זעליג באַרדיטשעװער
Time Period: Unspecified

This Song is Part of a Collection

Pearls of Yiddish Song Cover with Illustration of musicians playing instruments

Pearls of Yiddish Song

First published in 1988 as Pearls of Yiddish Song: Favorite Folk, Art and Theatre Songs, this anthology contains 115 songs. Some material had never been published, while others, included in rare song collections or sheet music, were largely inaccessible. The songs presented reflect Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the United States and depict childhood, love, family celebrations, poverty, work and struggle. There are also songs from the Hasidic and Maskilic movements, songs of Zion and of America, as well as songs from the Yiddish theater.

The title of this anthology derives from the weekly two-page feature column “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry,” which the compilers Yosl and Chana Mlotek initiated in 1970 in the Yiddish newspaper Der Forvertz (the Yiddish Daily Forward). Hundreds of readers from around the world — including authors, composers, singers, actors — became co-participants in this collective folk project and recalled melodies, lines, fragments, stanzas and their variants of songs, poems, and plays which they had heard in their youth. At first, readers sent in only written material. Later, they also taped songs on cassettes, many of whose melodies had, until then, never been recorded. They also identified and supplied missing information regarding lyricists, poets, and composers and described the circumstances surrounding the songs’ origins, their dissemination, diffusion and impact.

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