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 it, whoever doesn’t know it
let them know now,
how hard and bitter, how cheap and meager,
we come by our bit of bread.

Be happy and lively
happy and lively
why the surprise?
Work is wealth;
so sedately goes
a Yiddish song.*

As for me, I’m a carpenter.
They call me Reb Fishl,
I make a door, a window,
a chair and a table.
My saw sings and dances
as it cuts the boards,
and our efforts will enhance
villages and towns.

When my arms and legs grow heavy
my plane stutters
and my heart — it pounds hard —
please pardon me.

As for me, I’m a tailor.
They call me Reb Berl,
I sew with my needle,
and cut with my scissor;
I press with my iron,
stitch with the sewing machine,
and a fine garment is ready
for the rich man’s son.

The little rich man dressed up
is happy as can be
but the tailor’s heir
is an expert at hunger.

As for me, I’m a shoemaker.
I knock in a tack,
dressed in an apron,
I don’t need a jacket.
I sit at the workbench
and the hammer dances in my hand,
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 the workbench
patching and mending.
Happy is he who is a tailor
in weather like this.
My wife asks me for bread,
I act as if I don’t understand her.


*note: zingt a lidele… can mean the plural imperative, “Sing a song,” or it can mean, “the song goes (sings itself- but ‘zikh‘ is often omitted in lyrics) like this.” So, it could mean “Be happy and sing this song,” but I read it to mean “Be happy. After all, the song (all relaxed and indifferent) says, Work is Wealth”. Either way, the sarcasm comes across. But if the listener was being urged to sing joyfully, then why benemukhe?

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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