Motl Der Apreyter

Motl the Operator
מאָטל דער אַפּרײטער

Ballad by Chaim Tauber (1901-1972) and sung in the film of the same name; melody similar to the folksong “Vu bistu geven, ven gelt iz geven” (Where were you when there was money). Published by Metro Music Co., N.Y. in 1934. The song was recorded by the Kapelye ensemble in 1981 and revived in the Off-Broadway musical The Golden Land (1982-1987).

Illustration of musical notes from the books


Motl the operator sews in the shop all the time.
All the years he keeps up the pace and turns the “instrument” and sweats by the machine.
Motl is a good young man.

Motl has a wife and two children.
He works hard and bitterly for them.
And the harder Motl works, the more his boss earns.
And Motl remains the same poor man.

What does he want, this operator Motl?
He doesn’t want wealth or money.
He wants bread for his wife and children, and sometimes shoes, a dress.
Motl doesn’t want much from the world.

A strike broke out — it’s already twelve weeks,
Motl is a good union man, a striker, this Motl the operator.
If he’s sent, he goes with everyone else on the picket line.

At home — his wife and two children, oh, she doesn’t have a piece of bread for them.
Motl’s heart aches and everything looks black to him as he walks near the shop with a sign.

In the picket line, a gangster attacked him with a bottle and cracked his head open,
Leaving Motl wading in his own blood.
A tumult and cry arose.
They brought him home to his wife and children.
They weep, shed tears, but Motl cannot hear.
Motl has already ended his “job.”

What does he want, this operator Motl?
He didn’t want wealth or money.
He wanted bread for his wife and children, now Motl’s dead,
He doesn’t want anything more from this world.

Motl der apreyter
In shap dort shtendik neyt er,
Ale yorn geyt arum in shpan,
Er dreyt di katerinke
Un shvitst bay der mashinke,
Motl iz a voyler yungerman.

Motl hot a vayb un kinder tsvey.
Shver un biter arbet er far zey.
Un vos Motl arbet shverer,
Fardint der ‘bos’ ales merer.
Un Motl blaybt der zelber oreman.

Vos zhe vil den Motl,
Der apereyter Motl?
Er vil nit keyn ashires un keyn gelt.
Er vil far vayb un kinder breyt
Un a mol a shikh, a kleyd,
Motl vil keyn sakh nisht fun der velt.

A shtrayk hot oysgebrokhn,
Shoyn gantse tsvelef vokhn,
Un Motl iz a guter yunyon-man.
A shtrayker Motl der apreyter.
Az men shikt im, geyt er,
Un mit ale in der ‘piket-layn.’

In shtub — zayn vayb mit kinder tsvey,
Oy, on a shtikl broyt hot zi far zey,
Tut Motl vey dos harts,
Ales kukt oys tsu im shvarts,
Er dreyt zikh lebn shap mit a ‘sayn,’

In ‘piket-layn’ shteyt Motl,
A gangster mit a ‘botl’
Bafaln hot im dort in mitn gas.
Mitn flash vos er’t gehaltn
Hot er Motls kop tseshpoltn,
In zayn eygn blut vert Motl nas.

Gevorn iz a tuml, a geshrey,
Gebrakht im tsu zayn vayb un kinder tsvey,
Zey veynen, gisn trern,
Nor Motl kon nisht hern,
Motl hot geendikt shoyn zayn ‘dzhab!’

Vos hot gevolt den Motl,
Der apereyter Motl?
Er hot nisht gevolt keyn raykhkayt, oder gelt.
Er, hot gevolt far vayb un kinder broyt,
ltst ligt shoyn Motl toyt,
Er vil shoyn mer keyn zakh nisht fun der velt.

מאָטל דער אַפּרײטער,
אין שאַפּ דאָרט שטענדיק נײט ער,
אַלע יאָרן נײט אַרום אין שפּאַן,
ער דרײט די קאַטערינקע
און שװיצט בײַ דער מאַשינקע,
מאָטל איז אַ װױלער יונגערמאַן.

מאָטל האָט אַ װײַב און קינדער צװײ,
שװער און ביטער אַרבעט ער פֿאַר זײ,
און װאָס מאָטל אַרבעט שװערער,
פֿאַרדינט דער באָס אַלעס מערער,
און מאָטל בלײַבט דער זעלבער אָרעמאַן.

װאָס זשע װיל דען מאָטל,
דער אַפּערײטער מאָטל?
ער װיל ניט קײן עשירות און קײן געלט,
ער װיל פֿאַר װײַב און קינדער ברױט,
און אַ מאָל אַ שוך, אַ קלײד,
מאָטל װיל קײן סך נישט פֿון דער װעלט.

אַ שטרײַק האָט אױסגעבראָכן,
שױן גאַנצע צװעלעף װאָכן,
און מאָטל איז אַ גוטער יוניאָן־מאַן,
אַ שטרײַקער מאָטל דער אַפּרײטער,
אַז מען שיקט אים, גײט ער,
און מיט אַלע אין דער פּיקעט־לײַן.

אין שטוב — זײַן װײַב מיט קינדער צװײ,
אױ, אָן אַ שטיקל ברױט האָט זי פֿאַר זײ,
טוט מאָטל װײ דאָס האַרץ
אַלעס קוקט אױס צו אים שװאַרץ,
ער דרײט זיך לעבן שאַפּ מיט אַ „סײַן‟.

אין פּיקעט־לײַן שטײט מאָטל,
אַ גענגסטער מיט אַ „באָטל‟
באַפֿאַלן האָט אים דאָרט אין מיטן גאַס,
מיטן פֿלאַש װאָס ער’ט געהאַלטן,
האָט ער מאָטלס קאָפּ צעשפּאָלטן,
אין זײַן אײגן בלוט װערט מאָטל נאַס.

געװאָרן איז אַ טומל, אַ געשרײ,
געבראַכט אים צו זײַן װײַב און קינדער צװײ,
זײ װײנען, גיסן טרערן,
נאָר מאָטל קען נישט הערן,
מאָטל האָט געענדיקט שױן זײן „דזשאַב‟.

װאָס האָט געװאָלט דען מאָטל,
דער אַפּערײטער מאָטל?
ער האָט נישט געװאָלט קײן רײַכקײט, אָדער געלט,
ער האָט געװאָלט פֿאַר װײַב און קינדער ברױט,
איצט ליגט שױן מאָטל טױט,
ער װיל שױן מער קײן זאַך נישט פֿון דער װעלט.

Song Title: Motl Der Apreyter

Composer: Chaim Shmuel Tauber
Composer’s Yiddish Name: חײם שמואל טױבער
Lyricist: Chaim Shmuel Tauber
Lyricist’s Yiddish Name: חײם שמואל טױבער
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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