Shpil Zhe Mir A Lidele In Yidish

Play Me a Little Song in Yiddish
שפּיל זשע מיר אַ לידעלע אין ייִדיש

Words by Soviet Yiddish poet Yoysef Kotliar (1908-1962). It is also sung as “Zing zhe mir a lidele in yidish.” The music by Henech Kon (1898-1972) was written before World War II.

Moishe Elbaum, columnist, wrote in the Jewish Forward on June 26, 1968 how he co-authored the words to Henech Kon’s melody for the film “Di freylekhe kabtsonim,” in Warsaw, 1938, starring the actors Zhigan and Shumacher. Later the song was excised from the film, but the original words were: “Shpil a tango mir oyf yidish, / Er zol zayn khsidish un negidish, / Az di bobeshi aleyn / Zol kenen oykh farshteyn / Uri take oykh a mitsve-tentsl geyn. / Shpilt, shpilt, klezmerlekh, shpilt, / Vi a yidish harts benkt un tilt; / Klapt, klapt, paykelekh geshvind, / Fargesn zol men tsores atsind.” (Play me a tango in Yiddish; it should be Hassidic and rich, that grandma herself should understand it and dance a wedding dance to it. Play, play, musicians, play how a Jewish heart yearns and feels. Bang, bang quickly, drums, let us forget our troubles now).

When he was in Vladivostok during the war, Elbaum gave the song to a Jewish singer from Russia. Years later, at a reception for the chief rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Judah Leib Lewin in New York in 1968, he was surprised to hear Cantor Stiskin from Russia sing the following version: “Shpilt, shpilt, klezmerlekh, shpilt, / Vi nor a bafrayter mentsh tilt;/ Zingt mir dos flamik-groyse lid, / Vi s’zingt bloyz a sovetisher yid” (Play, play, musicians, play. As only a freed man feels. Sing me the great fiery song as only a Soviet Jew sings).

The song was also adapted during the Holocaust: “Shpil zhe mir a tango oys fun pleytim / Fun dem folk tsezeytn un tseshpreytn, / Az kinder, groys un kleyn, / Zoln kenen dos farshteyn/ Un take a tentsele geyn” (Play me a tango about refugees, of a people scattered and dispersed, that children, large and small, should be able to understand and really dance).

This song was sung in the Broadway play The Wall. Another ghetto song “In krayuvke” (In Hiding) was also adapted from this song. Ethnomusicologist Michael Alpert informed compilers that he heard the tune (without the refrain) as a Hassidic piece “Yismekhu bemalkhuskho” from Bukovina, recorded on a 78 rpm disc by klezmer Shloymke Bekerman in the ’20s. He also heard the tune played by violinist Leon Schwartz and clarinetist Andy Statman.

Illustration of musical notes from the books


Play me a little song in Yiddish,
May it wake joy and no surprises,
So everyone, young and old,
Can understand it.
Let the song go from mouth to mouth!

Play, musicians, play,
You know what I have in mind and what I want.
Play, play, play a little song for me,
Play a little song with heart and feeling!

A song without sighs and without tears,
Play so everyone can hear it,
So everyone can see
I’m alive and I can sing
Even better and more beautifully than before.

Play me a little song about peace!
Let there be peace already, let it not be a dream!
So nations great and small,
Can understand it,
And not engage in battles and wars.

Let’s sing the little song together
Like good friends, like children of one mother!
My only request
Is that it ring out freely and honestly,
In everyone’s song, my song too!

Shpil zhe mir a lidele in yidish,
Dervekn zol es freyd un nisht keyn khidesh,
Az ale, groys un kleyn,
Zoln kenen dos farshteyn,
Fun moyl tsu moyl dos lidele zol geyn!

Shpil, shpil, klezmerl, shpil.
Veyst dokh vos ikh meyn un vos ikh vil-
Shpil, shpil, shpil a lidele far mir,
Shpil a lidele mit harts un mit gefil!

A lidele on ziftsn un on trern,
Shpil azoy az ale zoln hern,
Az ale zoln zen
lkh leb un zingen ken
Shener nokh un beser vi geven.

Shpil zhe mir a lidele fun sholem!
Zol shoyn zayn sholem, nit keyn kholem!
Az felker, groys un kleyn,
Zoln kenen dos farshteyn,
On krig un on milkhomes zikh bageyn.

Lomir zingen s’lidele tsuzamen
Vi gute fraynd, vi kinder fun eyn mamen!
Mayn eyntsiker farlang,
S’zol klingen fray un frank
In alemens gezang, oykh mayn gezang!

שפּיל זשע מיר אַ לידעלע אין ייִדיש,
דערװעקן זאָל עס פֿרײד און ניט קײן חידוש,
אַז אַלע, גרױס און קלײן,
זאָלן קענען דאָס פֿאַרשטיין –
פֿון מױל צו מױל דאָס לידעלע זאָל גײן!

שפּיל, שפּיל, קלעזמערל, שפּיל,
װײסט דאָך װאָס איך מײן און װאָס איך װיל —
שפּיל, שפּיל, שפּיל אַ לידעלע פֿאַר מיר,
שפּיל אַ לידעלע מיט האַרץ און מיט געפֿיל!

אַ לידעלע אָן זיפֿצן און אָן טרערן,
שפּיל אַזױ אַז אַלע זאָלן הערן,
אַז אַלע זאָלן זען
איך לעב און זינגען קען,
שענער נאָך און בעסער װי געװען.

שפּיל זשע מיר אַ לידלע פֿון שלום!
זאָל שױן זײַן שלום, ניט קײן חלום!
אַז פֿעלקער, גרױס און קלײן,
זאָלן קענען דאָס פֿאַרשטײן,
אָן קריג און אָן מלחמות זיך באַגײן.

לאָמיר זינגען ס׳לידעלע צוזאַמען,
װױ גוטע פֿרײַנד, װי קינדער פֿון אײן מאַמען!
מײַן אײנציקער פֿאַרלאַנג,
ס׳זאָל קלינגען פֿרײַ און פֿראַנק,
אין אַלעמענס געזאַנג, אױך מײַן געזאַנג!

Song Title: Shpil Zhe Mir A Lidele In Yidish

Composer: Henech Kon
Composer’s Yiddish Name: הענעך קאָן
Lyricist: Yoysef Kotliar
Lyricist’s Yiddish Name: יוסף קאָטליאַר
Time Period: Unspecified

This Song is Part of a Collection

Songs of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song

The Songs of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song anthology comprises songs that were either never printed before or appeared in rare and inaccessible publications — sometimes in different versions and without proper sources. Most of the songs in this book were submitted by readers of Chana and Yosl’s column “Perl fun der yidisher poezye” (Pearls of Yiddish Poetry) in the Yiddish newspaper Der Forverts (The Forward), initiated in October, 1970. Over 25 years, thousands of songs were collected in correspondence and on cassettes from readers throughout the world, and they represent a veritable national Yiddish song archive. Chana Mlotek, in her introduction, writes, “In the course of years the inquiries, contributions and enthusiasm of these readers have kept our own interest unflagging and have reinforced our dedication to this effort. And in recent years our participants have also been augmented by new readers from the former Soviet Russia, who receive our newspaper there or from newly-arrived immigrants in this country and Israel.”

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