Sunday, April 01, 2007

Passover Preparations

Traditional Passover preparations at my house have usually my son and I huddled together watching the Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments while my wife does the last minute cleaning (it is essential that every bit of chametz - bread product – be removed from the home.) My wife, understandably, hates this tradition for many reasons. However, my son has now been doing it for most of his life (this will be his fourth year of it) so she is stuck with it. I was doubly excited because my daughter just turned three and would have been ready to join us. Naturally the networks have decided not to air it – further evidence of the moral and spiritual decay of our society.

Fortunately, my family has other, even deeper Pesach traditions. Many families at their seder (traditional Passover feast) sing a song called “Who knows one” (usually sung in Hebrew “Echad mi yode’ah”). It goes:
Who knows one? I know one. One is our God, in heaven and on earth.
Who knows two? I know two. Two are the tablets of the covenant; One is our God in heaven and on earth.
And so forth to 13. You want more, Google it.

In my family we sing this song in Yiddish. Very occasionally, we run into others who also know the Yiddish version (although never with the same tune). I decided that my son is old enough to learn it as well. Like all things Yiddish, this had to start with a story:
My grandfather, your great-grandfather, your bubbe’s daddy, was named Bernie. When you were born, all of your great-great aunts said you looked just like Bernie. When your sister was born, the same great-great aunts agreed that she looked like Bernie. The truth is, most babies look like Bernie - Bernie was fat and bald.

When he was a little kid he went to Hebrew school, but it wasn’t nice like your school. It was grubby and the one thing he learned that really stayed with him was this song. You told me you are learning “Who knows one” in Hebrew. At his Hebrew school, Bernie learned the song in a language called Yiddish.
So I sang him a little bit of it, and my son burst out laughing (an appropriate reaction to Yiddish – a language with a disproportionate amount of onomatopoeia.) It also threw him a little; he thought Hebrew was the Jewish language. I explained:
You know about Hebrew, the holy language, the language of Israel and Torah. Yiddish is different. For centuries lots of Jewish people lived in the great Northern Plains of Europe. It wasn’t a happy time. It was cold, boring, and the people around us didn’t like us very much. The governments there liked us even less. Many terrible things happened to us there. You should be grateful everyday that your great-great grandparents left.

But, as a tiny gift to make up for it, God gave us the funniest language ever spoken – Yiddish. That funniest thing about Yiddish is that it is so close to German. But German is a serious language – a language where, “Good morning” is a direct order. In Yiddish, even though a lot of the words are the same and if you know one you can understand the other, everything sounds like a joke. They are the Bert and Ernie of languages. There’s Bert, wound too tight, worrying about his bottle-cap collection. And then there’s happy-go-lucky Ernie getting the bottle-caps out of order, scaring off the pigeons and just generally driving Bert nuts.

”Like I do to you daddy?”
This is a kid who is ready for Yiddish.

So, without further ado, here is “Who knows one” in Yiddish. It should be sung with great fervor. Because Yiddish was the Ebonics of its day, there are few hard rules about pronunciation and you can make up any tune that suits you. (I will spare the world my own rendition.)


Mah ah noymair
Mah ah debair

Oy vey ny ny na ny ny

Vair ken raidin
Vair ken tsailin

Vos is ____ bah dye
Vos is ____ bah dye

1. Ainer is gutt un gutt is ainer un veiter is kainer
2. Zvei zenen dee luchus
3. Drei zenen dee footers
4. Fear zenen dee mooters
5. Finif zenen dee chumushin
6. Zex zenen dee mishnayes
7. Zeben zenen dee taic frum vuch
8. Acht zenen dee brit meilah
9. Nine zenen dee moonaten
10. Tzen zenen dee dibrayes
11. Elef zenen dee shtairen
12. Zvelf zenen dee shevawteem
13. Dreitzen zenen dee ashawreem


Unknown said...

i enjoyed your tale,,, i also am trying to locate a song my dad used to sing we once had it on tape but dad passed away in 75 it goes something like ...veyeee sapppaa
will try and get more from my brother

Father Goof said...

Might be the same song - it is sung to many different tunes and in Yiddish pronunciation rules a laissez faire.


Unknown said...

actually after i posted i read some more and you were right it is the same dad came from drohobich / boroslav if i am writhing it right my mom came from chenstahova as everyone would add where the nicer people came from