Candles of Song 1 of 2

April 30, 2012 by

Candles of Song: Yiddish Poems about Mothers Rashel Veprinski

Photo of Rashel Veprinski. From Tsum eyntsikn shtern (To the Lone Star), Tel-Aviv, 1971.

A New Kind of Kadish

On January 25, 2012 (Shevat 1) my dear, sweet, gentle mother passed away. Although it is customary in the Jewish tradition to say kadish for 11 months after the death of a parent and although I do belong to a conservative synagogue it somehow did not feel natural for me, an agnostic, to say kadish for my mother, a Canadian born Yiddish speaker, also an agnostic brought up in the tradition of secular Yidishkeyt. However, I am doing it (not totally regularly) and while I do find the act somewhat meaningful it does not essentially express who I am as a Jew and who she was.

I decided, therefore, to create a blog of Yiddish poems about mothers in her memory. Each week I shall post one Yiddish poem, both in Yiddish and in transliteration, with an accompanying English translation. Some of the translations will be my own, others will be by other people. Sources will always be noted. Each poem will be preceded, wherever possible, by a brief biography and photo of the poet, as well as a recording of the poem in Yiddish.

I have chosen to call this blog “Candle of Song” after a line in a poem by Rashel Veprinski (Piously as my mother the waxen wicks,/I light my candle of song). To me it is a beautiful metaphor of how the pious act of lighting Sabbath candles got transformed for the poet into the, for her, equally spiritual act of writing Yiddish poetry. The title is for me also evocative of yortsayt-likht (memorial candles) although it was not the poet’s intention. With this in mind, I have chosen to make Veprinski’s poem “Frum” (Piously) my first offering.

Rashel Veprinski (1896-1981) was born in the town of Ivankov, not far from Kiev, in Ukraine. She came to New York in 1907, and at thirteen she went to work in a shop. At fifteen, she began writing poetry, and was first published in 1918 in the journal Di naye velt (The New World). She wrote several books of poetry, among them Ruf fun foygl (The Call of the bird), 1926, Di Palitre (The palette), 1964, Tsum eyntsikn shtern (To the single star), 1971 as well as an autobiographical novel, short stories, and articles and was published regularly in Yiddish periodicals. From the 1920s until his death in 1953, she lived with the famous Yiddish writer Mani Leyb. (Those wishing to read the biographies in Yiddish can do so at my blog.)

Here, Frum, by Rashel Veprinski, read by Sheva Zucker:


Piously my mother blessed her candles,
I – light the wicks of songs –
Eyelashes covered, fingers grow luminous,
Lips once again trembling in awe.

For joy and for sorrow,
For aging wit.
God, put the word of your mouth
Into mine.

The word not yet bloomed,
That sleeps in the stone, in the dust down below,
Wake it up, let it blossom forth anew
As if in the flowerbed,
In the line-harvest of my poems.

And the pain and the woe, and the grief of the world,
I put before you, in your presence –
Piously as my mother the waxen wicks,
I light my candles of song.
Di palitre (The palette), Israel, 1964
Tr. Sheva Zucker


Frum hot mayn mame gebentsht ire likht,
Ikh – tsind di knoytn fun lider –
Di vies bashiremt, s’likhtikn finger,
Lipn in forkhtikayt tsitern vider:

Far freyd un far tsar,
Far dem seykhl bayort,
Gib mir Got fun dayn moyl
In mayn moyl dos vort.

Dos vort vos hot nokh nit getsvit,
Vos shloft inem shteyn, inem shtoyb in der nider,
Vek es uf, loz es ufblien frish vi in beyt,
In der shure-shnit fun mayne lider.

Un dem vind-un-vey, un tsar fun der velt,
Shtel ikh far dir, far dayn ongezikht –
Frum vi mayne mame di vaksene knoytn,
Tsind ikh mayne liderlikht.
Di palitre, 1964

ראַשעל וועפּרינסקי

פֿרום האָט מײַן מאַמע געבענטשט אירע ליכט,
איך — צינד די קנויטן פֿון לידער —
די וויִעס באַשירעמט, ס’ליכטיקן פֿינגער,
ליפּן אין פאָרכטיקייט ציטערן ווידער:

פֿאַר פֿרייד און פֿאַר צער,
פֿאַר דעם שׂכל באַיאָרט,
גיב מיר גאָט פֿון דײַן מויל
אין מײַן מויל דאָס וואָרט.

דאָס וואָרט וואָס האָט נאָך ניט געצוויט,
וואָס שלאָפֿט אינעם שטיין, אינעם שטויב אין דער נידער,
וועק עס אויף, לאָז עס אויפֿבליִען פֿריש ווי אין בייט,
אין דער שורה־שניט פֿון מײַנע לידער.

און דעם ווינד־און־וויי, און צער פֿון דער וועלט,
שטעל איך פֿאַר דיר, פֿאַר דײַן אָנגעזיכט —
פֿרום ווי מײַן מאַמע די וואַקסענע קנויטן,
צינד איך מײַנע לידערליכט.
די פּאַליטרע, 1964

Poems cross-posted with

Dr. Sheva Zucker is currently the Executive Director of the League for Yiddish and the editor of its magazine Afn Shvel. She has taught and lectured on Yiddish language, literature and culture on five continents.