Chinese-Yiddish Song.

Talya Zax writes in the Forward about someone as intriguing as the Russian who learned Scottish Gaelic for Lermontov’s sake:

While writing her Ph.D. dissertation on Jewish Exile in Shanghai resulting from the Shoah, Yang Meng decided she needed to learn both Yiddish and Hebrew for the sake of her research. A Chinese national already fluent in English and German, once she took on the new languages she found herself fascinated by Yiddish, which she wrote to the Forward “is an indispensible key to understand[ing] Jewish culture.”

As part of her studies she participated in the 2015 Naomi Prawer Kadar International Yiddish Summer Program at Tel Aviv University. For that program’s closing ceremony she performed a song that was entirely unique: a Yiddish rewriting of a classic Chinese song, which she had translated into Yiddish with the assistance of Yuri Vedenyapin, a Yiddish language instructor based at Harvard.

The lyrics of the Chinese song, Liang Hongzi’s 1983 “Wishing We Last Forever,” is a musical setting of a poem by Su Shi, famed Chinese poet and essayist, written in 1076. “This song ‘Chinese Moon Over Tel Aviv’ is the first Chinese-Yiddish song in human history,” Meng wrote. “I am very attracted to the mamaloshen”—Yiddish for ‘the mother tongue—“and I hope I can bring Yiddish language and culture to my beloved China.”

You can hear the song and see a translation of the lyrics at the link, but as I wrote Paul Ogden, who sent it to me, I’ll bet people were singing Chinese-Yiddish songs in Shanghai nightclubs in the 1930s.


  1. Pearl S. Buck wrote a very fascinating novel on 17th-century Jews in China. It has always been one of my favorites of her novels.–into-world-of-Chinese-Jews

  2. That does sound fascinating; thanks for the link!

    The copy I reviewed includes a detailed background of Chinese Jews written by Dr. Wendy R. Abraham as well as a discussion of recent attempts to preserve this fascinating sliver of Jewish history.

    If I get a copy, that’s definitely the edition I want.

  3. Another good one is Jews in Old China.

  4. That looks terrific!

  5. A bit of digging turned up a song in Yiddish, apparently sung to a Russian folk tune, that contains a verse about Harbin, the city in China where numbers of European Jews escaping the horrors of WWII found refuge for several years. I haven’t been able to determine whether it was actually sung in Harbin, though such a presumption comes easily.

    Here’s the relevant verse (with Hebrew in brackets; quick translation into English below):

    קיין כארבין זענען מיר אנעגקומען
    (הגענו אל חרבין) [שם של מקום]
    און דער רעש איז געוועזן זייער גרויס
    (ההמולה הייתה גדולה מאוד)
    אַן עלטסטער איז צו אונדז צוגעקומען
    (קצין ניגש אלינו)
    פֿון די וואגאנעס זענען מיר אַלע אַרויס
    (מהקרונות יצאנו כולנו)

    We arrived in Harbin
    The noise was very great
    An officer approached us
    We disembarked the railcars.

  6. @Paul Ogden
    Here’s the band singing the song, for those interested…

  7. Oy Division — I love it!


  1. […] Hat notes a Yiddish translation of a Chinese […]

Speak Your Mind