Frequent commenter zaelic, whose intimate knowledge of all sorts of byways of Eastern European, Jewish, Romany, and musical lore is the envy of everyone who values such things, especially me, was kind enough to send me a kucsma (pronounced KOOCH-ma) he’d picked up at the Black Lake peasant fair in Romania from a family of Gypsies from Tirgu Mures. What is a kucsma, you ask? Zaelic defines it as a “big furry astrakhan winter hat,” adding “My favorite is the ‘oversized boy scout cap’ design favored by Ceausescu, Karzai, and half of Boro Park.” I asked him about the etymology of the word and he said:

My guess is that it may be from Old Turkish/Chuvah/Bulgar level of loan words from the 6th – 9th century, when the Magyars/Mogurs/Someday-we-will-be-Bashkirs were learning the horse culture from proto-Chuvash types south of the Kama river. The consonant cluster “chma” or “shma” gives it away.

But what I really want to talk about is the CD he included in the package, A Mazeldiker Yid, by his group Di Naye Kapelye, for which he plays violin, mandolin, koboz, cumbus, flutes, and Carpathian drum:

Di Naye Kapelye plays old time Jewish music the way we imagine it was played in eastern Europe both before and after the Holocaust. Learning from Jewish people still living in the region, and from Gypsy musicians who played for them, DNK carries on a living tradition of music.

I was blown away both by the music (my feet wouldn’t keep still) and by the learned and hilarious liner notes, which I’m happy to say you can read in their entirety here. I’m going to quote a bit (adding links) to illustrate the historical and geographical interest:

Northern Romania, in particular the regions of Maramures and the Bukovina, was once home to a large Jewish community unlike any other. Hasidic Jews first settled in the poorer mountain areas of the Habsburg Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries, in the aftermath of the Chmielnicki massacres and the resultant messianic confusion. Led by disciples of the Baal Shem-Tov, Hasidism’s pioneering leader, these Jews coalesced into Hasidic “courts” (hoyfn) centered around rabbinic dynasties residing in Szatmár, Vizhnitz, Munkács, Sighet, Sadagora, and Shpinka (Sapinta). Free of the official oppression and pogroms suffered by Jews in the Russian Empire, they lived in a relatively healthy social atmosphere with their neighbors – Romanians, Hungarians, Hutsul Ukrainians, Slovaks, Zipser Germans, and Roma (Gypsies). Reflecting the strongly conservative nature of the region, the Jews of Maramures rejected the “Jewish Enlightenment” offered by the 1868 reorganization of the Hungarian Jewish community, and maintained an existence apart, Yiddish speaking and deeply Hasidic in character, until the Holocaust. After the war this same stubborn independence led to the rebirth of Carpathian Hasidic communities in centers such as Brooklyn, Antwerp, and Bnei Brak, where the culture remains as vibrant and quarrelsome as it did the Romanian mountains.

Isn’t that great stuff? Do read the song annotations; among other things, you won’t want to miss the recipe for matzo balls.


  1. This is unrelated to the immediate post, but somewhat timely – if only by coincidence. I ran across the phrase “witches’ thunder” in a novel in a context that made it seem likely to be a theatrical term for something specific to the props department, rather than an occultish reference.
    But my limited online referencing leads nowhere. Any ideas where to look? What it means?
    Boo, shriek, thanks, etc.

  2. rollo, while I don’t know the answer, I know who knows. Ask Katie at resplendentmango-dot-blogspot, she’s a stage manager and d-e-f-i-n-e-t-e-l-y would know.

  3. Take Tatyana’s advice, because I have no idea! And good luck.

  4. “Bukovina” reminds me immediately of “Zakarpatie” and Uzhgorod (spent honeymoon there, 2 decades ago). Interestingly (or rather not…), here’s how Ukraine views these 2 regions; note – no mention of Hasidic population, historically or future policy-wise. Also, how do you like the word “мадьяризация”?

  5. It’s even better in the full phrase “мадьяризации и денационализации”—what a mouthful!
    Uzhgorod is a linguistically interesting city. The Hungarian name is Ungvár ‘fortress on the Ung [River].’ When the town passed from Austria-Hungary to Czechoslovakia after WWI, the town was called Užgorod, “obviously under the influence of the nearby village Užok (from Slavic lužok… at the same time the Hungarian name of the river was changed to Slovak Uh,” says Pospelov. When the town was transferred to Ukraine after WWII, the name of the town was kept and the name of the river changed to Uzh to correspond with it (rather than the historically accurate Ug/Uh).

  6. Please use the phrase “Roma” instead of “gypsy” when discussing the travelling people of Romania. Organisations which represent this people have been trying for years to show how traditional names for this ethnicity can be seen as racist.
    Also, in the post-1991 orthography, the name of the town is “Targu Mures”, with circumflex over the a, or Marosvasarhely if you want to show solidarity with the poorly treated Hungarian population there.

  7. Using Roma is all well and nice, but when using the term “Gypsy” in general cultural situations, even Gysies (er, Roma) use it in any of a variety of languages. There isn’t any politically correct rule on the term. Official organizations prefer to use “Roma” but in describing east European music, most people – Gypsies included – will say “Gypsy music” – “cigány zene.” It isn’t considered insulting, any more than saying “Semite” instead of “Jew.”
    And there are a couple of accents in Marosvásárhely as well.

  8. Please stop using W and Q with reference to Turkey.

  9. And please stop doing this. Certainly, you don’t want to do that. Taxonomy and solidarity. Stage advice and Jewish gypsies. Where does it end?

  10. John Cowan says

    In, so we hope, the outward forms of civility at least.

    So the goy goes into the Second Avenue Deli, alevasholem (it was reincarnated on Third Avenue and further uptown after Abe Lebewohl’s murder, but isn’t the same thing at all), and says, “You know, I’ve never eaten this kind of food before. What would you suggest I start with.”

    The waiter, in the finest traditions of rude service at the Second Avenue Deli, snaps back “Matzo-ball soup!” The customer nods, the soup is brought and eaten.

    “Excellent!” says the customer to the waiter. “Tell me, what other parts of the matzo do you eat?”

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