“Fort a shliten oyfen shney.”
It’s unlikely you will know
the meaning of these words, which say,
“A little sled glides through the snow.”
They’re Yiddish, the old Mammaloschen
of all the Jews in exile who
lived in the Pale as once in Goshen––
it was hard to be a Jew.
Those of us––it’s nearly all––
who on assimilation glide
should think in Yiddish, and recall
there’s ice on which we tend to slide.
Snow is lovely till its melts
as Yidden are inclined to do,
and only tsaddikim in pelts,
don’t share this poet’s point of view.
Prediction’s not infallible,
and barbers may lose out in Seville,
but every simple fool is gullible,
a mark for Arabs and the devil.
Inspired by Lawrence van Gelder review of a musical version of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimplel the Fool” which is being produced at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan (“Gullible Fool? He Passes All Tests and Beats the Devil, ” NYT, December 9,2008) :
The setting is a shtetl. The protagonist is a man beset. The vehicle is a musical. But the new show at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan isn’t “Fiddler on the Roof, ” based on the short stories of Sholom Aleichem. It is “Gimpel Tam, ” based on a simple yet profound short story, known in English as “Gimpel the Fool” and written by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Performed in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles, this engaging and lively 95-minute intermissionless entertainment, notable for its outstanding klezmer band, some splendid singing and an admirable performance by Adam Shapiro in the title role, is the opening presentation of the 94th consecutive season of the National Yiddish Theater — Folksbiene. Written and directed by Moshe Yassur, with music composed and arranged by Radu Captari and musical direction by Zalmen Mlotek, the Folksbiene’s artistic director, “Gimpel” is a parable about a man who, from his days as a schoolboy, is the seemingly gullible butt of all mischief and lies in the fictional village of Frampol. (The work was translated from Singer’s Yiddish to English in the 1950s by Saul Bellow.)
An orphan apprenticed to a baker by his beloved grandfather, played by the Folksbiene veteran I. W. Firestone, Gimpel is persuaded by a conniving matchmaker (Harry Peerce) to marry the prevaricating and faithless Elke (Daniella Rabbani) , who keeps Gimpel from her bed while she bears six children by other men. Sorely tested — even by the Devil himself — Gimpel somehow refrains from revenge throughout his life and finds reason to accept what befalls him. With the rotund, shambling Mr. Shapiro at the story’s wise heart, “Gimpel Tam, ” first staged last year at the Jewish State Theater in Bucharest, Romania, remains faithful to the brilliant Singer story. In its musical version it offers tunes that range from the hand-clapping to the heart tugging; a modicum of dance; a bit of comedy that exploits the gifts of Sheila Rubell as Rivke-Rokhl, one of the village women; and the lovely voice of Amy Goldstein in the songs “Fort a Shlitn Oyfn Shney” (“A Sled Glides Through the Snow”) and “Shluf Mayn Kind” (“Sleep My Child”) . Evoking a vanished world and filling the performances with liveliness is the Folksbiene Band: Joshua Camp, Louise Strouse Boiman, Dmitri Slepovitch and Taylor Bergren-Chrisman.