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Moishe Leib Halpern (1886-1932)


Dawn to dusk, your hands and eyes
Bent over sewing -- girl, don't cry.

Tomorrow it shall come to pass;
Your worries will die like poisoned mice.

In that day, in iron and stone,
Men will roar like bears, while women,

Old men, and babies at the breast
Chase down robbers and arsonists.

My girl--what a fire! your beloved is coming
to carry you off, on bird wings.

This lyric is as ambiguous as a prophesy. Irony, violent and peaceful images, anger, and a bitter joy are at war in it, yet it is perfectly balanced.

I recently found a book (in English) by the Yiddish poet, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern (1886-1932), called _In New-York_. He wrote about New York in the time of immigration, neon, the El and its noise and grit, poverty, ragtime, the heat of August sticking to the body at manual labor. An immigrant, Halpern contrasts the small Polish town and the Lower East Side with images as powerful as Pound's, and as brief.

But he also writes a night dream that surrounds the entire history of his people, and his relatives, with the personal mystery of his own existence "A Night."  Read More 
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The Jazz Singer and his Cantor Father

THE JAZZ Singer was wildly popular, the first talkie (1927), although only the songs were heard. (The dialogue was still in captions). Full of schmaltz, struggle, pizzazz, and music, it told of Jakie Rabinowitz, whose cantor father disowned him for not following in his footsteps. Instead, Jakie became Jack Robin, a rising star in musical theater, a Jazz Singer. With “a tear in his voice,” especially when, in blackface, he sings “Mammy.”

Jack (a name his father does not recognize) tells his father that Jazz is the cry of a lost anxious soul for the same completeness that the cantor provides in synagogue. His audience in the theater needs him, like his father’s congregation needs him during the High Holy Days, especially Yom Kippur. Jack is referring to the danceable, joyful “song number with a kick in it,” and the passionate or sentimental, “soulful” ballads, some of which are about futility of passion and loneliness. They are most definitely not about God, or atonement through self-abnegation and submission to divine will. Read More 
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