Recently, my friend Irit Dabby’s mother had passed away, and we went to mourn with her in her parents’ house. Scattered in the living room, were black & white photographs from the first half of the previous century, photographs that tell tales of the mother’s life. Her children spoke of her embracing warmth, mentioned the tragedy she faced by losing a son under 13 in a horrible accident, and told of her 2 dying wishes: she wanted to be buried in a Kibbutz, and for the poem “A-Yiddishe Mame” to be read at her funeral. (“A-Yiddishe Mame” means “A Jewish Mother” in the Yiddish language that was used by Jewish people, for centuries, in Eastern Europe). And so it was, she was buried in a Kibbutz, and during the funeral, the poem was read by her tearful daughter, Irit.

So when we were at Irit’s parents’ house, her 87 year old father sat silently in the corner of the room, as if he were disconnected from the conversations around him. As we were preparing to leave, he suddenly spoke out, as if speaking to himself, with a very quiet yet lucid voice: 

“In 1957, a few months after we lost our son, I took my wife away from the noisy city, to have some peace for a while. Friends of ours asked us to accompany them to a Jimmy Lloyd concert, a black soul singer from Trinidad, who was touring in Israel. We were reluctant to go due to our circumstances, but our friends insisted. At a certain point in the show, without any preparation, Jimmy Lloyd began singing “A-Yiddishe Mame” in its original Yiddish version. My wife, who loved the song so dearly, and in the context of our beloved son’s death, could not bear it, fainted and dropped to the auditorium’s floor.” The father’s voice then cracked with tears and he fell silent again, curled up in his corner. We too, lowered our eyes that had filled with tears.

Two weeks had passed.    My wife and I traveled for a weekend to Budapest, Hungary, a great source of European culture. In the evening, we dined in a local restaurant, tasting local Hungarian delicacies, while a fiddler played a medley of well known tunes. Suddenly, as if out of no where, the fiddler began playing “A-Yiddishe Mame”, and all the diners began humming along to the famous melody.

The coincidence kept me awake that night back at the hotel. After several previous unsuccessful attempts to connect to the internet I decided to give it one more try, and low and behold, the wireless network suddenly found a strong connection. I googled the translation of words of the song in Hebrew, and for the first time in my 60 years I understood the meaning of the lyrics, which remind me so much of my childhood. As soon as I finished downloading the lyrics, the network was lost, as if someone had timed the connection especially for me.

So here is a freestyle English translation of this famous Jewish poem, which is so fitting not only for Jewish mothers, of course, but for mothers everywhere around the globe:

(Original Lyrics by Jack Yellen, Composer Lev Pollack).

I’d like to ask of you a question, please answer my call:
With which dear possession does God bless us all?
It cannot be bought with money; it is given for free,
Yet when it is lost, endless tears are shed, like a sea.
Never will another be given, no matter how much you try,
Oh, those have lost one, understand why they cry.

(Chorus, see below)

She will walk for her children, through water and heat
Even if they hurt her feelings, she will still protect and commit.
How lucky and rich is the person, who has such a wonderful gift, a present from God,
Like an old Yiddishe Mame (Jewish mother), my Yiddishe Mame!

Who sat by your cradle, day and night, never skipped a beat while you were sick?
Who cooked, baked and worked until the last bit of strength for her child?
In whose eyes will you always be precious and worthy?
Who would give her last drop of blood for you?

   A-Yiddishe Mame (Jewish mother), there’s nothing better on earth.
   A-Yiddishe Mame, oh, how bitter it shall be when she is gone.
   How bright and warm it is at home, when the Mame is there.
   How dark and sad it becomes when God takes her onto the next world.

Dedicated with love to Irit Dabby and all of the mothers amongst you.

Fireworks (8)
Shuka, Thursday, July 10, 2008


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