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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 1, February 1946

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Vol. II, No. 1, February, 1946

Ruth Rubin

DURING the eighties and nineties of the past century, tens of thousands of Jews from eastern European countries poured into New York harbor annually. Many were fleeing Czarist tyranny and oppression, pogroms, economic segregation, persecutions, and ghetto life of the Pale. They took to the new life in America with passion and serious intent. Along with their baggage and wicker trunks filled with bedding, clothing, an occasional samovar, the Sabbath candlesticks, the prayer books, prayer cloths, and philacteries, they brought their tales and anecdotes, their superstitions, folksay, and folksong — religious and secular, Hebrew and Yiddish, Chassidic and anti-Chassidic, national and universal.

A great portion of this folk treasure is still alive in our great city of New York and can be heard in the synagogues, in the parochial and secular schools, in the summer camps, in the homes, in the cultural clubs, and in the literary societies. Especially are the songs current among the Jewish factory workers, who, since the birth of Yiddish secular folksong, have been its main carriers, composers, and preservers. In comparing the folksongs current here, among the Yiddish-speaking American Jews, with the folksongs sung by the Jews living in the Soviet Union, we find that both still weave the same pattern, which can be traced back to the birth and flowering of Yiddish folksong in the nineteenth century.

The folksong of the eastern European Jews (Yiddish folksong) is the youngest product of Jewish music, tracing its path over a period of centuries and embracing Jewish life in many lands. Social-economic pressures at various periods in world history resulted in the severance of this long line at certain points, as, for instance, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. Each catastrophe compelled the Jewish people to shift its base of concentrated settlement and to root and create again in a new environment....

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