(שלג על עירי (פירות חמישה-עשר Sheleg al Iri by Naomi Shemer

(שלג על עירי (פירות חמישה-עשר

Sheleg al Iri (Perot Hamisha Asar)

 

Sheleg al Iri was written by Naomi Shemer for a 1976 musical mounted by Teatron Bimot based on The Travels of Benjamin III by Shalom Yankev Abramovich (1836-1917), best known by his pen name Mendele Mocher Seforim. Mendele is usually considered the grandfather of Yiddish literature (and Sholem Aleichem described him as such in the dedication of his novel Stempenyu).

Cast Album for Musical

The Travels of Benjamin III was published in 1878 and may be considered a satire on Jewish life modeled loosely on Don Quixote. (The first two Benjamins were Benjamin of Tudela and J.J. Benjamin, 1818-1864). Benjamin longs for the Land of Israel, very timely in 1878, as Mendele is writing at the very beginning of the Hibat Tzion movement, and Benjamin sets out.

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Left to Right: Mendele MOcher Seforim (S Y Abramovich), Sholem ALeichem (Standing), Ben Ami, Ch. N. Bialik.

In this song, Benjamin’s wife Zelda imagines him in far-off Palestine, while she is in cold Europe. In Eastern Europe, the 15th of Shevat (Hamisha-asar, Fifteen as it was sometimes called in Jewish languages such as Yiddish and Ladino, or Tu Bi-Shevat as it is most often known today) was noted by eating dried fruits such as figs, carobs, dates and oranges, especially if they were brought from Eretz Yisrael. Zelda dreams of her traveling husband bringing her these precious fruits of Tu Bi-Shevat. The scene is not from the book, but, early on, the book does describe Benjamin’s longing for the Land of Israel through celebrating its fruits. Shemer brilliantly weaves words together to produce a heartfelt song of longing far beyond the satiric tone of Mendele’s book.

This was one of thirteen songs written by Naomi Shemer for the production; three of them—this song, Siman she-od lo higanu, and Shirat ha-Asabim—have had a life far beyond this musical.

Mendele sets Zelda in an imaginary city he called Batlon, but according to Ofer Gavish (on whose page http://www.gavisho.com/?p=394 much of this note is based), Naomi Shemer’s family felt that her parent’s hometown of Vilna was central in her mind when she thought of the Diaspora, and the song written about Vilna that might first come to their mind is Sheleg al Iri. Yet Batlon—Zelda’s snow-covered city in the song—is something of the opposite of Vilna, more like Shalom Aleichem’s Kasrilevke or the Chelm of the famous stories about the wise men.

By the way, links to all the songs from the Benjamin III musical are at the bottom of Gavish’s website http://www.gavisho.com/?p=394.

Seth Ward

SHELEG AL IRI SNOW ON MY CITY שלג על עירי

(פירות חמישה-עשר)

Sheleg al iri kol halaila nach.
El artzot hachom ahuvi halach.Sheleg al iri vehalaila kar.
Me’artzot hachom li yavi tamar. 

Dvash hate’eina, metek hecharuv.
Ve’orchat gmalim amusei kawl tuv.

Heinah shuv yashuv shemesh levavi
Umisham tapuach zahav yavi.

Sheleg al iri nach kmo talit.
Me’artzot hachom ma heveita li?

Sheleg al iri, sheleg al panai.
Uvetoch hapri kawl ga’agu’ai.

Snow over my city, resting all the night.
My love has gone to the warm lands.
Snow over my city, and the night is cold.
From the warm countries he will bring me a date.

The honey of the fig, the sweetness of carob.
And a caravan of camels laden with all good things.

Surely my heart’s sun will return here.
And from there, he will bring an orange.

Snow over my city, resting like a tallit.
From the warm lands, what have you brought me?
Snow on my city, snow on my face.
And within the fruit are all my longings.

שלג על עירי, כל הלילה נח.
אל ארצות החום אהובי הלך.

שלג על עירי, והלילה קר.
מארצות החום לי יביא תמר.

דבש התאנה, מתק החרוב.
ואורחת גמלים עמוסי כל טוב.

הינה שוב ישוב, שמש לבבי.
ומשם תפוח זהב יביא.

שלג על עירי, נח כמו טלית.
מארצות החום, מה הבאת לי.

שלג על עירי, שלג על פני.
ובתוך הפרי כל געגועי.

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