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Jewcentricity and Pop Music

For the past few weeks while WRM has been traveling in India, The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle has been pitching in essays to keep Via Meadia going. With the big boss back, Adam has returned to writing at his own blog on AI, “The Middle East and Beyond“. One of the “Beyond” subjects he sometimes returns to is the subject of “Jewcentricity” which also happens to be the title of Adam’s recent book.

If you liked Adam’s essays here, we’d encourage you to keep reading him at his own blog. His post from today—a wide-ranging meditation on a recent Azerbaijani Europop single that repurposes a classic tune from the 1930s—is a great example of the kinds of treats you’ll find there. A taste:

What is at least mildly Jewcentric about all this is that “Bei Mir Bist du Shoen”, this pan-European and even international pop hit, was written in a Yiddish-language context, by two immigrant Jews in Brooklyn back in or around 1932. The song was part of a show entitled “I Would If I Could.” The lyricist was Jacob Jacobs; the composer was Sholom Secunda.

Sholom Secunda was a most prolific songwriter and, it turns out, a dude of some passing interest. Although his family name is give-away Sephardic, he was born in Russia in 1894 and, at a remarkably young age, demonstrated an astonishing facility for singing and creating cantorial music. He came to America in 1907, and worked mostly in Yiddish-language theater, radio and orchestral music jobs in New York City. Of the many songs he wrote, the most dear to him appear to have been liturgical compositions. He worked with some well-known cantors and choirs back in the day. He also became a Labor Zionist, as may be illustrated by the fact that he worked summers in Labor-Zionist camps, joined a Workman’s Circle and, above all, wrote the music for “Shir HaPalmach.” This latter datum won’t mean much to most people, but for those familiar with the song and its storied history it will probably mean a lot. Secunda also wrote the music for one of the most beloved Yiddish/Hebrew (it exists in both languages) songs ever: “Dona, Dona.” I have known both of these songs for decades and it never occurred to me before seeing Ilhama’s video that the composer might be the same man who composed “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.”

Thanks, Adam, for helping out. And keep ’em coming!

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  • Kevin

    I like the guest bloggers and other visitors here. It’s a good way to get introduced to new writers and topics. Thanks.

  • Luke Lea

    Jewcentricity is a useful coinage. I hope its coiner will not be offended if I use it primarily to denote a certain ethno-centricity found among (a certain subset) of Ashkenazi Americans? I know that’s just one piece of it, but we don’t have another word — Jewish ethnocentrism having been banned from Wikipedia believe it or not.

  • Luke Lea

    The word Jewcentricity would have been handy when I made this comment on Via Media for example.

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