by Eleonore Biezunski and Lorin Sklamberg
“[The Yiddish folk saying] ‘Tsu zingen un tsu zogn’ [To sing and to say]…derives from the time when the Jewish ‘Spielmänner’ (the Jewish minstrels of the Middle Ages) would recite their bardic tales set to a chant. In the Yiddish vernacular, it has come to mean a person who has a lot to complain about.”—Ruth Rubin
This quote from a notebook of Ruth Rubin, the renowned Yiddish song collector and performer, demonstrates her knowing affection for and deep understanding of folklore in the Yiddish world and beyond. In it, we can get a sense of both her scholarship and wit.
Rubin was born in Khotin, Bessarabia, in 1906, and shortly thereafter immigrated with her family to Montreal, where she grew up immersed in secular Yiddish culture. Throughout her life, she had vivid memories of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem visiting her shule (Yiddish day school). She moved to New York City at age eighteen and published Lider, a book of original Yiddish poems, in 1929.