Friday, August 27, 2021

Kum tsu mir (or, that time I translated Jimmy Buffett into Yiddish)

If you've ever studied a second language, you know there's a huge difference between the skills needed for passive reading comprehension, conversation, and translating from your native language into the second language. Translating into Yiddish was one of those things I just thought I'd never be able to do well, so why even try?

And then I tried.

See, this spring, everyone was talking about a "hot vax summer" and the resulting hedonism. Haha! But who knew then the hot vax summer was gonna be one big fizzle? I got a dybbuk in me (as one does) and decided I would translate Jimmy Buffett's 1973 hit Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw) into Yiddish.

My translation sat on my computer until I saw some very odd news. Jimmy Buffett himself was about to open another hotel in his worldwide lifestyle empire. This would be his first Margaritaville Resort in New York City, at Seventh Avenue and 40thStreet, the heart of the Garment District. In an “only in New York” turn of events, the newly opened Resort is the first of Buffett’s worldwide themed properties to boast an onsite synagogue, the historic Garment Center Congregation. If the universe was going to send me a message to bring my translation into the world, this was it. 

At one time, the Garment District employed thousands of Yiddish speakers, especially in the post-war era. To celebrate this unusual meeting of worlds, the Congress for Jewish Culture (Kultur Kongres, in Yiddish), commissioned a superstar group of top klezmorim to bring Kum tsu mir to life: Sasha Lurje (voice), Craig Judelman (violin) and Lorin Sklamberg (guitar, voice). Pay special attention to Craig Judelman's brilliant klezmer break during the instrumental section. Genius.

I couldn't be more thrilled with their interpretation. What a dream come true!


If you want to read more, we got some nice coverage from the good folks at Hey Alma and the Forverts, the Times of Israel, and the Jewish Standard.

If you watch the YouTube video of Kum tsu mir, you'll see you can toggle between Yiddish and English closed captioning. What I tried to do was more than a word for word translation, but rather a cultural translation, flipping the point of view from a man's to a woman's. 

One of the reasons I wrote it this way is that, obviously, I'm a woman and it's natural for me to write from a woman's point of view. More than that, there are very few modern Yiddish/klezmer compositions being written from a woman's point of view. There are a couple I knew of, but not enough. I wanted to give a shout out here to one of my favorites, which was definitely in the back of my head as I was writing my own translation. This is Golem's Come to Me from the Citizen Boris CD:

And finally, if you enjoyed Kum tsu mir, I'd ask you to consider a pre-yontev donation to the Congress for Jewish Culture. The song would never have been realized if not for the substantial support of the Congress. Please support artists and arts organizations bringing new Yiddish work into the world. Your contribution makes magic happen!

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