May 202013
 

The central joke of this satirical poem, describing a voyage made by a French Jew into the wilds of Ashkenaz (Jewish Germany), is a cross-linguistic pun. Each stanza ends with two quotes from Jeremiah; the pun is in the first, ki lo ‘alman yisra’eil. ‘Alman, “forsaken” (or widowed) just so happens to be a near homophone of the French Allemand, “German.” What the refrain actually says, then, is “for a German [Ashkenazi] is not a Jew.”

I did this poem in calligraphy as a parting gift for a French Sephardi friend going back to France after a long sojourn in the current Ashkenazi heartland, these blessed United States of America. He appreciated the thought.

Anonymous (late Middle Ages?)
The Day That I Went Out from France

The day that I went out from France
And towards German lands made my advance
I found cruel people at first glance
Like ostriches in the wild plain
For Israel is not forsaken 1
What has straw to do with grain? 2

I had hoped to find salvation
A day of rest and relaxation
Yet their offerings lacked consideration 3
My heart was cleft in twain
For Israel is not forsaken
What has straw to do with grain?

I searched the breadth of all Alsace
No man knew its worth I came across
Oh, would that its ways were not such chaos —
Overriding men, the women reign
For Israel is not forsaken
What has straw to do with grain?

I’ve grown utterly sick of Ashkenazim
For each one is fierce of face, I deem
Even their beards like goats’ beards seem
Heed not their words, all said in vain
For Israel is not forsaken
What has straw to do with grain?

משורר עלום שם
יום מצרפת יצאתי

 
יוֹם מִצָּרְפַת יָצָאתִי
אֶל אֶרֶץ אַשְׁכְּנַז יָרַדְתִּי
וְעַם אַכְזָר מָצָאתִי
כַּיְעֵנִים בַּמִּדְבָּר
כִּי לֹא אַלְמָן יִשְׂרָאֵל
מַה לַּתֶּבֶן אֶת הַבָּר?
 
צִפִּיתִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה
יוֹם נֹפֶשׁ וּמַרְגוֹעַ
וּמִנְחָתָם בְּלִי שָׁעָה
לְבָבִי הָיָה נִשְׁבָּר
כִּי לֹא אַלְמָן יִשְׂרָאֵל
מַה לַּתֶּבֶן אֶת הַבָּר?
 
חִפַּשְׂתִּי אֶלְזוּשׂ אָרְכָּהּ
וְלֹא יָדַע אֱנוֹשׁ עֶרְכָּהּ
לוּלֵי שֶֹלֹא כְּדַרְכָּהּ
הָאִשָּׁה עַל אִישׁ תִּגְבַּר
כִּי לֹא אַלְמָן יִשְׂרָאֵל
מַה לַּתֶּבֶן אֶת הַבָּר?
 
קַצְתִּי מְאֹד בְּאַשְׁכְּנַזִּים
כִּי הֵם כֻּלָּם פָּנִים עַזִּים
אַף זְקָנָם כְּמוֹ עִזִּים
אַל תַּאֲמֵן לָהֶם דָּבָר!
כִּי לֹא אַלְמָן יִשְׂרָאֵל
מַה לַּתֶּבֶן אֶת הַבָּר?
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yom mi-tzarfát yatzáti
‘El ‘éretz ‘ashkenáz yarádeti
Ve-ʕám ‘akhzár matzáti
Ka-yeʕeiním ba-midbár
Ki lo ‘almán yisra’éil
Mah la-téven ‘et ha-bár?

Tzipíti li lishuʕáh
Yom nófesh u-margóaʕ
U-minḥatám belí shaʕáh
Levaví hayáh nishbár
Ki lo ‘almán yisra’éil
Mah la-téven ‘et ha-bár?

Ḥipásti ‘elzús ‘orkáh
Ve-ló yadáʕ ‘enósh ʕerkáh
Luléi she-ló ke-darkáh
Ha-‘isháh ʕal ‘ish tigbár
Ki lo ‘almán yisra’éil
Mah la-téven ‘et ha-bár?

Kátzti me’ód be-‘ashkenazím
Ki heim kulám paním ʕazím
‘Af zekanám kemó ʕizím
‘Al ta’améin lahém davár!
Ki lo ‘almán yisra’éil
Mah la-téven ‘et ha-bár?

  1. Jeremiah 51:5.
  2. Jeremiah 23:28.
  3. Genesis 4:5.