Yiddish 2 – with a Chinese twist

August 12, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Signalling that Yiddish still has some life in it, a Chinese scholar in residence at Oxford University who speaks it fluently has used a Chinese song using modern music demonstrating that Yiddish harmonies are not restricted to the shtetl.

J-Wire’s Henry Benjamin meet Meng Yang in China

Meng Yang told J-Wire: “Currently I am in Oxford as scholar-in-residence, and I miss Israel already. Three years ago, my first time attending the Tel Aviv Yiddish course, Yuri, my Yiddish teacher and I made the first Chinese-Yiddish song.

Now we have made the first Chinese-Yiddish duet!

This time, I insisted to choose a melody which was not very much traditional Chinese.

I argued with Yuri, who is more for very traditional Chinese music.

As for me, I hope this song can be seen as a try to show that Yiddish can also be made to beautiful modern music. Yiddish should not only be regarded as a language with Shtetl, with klezmer, with the past, but also a language which is ready to embrace the change,  the future, as well as the other culture!

As you can see from our duet, Yiddish did it!

The Yiddish lyrics, rewrote by Yuri, are beyond time, space, culture difference, depicting the love among two lovers in the Chinese love melody and the love dilemma in the song is universal, beyond time and space.


I hope this song can be something to make the Yiddish circle stop confining Yiddish to Shtetl/Klezmer/the past. If in twenty years’ time, the only Yiddish songs we could think of are still the old folksongs, it would be indeed sad for this language. As a Chinese, a total outsider of Jewish/Yiddish circle, I did feel there should be some revolution for this language!

While practicing the song, we found huge differences in Chinese and Yiddish. The chinese lyrics are rich in vowels which made Yuri difficult from time to time while the Yiddish one is full of consonants.

Both Yuri and my grammar teacher Eliezer Niborski helped me to make the consonants sound clear.

One holocaust survivor Regina Steinitz , who was a writer living near Tel Aviv University, was also helping me as a critical listener in late evening.

By the way she was against my dressing my yellow dress to perform because it reminded her of Nazi Jewish star and thus, I dressed in a more casual one.  I information or have

The melody of the song came from a Chinese love song which came out in 1997 and is still very popular in Chinese Karaoke today.”


2 Responses to “Yiddish 2 – with a Chinese twist”
  1. Tiberiu Weisz says:

    I enjoyed the chinese -Yiddish version of two known melodies. . I have two observations:
    1. It seems to me that the CHinese lyrics are based on a poem by Li Tai Po (701-762), Tang Dynasty called :”Drinking alone under the Moon”, rather than Sushe.
    2. In my book THe Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions, (2006), I posited that the yiddish word Daven could have originated from the Chinese word qidao 祈禱。for details, please refer to note # 186 pg 54.

  2. Robert Weil says:

    Ah yes. Reminds me of that old Yiddish classic “By mir bis-tu chine…..ese” :).

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