by Lyudmila Sholokhova, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York.

In 1936, Moisei Beregovskii began collecting the Jewish musical folklore in the Jewish agricultural colonies of the Southern Ukraine. His work was a part of a larger strategical plan of the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture in Kiev, and specifically of its Ethnography Section, where Beregovskii was employed [1]. Approved in 1935, the plan aimed at a complex exploring of the region’s history, demography, social conditions and ethnography.

The first stage of the Institute’s research work in the Southern Ukraine was focused on the Kalinindorf Jewish national district [2] of the Odessa region of Ukraine (then - the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), with a village of Kalinindorf as an administrative center of the district [3]. Historically this area represented one of the earliest Jewish agricultural settlements outside of the Pale of Settlement established back in 1807, a destination for migration of impoverished Jewish population from the Mogilev, Chernigov and Vitebsk provinces of the Russian Empire. The migrants, or colonists, were motivated to relocate to this area by promised low land prices and significant tax cuts. This way the Russian government was trying to encourage the Jews to cultivate vast virgin territories that became annexed by the Russian Empire in the end of the 18th century, in the result of the Russian-Turkish wars.

In the 1920s-early 1930s, the Jewish agricultural colonies were transformed into the Soviet collective farms (kolkhozes), and with financial support from Agro-Joint and OZET[4], were successfully developing to become the great Jewish Soviet agricultural project. Logically enough, the colonies became a pride and a target for the new Jewish scholarship embodied in the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture in Kiev.

In the end of 1935, Beregovskii was actively involved into preparations to the expedition, planning his trip to begin in the end of November 1935[5]. The trip was slightly delayed: according to the inventory books of the phonogram archive, Beregovskii’s first phonograph recordings were made on January 7, 1936 and the entire expedition lasted through February 1 [6]. Within several weeks Beregovskii was able to make 249 recordings on 66 cylinders[7]. His expedition covered the following localities, with Kalinindorf as the initial departure and final destination of the trip:

-   Kalinindorf: January 7 - 11, January 19, February 1
-   Shterndorf (formerly - Malaia Seydemenukha) and Bobrovyi Kut:  January 15 - 17
-   Sholom Aleykhem: January 18 - 19
-   Fraylebn: January 20 - 23
-   L’vovo: January 30

Selections from the recordings from the 1936 expedition to Kalinindorf district presented on this CDRom display a clear emphasis on certain genres of Jewish music folklore, highlighting a positive side of the Jewish life in the kolkhoz and creativity of its workers through the new anti-religious and anti-Zionist satirical songs, songs about happy labor in kolkhoz, chastushkes, joyful wedding songs and klezmer melodies (featured mostly in vocal rendition).  Lyrical love and family songs were included as well, but they were presented as the only valuable connection to the past.  Songs with traditional religious content were not recorded.

Overall Beregovskii was able to capture the bursting variety of Jewish musical creativity in the agricultural colonies where “the songs were sang everywhere - in the field, at home, in the family, among the friends. This way ones poured their hearts out” [8].

A kolkhoz song below, recorded from the 20-year student of the tractor courses, explains in simple words why the colonies in Kherson region are better than the ones in Palestine [9]:

S’iz nor ongekumen di ratnmakht
Un af di felder af khersoner,
Far a poyer mikh gemakht
Tsum aker un tsum baranen.
Vayl in Kherson iz dokh avade beser,
In Palestine iz mir a dayge:
Mir veln esn veyts un korn
Un tsienistn veln esn faygn.

As soon as the Soviet power came,
And on the Kherson fields
[It] made me a peasant
Working with plow and sheep.
Since in Kherson is of course better,
I have a problem with Palestine:
We are going to eat wheat and corn
And Zionists will eat figs.

Here is an example of anti-religious parody song that mocks a rabbi, who used to teach Kabbalah, and his wife[10]:
S’hot gelebt amol a rebe,
Hot er gelernt mit undz kabele,
Ay, a rebetsn mit fir por tsign,
Un in shtub is ful mit fling,

Once there was Rabbi,
He used to teach us Kabbalah,

Ay, the Rabbi’s wife with four pairs of goats,
And the house is full with flies,

Beregovskii’s focus on new Jewish “folksongs”, regardless of their esthetic value, was possibly an attempt to review and overwrite his earlier conclusions for which he was sharply criticized years later. In the introduction to the 1st volume of his “Anthology of Jewish Folk Music” he stated that “Jewish folk creativity doesn’t develop and dies out in the Soviet time”[11]. This statement was interpreted as politically incorrect slander of the Soviet reality and possibly prompted Beregovskii to pay special attention to the new genre of the Soviet songs and later strengthen his position by publishing an article “Di yidishe sovetishe folkslid” in 1937[12] and by including a separate section on the Soviet Yiddish songs in the compilation of songs dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the October revolution of 1917 co-authored by Moisei Beregovskii and Itsik Fefer and published in 1938[13]. Another small compilation of the Soviet Yiddish songs appeared in print in 1940, but Beregovskii’s name was not mentioned in this publication[14].

The year of 1936 marked a dramatic turn in Beregovskii’s life and career. The Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture, up till recently a celebrated embodiment of the new Soviet Jewish scholarship, was closed down in the spring of 1936 as a “nest of the Jewish nationalism”. In despair, Beregovkii witnessed ruthless cleansings, arrests, repressions and firings of his colleagues and friends.  The organization that just recently employed over 100 people reopened later in the year in a much smaller format - the Cabinet for Yiddish Language, Literature and Folklore, with only 10-12 employees. Officially formed in June, the Cabinet began functioning in September of the same year. Beregovskii’s correspondence with his friends in the end of July 1936 reflects on his condition as “unstable” bitterly referring to the “brilliant end” of the Institute. Beregovskii’s work at the Institute was terminated, but he was expected to return to work at the Cabinet as a Head of the Folklore Department[15]. In June-July the Cabinet still didn’t have new premises and there were no clarity on further projections of its work.  Meanwhile Beregovskii was looking for a summer job and was even trying to get a permanent employment at the Ukrainian Radio Committee. But at the insistence of the Ukrainian Department of Arts he ended up going on a monthly trip to Velikie Sorochintsy in Kharkov region to make phonographic recordings of the Ukrainian folksongs, the assignment he sincerely enjoyed[16].

In the remaining months of 1936 Beregovskii was busy with relocating the extensive archive and property of the folklore section, unpacking, settling in the smaller place allocated for the Cabinet (limited to only two rooms), establishing normal workflow and transcribing the phono cylinders with Ukrainian materials. He was working under high pressure, “to the point of exhaustion” in his own words, trying to comply with deadlines for Ukrainian project, deciphering 6-10 songs per day  in order to get paid for his work[17].  In letters’ exchange with his friends, Beregovskii also complained about shortage of clean phono cylinders. He noted that he didn’t have any and would need to transcribe at least 200 songs in order to free space on at least 50-70 cylinders needed for the next expedition trip[18].

Such intense work led to almost complete isolation: “My mood is average. My almost complete loneness weights me down. I spend much time at my desk at home. I dress up and go to my office at the Cabinet - and again sit like an owl. I almost don’t get to see people, besides a few of our co-workers. True, my work is moving along not bad.”[19]

In addition to daily tedious transcribing work, Beregovsky was about to embark on a major research project and publications.  He was sharing with friends an idea of a monograph “Jewish Music Folklore: an Attempt of Analysis”[20] aiming at a complex exploring of all major genres of Jewish music creativity and was working on preparing to publication a second volume of his Anthology[21] and a special complication of songs dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution[22].

Although Beregovskii was relatively satisfied with the working conditions in the new office, he was very frustrated over a lack of professional communication with colleagues in the Cabinet and even seriously considered moving to Birobidzhan, discussing this idea with his friends, including David Bergelson[23].

In the end, Beregovkii remained in Kiev, but the dramatic turmoil and repressions in Jewish academic circles in 1936 left him traumatized, significantly affected his life and prevented him from active expedition work for over a year.

The next major expedition took place only in June 30-July 25, 1937. Again. Beregovskii headed to the southern regions of Ukraine. The focus of the expedition was on the Novozlatopol Jewish national district of the Dnepropetrovsk region and on Fraydorf Jewish national district in Crimea, with Novozlatopol as a starting point and final destination of the trip.

-   Novozlatopol, Novodarovka, Gor’kii, Sladkovodnoe, Zelenopol’: June 30 - July 8
-   Fraydorf and Fraydorf district (collective farms “Vintshevski”; and “Sotsgevet” (“Socialist competition”) in Dzhelal: July 13 - July 23
-   Novozlatpol: July 25

The range of folklore materials was similar to the expedition of 1936 though total amount of recordings was smaller (90 songs and melodies on 29 cylinders), with more weight on the pre-revolutionary repertoire[24]. We find substantial number of klezmer melodies recorded from voice, alphabet songs, songs about military draft, about pogroms, love songs, wedding songs, songs about death etc. among the recordings. This expeditions’ materials also feature a few macaronic songs including an interesting rendition of the Alef-beys song in the style of liturgical cantillation where each letter of the Hebrew alphabet relates to a short Ukrainian proverb:

Alef makht: Umnyi tsholovik stsho z tshuzhoho vozu bere, na svii klade;
Beys: baba z voza, konyam lehtshe.
Aleph makes the sound of: A smart man takes from someone’s cart and puts into his;
Beys: a woman off the cart, easier on the horses.[25]

In Novozlatopol Beregovkii recorded several fragments from the “Akhashveyresh-shpil”, Jewish theatrical folk performance, from Aron Lifshits, an old colonist. A promising wealth of the materials on Jewish folk theater that could still be found in the older Jewish agricultural colonies in the south of Ukraine encouraged him to pay more attention to this genre in the upcoming years[26]. Jewish folk theater performances would eventually turn into Beregovskii’s major research topic that occupied him for the rest of his life  and resulted in the most extensive and monumental manuscript of the last volume of the scholar’s five-volume “Anthology of Jewish Music Folklore” dedicated exclusively to purimshpils[27].  Although the manuscript was prepared to publication in 1942 and revised in 1945-1960, it remained unknown and unpublished for dozens of years. Selected portions of the manuscript finally appeared in print in 2001 thanks to Beregovskii’s daughter Edda’s efforts[28].

Several reasons motivated Beregovskii’s interest in field recordings of the plays. He laid them out in the introduction to the 5th volume:

-   Although many earlier researchers stressed the importance of the music in the purimshpils, none of them had opportunity to study it. In Beregovskii’s own words, “ignoring this extremely important component of the folk plays inevitably affected completeness of the research and  […] its major conclusions”[29];
-   Very few music transcriptions of the purimshpils’ melodies were ever published and they covered  insufficient part of only one play - “Akhashveyresh-shpil”;
-   “Versions of the Akhashveyresh-shpil recorded in the old Jewish agricultural colonies […] preserved many more older elements of the play comparatively with versions recorded  in other places”[30]

According to Beregovskii, assembling all available versions of the purimshpils was a planned task of the research work of the entire Folklore Department of the Cabinet since the mid-1930s, and by 1941 16 extensive versions and 4 fragments of various plays were either recorded on phono cylinders or collected with music notations from the performers[31].

Although the scholar identified 12 different types of purimshpils based on various biblical stories, he singled out the “Akhashveyresh-shpil” as the largely popular and mostly musical play that resembled the actual opera, with well-defined arias, songs, recitatives, and solo, choir and instrumental components. While the “Akhashveyresh-shpil” centered on the real Purim story from the Scroll of Esther about Mordechai, Esther and Haman and salvaging of the Jews, the other types of purimshpils focused on the well-known, but not Purim-related Bible stories. For example, “Yosef-shpil” conveyed a story of Joseph, Jacob’s son, sold into slavery by his brothers, and Joseph’s generous forgiveness. Another popular subject for Purim plays was “Akeydes Yitskhok” (The Binding od Isaac”), in which God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but in the last minute recalled his request and Isaac was saved.

Several versions of these three most popular folk plays were recorded during two short expeditions to the oldest Jewish agricultural colonies of the Southern Ukraine in 1938 and 1939.

The first expedition to Kalinindorf and Kalinindorf district (Shterndorf and a collective farm “Arbet” (“Labor”) in Molotov village council) on October 21 - November 1938 resulted in recordings of the fragments of “Akhashveyresh-shpil” from Yudl Vinov, 50, at the collective farm “Arbet”. Vinov used to play the role of Akhashveyresh in his native colony Romanovka till 1905[32]. Selected fragments of “Yosef-shpil” were also recorded in Shterndorf from Berl Rezin, 56, who remembered the play from 1896-1898[33]. Additionally, a few segments of “Yosef-shpil” were recorded from Hersh Duker, 69, at the collective farm “Arbet” and from a woman, K. Fesachina, in Kalinindorf[34].

The expedition to Ingulets[35], Krasni Pod and Novovitebsk in May 22 - 29 1939 was very productive in terms of reconstructing the most complete version of “Akhashveyresh-shpil” that served as foundation of the whole Purimshpil volume’s research. The text and music of the play were recorded on 12 cylinders from a single performer Pinya Lundin in Ingulets.  Lundin possessed a remarkable memory and was able to put down on paper the entire text of the play in advance of ten recoding session[36]. Another, shorter versions of the “Akhashveyresh-shpil” and the play “Akeydes Yitskhok” were recorded from Sholem Khaykin, 60, head of the post office in Ingulets.

Beregovskii’s successful efforts to capture the music of Jewish agricultural colonies on the phonograph recordings were outstanding by their scope, variety and geography.  They were also extremely timely. In the 1930s it was already quite difficult to find informants that would remember texts and melodies of the lengthy purimshpils, rare Yiddish songs and tunes and describe circumstances of the traditional performance, and Beregovskii had to rely on the local activists, volunteers and friends of the Cabinet to identify the performers and plan the trips.  But much bigger, tragic challenges were awaiting ahead. Most of the performers, young and old, perished in the Holocaust as a major part of the population of the colonies was not able to escape in advance of the German occupation. Jewish peasants were not even considered a priority group targeted for evacuation by the Soviet authorities and in the midst of chaotic events of the beginning of the Nazi invasion many decided to stay cherishing their conservative views and hopes about “good Germans” and isolation and distant location of the colonies.

The old phonographic recordings miraculously survived thanks to Beregovskii’s own heroic efforts and organizational skills during WWII and afterwards. The sounds we can hear now serve as extraordinary informative resource and monument to the distinct culture of the Jewish agricultural colonies and unique musical traditions that were well preserved there till 1941. 


[1] From 1928 to 1933 Beregovskii held a position of a Head of the Section for Jewish Music Folklore within a larger Section for Ethnography and Folklore at the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture (further- IJPC) at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. In 1933 Beregovskii was promoted to become a Head of the Department for Ethnography and Folklore. In 1936, after the Institute was closed down and then transformed into the Cabinet for Jewish Language, Literature and Culture, Beregovskii became a Head of the Folklore Division of the Cabinet. He held this position through March 1949, when the Cabinet was shut down by Soviet authorities.

[2] I’m grateful to Efim Melamed for providing an important reference to a planned monograph on Kalinindorf region found, sadly, in the KGB interrogation files of a defendant Bliashov, I.I. [Isaak Izrailevich]. Bliashov testified that in the beginning of his employment at IJPC as a Head of Social Economic Section (August 1935) he was engaged in preparing a monograph on Kalinindorf. See: The Central State Archive of Public Associations of Ukraine in Kiev, Fond 263, Opis 1, folder 37113, vol. 2, f.7.

[3] Kalinindorf’s historical name till 1927 was Bol’shaia Seidemenukha, or big “quite field”, in translation from Hebrew. The colony was established in 1809. The Kalinindorf district was a part of the Odessa region (or oblast’) till 1937, when it became incorporated into the Nikolaev region. Till 1917, Kalinindorf and the surrounding area belonged to the Kerson province of the Russian Empire. Circa 12,000 Jews resided in the district in 1927.

[4] OZET - Obshchestvo zemleustroistva evreiskikh trudiashchikhsia, or Society for Settling Toiling Jews, functioned in the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1938.

[5] In Beregovskii’s letter to Isaak Solomonovich Rabinovich and Mariia Fedorovna Poryvkina from October 30, 1935, Beregovskii mentions that he "intensively prepares for a trip to Kalinindorf region” and his plan was to leave after November 20th. See:  Arfy na verbakh: prizvanie i sud’ba Moiseia Beregovskogo/ compiled by Edda Beregovskaia. Moscow. 1994. P.97.

[6] Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny : kolektsiia fonohrafichnykh zapysiv ievreĭsʹkoho folʹkloru iz fondiv Institutu rukopysu : anotovanyĭ kataloh fonotsylindriv ta notnykh i tekstovykh rozshifrovok. Kyiv, 2001. P. 516-517. For a complete list of recordings of the 1936 expedition see this edition, pp. 516-582.

[7] The cylinders Beregovskii was using in the expeditions in 1936-1939 were typically larger than the standard size, could easily accommodate up to 7 minutes of sound each and fit 5 or 6 short recordings.

[8] Shchukin, V.V., Pavliuk, A.N. Evreiskie zemledel’cheskie kolonii Khersonskoi gubernii (XIX - nachalo XX vv.): ocherki istorii. Nikolaev, 2016. P. 316.

[9] See cylinder # 922/4. Performed by Mikhail Leviant, 20, in Bobrovyi Kut on January 16, 1936.

[10] See cylinder # 922/5. Recorded from Moyshe Podvalner, 35, student of the tractor training courses, in Bobrovyi Kut on January 16, 1936.

[11] Beregoskii, M. Evreiskii muzykal’nyi fol’klor/ pod obshchei red. M. Vinera. Moskva: Gos. muzykal’noe izd-vo, 1934. P. 16 This statement was later called “a direct Trotskist defamation of the Soviet reality” and used as a major charge in Beregovskii’s conviction process in 1950. See: The Central State Archive of Public Associations of Ukraine in Kiev, Fond 263, Opis 1, folder 36960, ff.70-76. All references to Beregovskii’s prosecution file were made possible with assistance of Efim Melamed.

[12] Beregovski M. Di yidishe sovetishe folkslid. In: Farmest. Literarish-kinstlerisher un kritish-bibliografisher zhurnal. Kiev, 1937. Vol. 11. Pp. 94-104.

[13] Yidishe folks-lider/ Tsunoyfgeshtelt M.Beregovski un I. Fefer. Kiev: Ukrmelikhenatsmindfarlag, 1938. Pp. 437-474.

[14] However, Beregovskii includes this collection as complied by him and S. Shnayder in the list of publications attached to his prosecution file. See: The Central State Archive of Public Associations of Ukraine in Kiev, Fond 263, Opis 1, folder 36960, f.373. The reference made possible with assistance of Efim Melamed. Sovetishe lider mit melodyes. Kiev: Melukhe-farlag far di natsyonale minderhaytn in USSR, 1940.

[15] Besides Beregovskii, three other people were employed in the Folklore Department: Ruvim Iakovlevich Lerner, Ina Aronovna Shargorodskaia and Ida Moiseevna Shaikis. They were later joined by Sarah Shnayder.

[16] See Beregovskii’s letter to Isaak Solomonovich Rabinovich and Mariia Fedorovna Poryvkina from July 30, 1936. “Arfy na verbakh: prizvanie i sud’ba Moiseia Beregovskogo”/ compiled by Edda Beregovskaia. Moscow. 1994. P.97. Beregovskii notes that he is “supposed to stay in this new “bastard” (Cabinet).

[17] Ibid. Letter from October 1 1936. P. 99.

[18] Ibid. Letter from October 1 1936. P. 98.

[19] Ibid. Letter from November 19, 1936. P. 99.

[20] Ibid. Letter from November 21, 1936. P. 98. This idea was not materialized. Separate articles that possibly were seen as chapters of the monograph were prepared to publication in 1946 and 1948, but also remained unpublished. For more information see: M. Beregovskii. Master fol’klornykh pesen v zerkale ispolnotel’skikh variantov. In: Iz fondov Kabineta rukopisei Rossiiskogo instituta istorii iskusstv. Vol. 4. St. Petersburg, 2007. P. 98. Translation from Yiddish and introductory article by Ye.V. Khazdan.

[21] Remained unpublished. A complete set of page proofs of the 2nd volume of Anthology is now in the YIVO Archives, RG 1.2, folder 172.

[22] Yidishe folks-lider/ Tsunoyfgeshtelt M.Beregovski un I. Fefer. Kiev: Ukrmelikhenatsmindfarlag, 1938.

[23] See Beregovskii’s letters to Isaak Solomonovich Rabinovich and Mariia Fedorovna Poryvkina from December 11, 1936 and April 6, 1937. “Arfy na verbakh: prizvanie i sud’ba Moiseia Beregovskogo”/ compiled by Edda Beregovskaia. Moscow, 1994. Pp. 99-100.

[24] Cylinders ## 979-1008. For a complete list of recordings see: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny… Kyiv, 2001. Pp. 602-625.

[25] Cylinder # 997/4. Performed by Avrom Alpert. Recorded in Dzhelal, at the collective farm “Sotsgevet” (“Socialist competition”) on July 18, 1937.

[26] Cylinders ##1004-1008. Recorded from Aron Borisovich Lifshits in Novozlatopol on July 27, 1937. Unfortunately, these recordings didn’t survive. Beregovskii cleared the cylinders after the content was transcribed in order to free the space for the next set of recordings. See: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny… Kyiv, 2001. Pp. 624-625. Lifshits’s version, along with his detailed remarks about circumstances of performance, characters and actors, costumes, and staging details, constitutes variant 4 in Beregovskii’s 5th volume. See: Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev: Dukh i litera, 2001. Pp. 295-328.

[27] Purimshpul is a folk theater play based on the story from the Scroll of Esther and performed during the Purim holiday to recount how Mordechai and Esther rescued the Jews from a massacre by Haman, king of Persia.

[28] Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev: Dukh i litera, 2001. Beregovskii indicated the date of completing the Purim-shpil manuscript as 1942 in his bibliography prepared in 1956 (see p. 641 of this edition); the revision dates 1945-1960 are indicated on p. 136.

[29] Ibid. P. 34.

[30] Ibid. P. 121.

[31] Ibid. P. 35.

[32] Cylinders ## 1037-1039. See: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny… Pp. 643-644. The purimshpil was published in: Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev, 2001. Pp. 348-359.

[33] Cylinders ## 1039 - 1041, 1043. See: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny… Pp. 644-647. The purimshpil was published in: Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev, 2001. Pp. 625-635.

[34] Cylinders ## 1042 (Hersh Duker), and 1044-1945 (K. Fesachina). See: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny…  Pp. 645-646. Hersh Duker’s variant was published in: Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev, 2001. Pp. 636-639.

[35] Ingulets (formerly - Har Shefer, or Pleasant Mountain, in translation from Hebrew) was established in 1809.

[36] Cylinders ## 1050-1062. See: Sholokhova, Liudmila. Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny… Pp. 647-651. Lundin’s version was published in: Beregovskiĭ, M. Purim shpil: evreiskie narodnye muzykalʹno-teatralʹnye predstavleniia. Kiev, 2001.Pp. 154-224.

Expeditions of Moisei Beregovskii, 1936-1939: Songs, Melodies and Purimshpils of Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the South Ukraine