Hey Zhankoye

On Saturday, May 26th, I gave my talk and slide show on Jewish farmers in Sharon and Amenia at the Roeliff Jansen Community library in Hillsdale, New York. This little-known Jewish farming community was one of hundreds of such communities around the country in the first decades of the twentieth century, all made possible by mortgage loans from the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society, a fund established by the wealthy Jewish philanthropist, Baron Maurice de Hirsch.  De Hirsch believed that, only by becoming farmers, would Jews be seen as productive members of society and so end anti-Semitism.

In the audience at Roeliff Jansen was a woman who had grown up in Woodbine, New Jersey, in some ways the premiere Jewish farming community, as it also contained the Woodbine Jewish Agricultural School, aimed at teaching the latest farming techniques to the sons of Jewish farmers.  She surprised and delighted me by reciting a Yiddish song, Hey Zhankoye, that she had learned from her farmer grandmother.

When the woman left the Library before I could get her to give me the words, I sent out a call on email and Facebook.  A couple of weeks later, I received an email from Alexia Lali, along with several links to the song. Thank you Alexia!

As it turns out, the Zhankoye memorialized in this song was a Jewish collective farm established during the Stalin era in the Crimean region of the Ukraine, recently recaptured by Russia. What this song, sung in Woodbine, New Jersey, suggests to me is an ongoing connection between Russian Jewish farmers who had settled in America and those Russian Jews who had remained in the Ukraine and, for a time, been given the land in which to farm.

A number of artists have recorded this song, including Theodore Bikel and the Limeliters, and several recordings are available on YouTube at the following links:

Here are the lyrics as recorded by McCaskey, with English translation:

Yiddish Lyrics

As men fort kine Sevastopol
Iz nit veit fun Simferopol
Dortin iz a stantzi faran
Ver darf zuchen niye glikken
S’iz a stanziye an antikel
In Zhankoye, Dzhan, dzan, dzhan

Chorus:

Hey Zhan hey Zhankoye
Hey Zhanvili, hey Zhankoye
Hey Zhankoye, Dzhan, Dzhan, Dzhan

Enfert Yidden af mine Kashe
Vi’z mine brider, v’iz Abrashe
S’gayt ba im der traktor vi a bahn
Di mime Layre ba der kosilke
Bayle ba der molotilke
In Zhankoye, Dzhan, Dzhan, Dzhan

Chorus

Ver zogt az Yidden kene nit handlen
Essen fette yoich mit mandlen
Nor nit zine kine arbitsman?
Doss kenen zogen nor di sonim
Yidden shpite zay on in ponim
Tit a kik af Dzhan, Dzhan, Dzhan

Chorus

English translation:

If you go to Sevastopol
On the way to Sinferopol
Just you go a little further down
There we have a railroad station
Known quite well throughout the nation
As Zhankoye, Dzhan

Chorus:

Hey Zhan, hey Zhankoye
Hey Zhanvili, hey Zhankoye
Hey Zhankoye, Dzhan, Dzhan, Dzhan

Now if you look for Paradise
You’ll see it there before your eyes
Stop your search and go no further on
There we had a collective farm
All run by husky Jewish arms
In Zhankoye, Dzhan

Chorus

Aunt Natasha drives the tractor
Grandma runs the cream extractor
Work together hand in hand
Help to build a better land
In Zhankoye, Dzhan

Chorus