Many of these Yiddish songs were all but lost. Others have never been recorded. Several of them are a tribute to Mordechai Gebirtig (1877-1942), who made his living fixing old furniture while he wrote beautiful Yiddish poetry and folksongs. Also included is the ballad of Hirsh Lekert (composer unknown, collected by Moshe Beregovski in pre-Holocaust Ukraine), which is based on a true story. On May 1, 1902, factory workers in Vilna organized an illegal demonstration, which was brutally broken up by the police on the order of the Lithuanian governor, Von Wal. A few weeks later, Hirsh Lekert attempted to assassinate the governor and was later hanged. Lekert was regarded as a folk hero and martyr by the workers' movement in pre-Revolution Russia.
It is no accident that there are 18 songs on this album. In Hebrew numerology, 18 is the number for "Life", and these are songs of survival. Names can change," writes Jacques Verheijen in the liner notes. "Hirsh Lekert can become Mordechai Gebirtig, Mordechai Gebirtig can become Sacco and Vanzetti, or Steve Biko, and so many others who fought for their freedom and the right to live." You don't have to be Jewish to to appreciate this music.
The songs are solo by Mariejan van Oort, whose gentle, heartfelt voice brings authentic Yiddische schmerz (deep feeling) to the stories these songs tell. She is accompanied by Jacques Verheijan on piano, tsimbl, and guitar.