Romania, Romania, 2019, HD Video, 2’28, loop

Romania, Romania

A video work, is inspired by the life of the artist’s great-grandmother from his mother’s side, who was born into a large Jewish family in the village of Bryanka in the Lugansk region of Ukraine. She lived the majority of her life in Odessa. In 1941, when Romanian troops entered the city, she first hid in the catacombs and small caves near Odessa. Later, she decided to return to the city.

In the mid 1930s, she burned all her Jewish documents and changed her name to a Russian version. However, she surmised that the copies were stored in the local archive. When she returned home during the occupation, she discovered that the Romanian commandant of Transnistria had settled in the same building where she lived.

In a few days, she turned completely gray—the proximity with this fascist figure, tolerated in tortured silence, was psychologically desaturating. Her daughter, the artist’s grandmother, played everyday in the backyard with the children of the Transnistrian commandant. All boundaries had collapsed… boundaries that were personal and boundaries which were arbitrarily annexed, occupied, and re-authored.

The video shows the 1944 execution of this commandant, the antisemitic Marshal Ion Antonescu, and other commanders. The artist has mixed the video with Klezmer song, Romania, Romania sung by the artist.

Aaron Lebedeff was a Yiddish theater super star whose popularity among Jews during the 1920s and 1930s made his name a household word. More than 80 years before performers could go viral on the internet, Lebedeff was making a name for himself by driving audiences wild with his energetic and exuberant live performances. He was a super-star, like Mick Jagger, who was able to excite audiences and leave them wanting more.

His devil-may-care free spirit, love of life and allusions to sensual delights helped to create his exciting persona. Whether dressed in traditional Russian garb and boots or formal attire with straw hat and cane, his dynamic presence always kept him the center of attention. He understood nostalgia for the shtetl and was able use it to rouse his audiences’ emotions. His best known recording, Roumania, Roumania, was originally released in 1925. His second version, recorded with Sholem Secunda and Dave Tarras in 1941, became a best-selling Yiddish recording during the 1940s and still brings a smile to almost everyone who hears it!

Rumania, Rumania

Ekh! Rumania, Rumania, Rumania …
Geven amol a land a zise, a sheyne.
Ekh! Rumania, Rumania, Rumania …
Geven amol a land a zise, a fayne.
Dort tsu voynen iz a fargenign;
Vos dos harts glust kenstu krign:
A mamaligele, a pastramele, a karnatsele,
Un a glezele vayn, aha … !

Ay, in Rumania iz dokh git
Fun keyn dayges veyst men nit
Vayn trinkt men iberal –
M’farbayst mit kashtaval.
Hay, digadi dam …

Ay, in Rumania iz dokh git
Fun keyn zorgn veyst men nit.
Vayn trinkt men, s’meg zayn shpet
Men farbayst a kastrovet.
Hay digadi dam …

Oy, gevald, ikh ver meshige!
Ikh lib nor brinze, mamalige;
Ikh tants un frey zikh biz der stelye
Ven ikh es a patlazhele
Dzing ma, tay yidldi tam …
Ay, s’iz a mekhaye, beser ken nit zayn!
Ay, a fargenign iz nor Rumeynish vayn.

Di Rumeyner trinkn vayn
Un esn mamalige;
Ver es kisht zayn eygn vayb,
Ah, yener is meshige.
Zets, dzing ma, tay yidl di tam …

“Yokum purkon min shmayo”
Shteyt un kusht di kekhene, Khaye,
Ongeton in alte shkrabes;
Makht a kugel likoved Shabes.
Zets! Tay ti didl di tam …

Iz Myshe Khayim ongekumen
Dos beste kheylik tsugenumen;
Moyshe Khayim, Borukh Shmil –
Khapt a kitsl in der shtil.
Zets, dzing ma, tay yidl di tam …

Un dos meydl nebekh blozt zikh
Un zi vil nit, nor zi lozt zikh
Tshu!

Git tsu kishen iz a moyd
Ven zi is alt zekhtsn;
Ven men kisht an alte moyd,
Heybt zi on tsu krekhtsen.
Zets! Tay yidl di dam …
Ay, s’iz a mekhaye, beser ken nit zayn!
Ay, a fargenign iz nor Rumeynish vayn …

Translation:

Oh! Rumania, Rumania, Rumania …
Once there was a land, sweet and lovely.
Oh! Rumania, Rumania, Rumania …
Once there was a land, sweet and fine.
To live there is a pleasure;
What your heart desires you can get;
A mamalige, a pastrami, a karnatzl,
And a glass of wine, aha … !

Ay, in Rumania life is so good;
No one knows of care;
Everywhere they’re drinking wine –
And having a bite of kashtaval.
Hay, digadi dam …

Ay, in Rumania life is so good;
No one knows of worry.
They drink wine, though it’s late;
And have a bite of kastrovet.
Hay, digadi dam …

Oh, my, help, I’m going crazy!
I care only for brinze and mamalige
I dance and jump up to the ceiling
When I eat a patlazhele.
Dzing ma, tay yidldi tam …
What a pleasure, what could be better!
Oh, the only delight is Rumanian wine.

Rumanians drink wine
And eat mamalige;
And he who kisses his own wife,
Is the one who’s crazy.
Zets, dzing ma, tay yidl di tam …

“May salvation come from heaven … “
Stop and kiss the cook, Khaye,
Dressed in rags and tatters;
She makes a pudding for the Sabbath.
Zets! Tay ti didl di tam …

Moyshe Khayim comes along
And takes away the best part;
Moyshe Khayim, Borukh Shmil –
Tickle her on the sly.
Zets! Tay tidl di tam …

And the girl pouts, alas,
Seems unwilling, but allows it.
Tshu!

It’s good to kiss a lass
When she’s sweet sixteen;
When one kisses an old main,
She begins to grumble.
Zets! Tay yidl di dam …
What a pleasure, what could be better!
Oh, the only delight is Rumanian wine …