Dedicated to our beloved mother Rachel Herman on her Yahrzeit, Kaf-Zayin Ellul 27.
People all over the world love or are familiar with the famous Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack song “My Yiddishe Mama” made famous in the 1920’s by the great vaudeville star Sophie Tucker who dedicated it to her own mother. The song has enjoyed continued popularity and many top singers including Tom Jones, have become captivated by it and felt the need to record it.
What is not generally known however is that this wonderful song has inspired the Israeli singer-songwriter David Ben Reuven to write this moving tribute to his mother Rachel after she passed away in 1987 in Jerusalem. He called the song “My Yiddishe Mama Mine” and it is now an impressive Youtube video showing many scenes and personalities from Rachel’s family life.
Rachel Laja Kratka, as she was then known, was born into a well-to-do Warsaw Jewish family on March 5 1909. She was the great granddaughter of the famed Chief Rabbi of Warsaw and Cracow, Rabbi Dov Ber Maisels, a descendant of the great 15th century Halachic authority, the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles. After a period spent studying French in the Sorbonne University in Paris, the beautiful young Rachel could look forward to a life of ease in Warsaw and she had no lack of would-be suitors. However, one day her fate took her to visit a small resort town called Krinica where she chanced to meet a handsome young man from Britain named Guy Reuven Herman.
Herman, a chartered accountant by profession, had come to Poland on a fact-finding mission to assess the state of the Jews in Poland amid the growing threat of Nazi Germany. It was there that they met and fell in love and in august 1938 began a passionate correspondence, Guy writing in his basic French and she responding at first in French and later in her imperfect English and French. Their remarkable correspondence bears witness to their unshakeable commitment to each other and their courage to defy formidable odds and, in her case, the disapproval of her close family. The letters show not only their growing love for each other but also their heroic efforts to overcome the bureaucracy in England and Poland and Europe over a seven- month period from August 1938 to February 1939 when Guy finally received official permission to bring Rachel over to England and they were married on April 2 and settled down to a happy married life in London. But their happiness was rudely interrupted by the war and the Blitz on London shortly after the birth of David their first child. The Blitz forced them apart sending Rachel to evacuation at the seaside town of Bexhill and leaving Guy in London to work during the week and to be together with her on brief weekends. Rachel also had to cope with the tragedy of the Holocaust in Poland that took the lives of many members of her large family all of whom she later took care to record with Yad Vashem.
One of the memorable things Guy Reuven and Rachel did not long after the war was to foster a young Jewish boy named Zygmunt Kulas who had been brought over from Poland together with other Jewish children by Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld in the KinderTransport after having been hidden in convents during the war. Zygmunt became a much loved member of the family for several years until he was taken to Israel to be reunited with his father who had survived the war. Zygmunt, or Zalman as he was known In Israel, flourished there and in due course became a leading Bank Hapoalim economist until the Yom Kippur War when he enlisted and was tragically be killed by a Syrian sniper’s bullet on Mount Herman on the last day of the Yom Kippur War, aged 37. His two sons, Yair and Yaron, are both enjoying very successful careers in Israel today. The trip to Israel with Zalman and her sons David and Jonathan also enabled Rachel to be reunited with her beloved stepsister Paula who had married an Israeli, Ephraim Ephraty, and whose daughter Gila still lives today in Israel.
This trip to Israel aboard the famous ship Kedma to the then young State of Israel almost certainly fired the strong Zionistic streak in Rachel which was also strong in Guy Reuven so that in 1969 they fulfilled a lifelong desire and made Aliya and settled in Tel Aviv.
In the course of their happy and devoted 37-years of married life Reuven and Rachel also cultivated a strong attraction to antiques and Rachel eventually opened a small antique shop called Décor Francais in Cromwell Road in London. One of the most fascinating purchases they made was a beautiful mother of pearl inlaid papier mache table from the sale of the estate of Benjamin Disraeli the famous Earl of Beaconsfield and Prime Minister of England. They brought this delightful and historic table with them when they came on Aliya and it graced their Tel Aviv salon until 1976 when sadly Guy Reuven passed away aged 64, leaving Rachel and his family heartbroken at the loss.
in 1988 David and his brother Jonathan presented the Disraeli table to the Residence of the President of Israel where today it very often is used by visiting presidents and diplomats to sign agreements on.
Rachel carried on heroically with her life and devoted to her children and grandchildren loved by all and still beautiful and noble in her old age until finally she succumbed to illness and passed away in the Shaare Tzedek Hospital in 1987 mourned by all who loved and admired her, and now lies beside her dear Guy Reuven in the Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
No wonder then having such an impressive mother that Ben Reuven was inspired to write this beautiful and moving song dedicated to her and all that she did for him and so many others. In the beautiful video accompanying his song we see her with her beautiful smile, on her wedding day with her groom Guy Reuven and his father Isaac, with her two young and then grown-up children David and Jonathan, in her later years, and with Guy Reuven at the Kotel.
Here now is the link to David Ben Reuven’s moving song video:
YIDDISHE MAMA MINE
words and music: Ben Reuven
My Yiddishe Mama
My Yiddishe Mama
My Yiddishe Mama
She loves me, she holds me
She guides me, she scolds me
With her warmth she enfolds me
My Yiddishe Mama.
And when times are hard
And nothing’s going right
She comforts me with wisdom
And guides me with her light
And when I’m all alone
She’s always standing there
With a mother’s sweet embrace
And a look that says ‘I care’
Now the years have passed by
And taken her away
But in my heart of hearts
Still I hear her say:
“Son, I’m always with you
Come what may!
A Yiddishe Mama never goes away!”
Copyright David Ben Reuven 2002