In 1926 the famous American black singer, Paul Robeson, made famous a song that had been written in the1870’s describing life under slavery in the days of America’s tragic history. It was written by an American slave to recall the lonely and abandoned years of life which he endured.
It has been a part of American folk songs for more than one hundred years. It is the heart-breaking song of a poor slave yearning for his lost mother. Its words can have emotional meaning for holocaust survivors mourning for mothers who can never be seen again.
America’s black singers have sung the verses with great feeling and passion. The father is not mentioned. The song is solely dedicated to lost mothers “a long way from home”.
I have attempted to use its touching melody with a slight change in words.
“Sometimes I feel like a wifeless old man….”, when thinking often of my beloved wife whom I lost in 2016. A wife “never to be seen again”.
Like my own dear mother, my cherished wife was my life’s comfort. Our souls were intertwined but when her soul was cut away from my soul I became the “motherless child” mourning for my wife.
Five unhappy years have passed without a day of respite. My children are angry with me. “It’s time to stop crying already. It’s enough of the tears. Ima would not want you to mourn so long for her”.
But for me, in my old age and nearing the end of my own life, I cannot stop mourning for the greatest love of my life. So I pay little attention to children’s well-meaning criticism and I choose to mourn as a “wifeless old man”. The mourning helps me never to forget her. It causes me pain but it is a pain I chose to endure as a sign of my constant and eternal love.
When the song was written in the 1870’s, the American Civil War had ended but the very bitter memories did not end and in many places in the American south the bitterness still continues.
Jews, perhaps more than any other people, are able to understand the bitterness. Memories of the Holocaust which ended seventy-six years ago are deeply preserved and engraved in the hearts and minds of those who suffered and who lost members of families and dear friends.
“Z’chor” was and is our watchword. “Remember!”. Never forget. Teach your children who were not born in those bitter years. Teach them the history of our suffering. Teach them the stories of the motherless children. “Z’chor” ! Remember. Never forget.
American blacks wrote and sang the words to “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”.
For Jews it is not “sometimes”; it is “always”. The pain does not dissipate nor does it ever vanish.
For black slaves chained and beaten at hard labor there was always a mother to long for but never seen.
Songs are frequently good therapy. The melodies touch our hearts. The words touch our emotions. And both help us always to remember.
In today’s corrupt political life in Israel, words in songs and poems of the past help us to remember the wishes of our leaders and poets of former days.
Bialik and Tchernichovsky, the two greatest Hebrew poets in early Israel, gave us through their magnificent words the inspiration to build our country with our sweat and toil, our blood and our love.
We have done it. And we must not allow a corrupt leadership to take it away from us. We are, thank God, not motherless-stateless children. Israel is our mother. And we are not away from our home. Israel is our home!
In the 1870’s, American blacks recalling the misery of their lives in slavery, could write and sing “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, A Long Way From Home”.
Not so us, praised be our God. In Israel we are not motherless nor are we far from home.
Our eternal home is here in the State of Israel, our gift from God and our thanks to those who labored in tilling the soil and who made the desert bloom again.
Rejoice, O people of Israel. Rejoice in the present and remember the past.
Together, the beautiful future years will be our gift to those who will come after us.
Five elections….maybe six or seven more… are a national disgrace. Purify Israel by remembering the past and by building a happier and saner future.
“Sometimes I feel like a happy Israeli”. But NOT sometimes. ALWAYS is a truer word!