think it's understandable that Ai-le-lu of all my father's poems is especially
important to me, his son. It is after all a lullaby addressed to me, and it is
also one of his most poignant in dealing with his own place in the world. Its
opening stanza reference to the famous Goldfadn lullaby about the father who sells
"Rozhinkes und mandln" raisins and almonds. But he, Alter, does NOT
do that-no he is a manual laborer and thus lower on the scale of prestige among
those around him. Nor is there the little white kid underneath the boy's crib.
That little white kid that the painter Chagall used so often to symbolize security.
No, instead this lullaby paints a picture of urban disquiet-the old clothes man
on the stairs, the little rubber manikin that can be made to jump and run-perhaps
also the need for Alter to jump and run at the foreman's wishes. A carpenter in
those days had to work very hard. And then to sing a song about the wild bear
in the middle of the forest. I once asked my father, why put such a frightening
figure into a lullaby and he said because "Look at the Grimm's fairy tales they
are full of fearsome creatures and dangers. It's the way a father can forewarn
his child as to the reality of life." Not exactly from the Dr. Spock handbook,
but it was OK with me. One of my earliest memories (I may have been all of four)
was standing on a small podium at the Arbeter Ring, dressed in a white sailor
suit and reciting Ai-le-lu in Yiddish.
Joseph Esselin --- July 2, 2000
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