Friday 26 July 2019


            He was a folk poet, born in Pshemishl (Przemyśl), Galicia.  His impoverished parents died when he was young.  An autodidact, he mastered German, Polish, and French, and as a teacher of foreign languages he traveled through a variety of towns.  Living a Bohemian life, he was incapable of remaining in any one place for long, and on one occasion he landed in jail for three years after a tragic incident in 1905 with his students in Przemyśl, whence he had returned home ca. 1888.  He later departed for Cracow, where he suddenly went blind in 1915 and died several months later.  Shafir wrote songs of the wedding entertainer sort and for various occasions, though many of them were also on topics of emancipation, love of Zion, the “eternal people” [the Jews], and Hanukkah, among others.  From the large number of songs that he composed, only a small proportion appeared in book form: Tanyis beys yude, klangen der tokhter yudes (Sorrow of the house of Judah, rumors about Judah’s daughter) (Vilna, 1874), 71 pp.; Em al habonim, oder freydele di mame (A mother of sons, or Mother Freydele), a Hebrew-Yiddish mixture (Lemberg, 1881), 31 pp.; Shire beys yude, lider iber di verfolgung der yuden in rusland un dem antisemitizmus in andere lender in der mundart der yuden galitsyens, mit hebreisher iberzetsung (Poems of the house of Judah, songs of persecution of the Jews in Russia and anti-Semitism in other countries in the dialect of Galician Jews, with Hebrew translation) (Lemberg, 1883), 63 pp.; Melodyen oys der gegend am san, gedikhte und lieder in galitsish-yidishes dyalekte, tsveyter theyl Der lekhem haklokl, muntere, yudish-interesante lieder, kuplets, satires, und a kleyne komishe oper (Melodies from the region of Am San, poems and songs in the Galician Yiddish dialect, second part of Miserable Food, hearty interesting Jewish songs, couplets, satires, and a small comic opera) (Cracow: A. Poyst, 1886), 85 pp.; A nayer shoshanes yankev (A new Rose of Jacob) (Cracow, 1912), 32 pp.; the poem Giborot yisrael, o nerot ḥanuka, ḥezyon / Yisroels helden, oder khanike-likhtlekh, vizyon (Heroes of Israel, or Hanukkah candles, a vision) (Cracow, 1912/1913), 36 pp.  His work also appeared in: Morris Basin, 500 yor yidishe poezye (500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1922); and Shmuel Rozhanski, Di froy in der yidisher poezye (Women in Yiddish poetry) (Buenos Aires, 1966).  For virtually all of his poems, Shafir wrote accompanying melodies, which helped make them popular more rapidly, with some embraced as anonymous folksongs.  “Several of his songs,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “possess in their excessive length of the wedding entertainer authentic poetic carriage, which show him to be a true poet.  Also, the technique employed in his poetry was genuinely elevated,…a very rare virtue for that era.”  “Save for the Germanized language of his poetry,” noted Morris Basin, “…Shafir is one of the most significant Galician Yiddish folk-poets.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 30, 1954); Dov Sadan, Avne miftan, masot al sofre yidish (Milestones, essays on Yiddish writers), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1961), pp. 134, 138-40, 200; Shloyme Bikl, in Tog (New York) (April 18, 1965); A. Forsher, in Forverts (New York) (January 8, 1978).
Berl Cohen

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