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Spiritual Almanac – Mordechai Gebirtig: January 19, 2021

Jan 19, 2021

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Today’s inspiration comes to us from the Yiddish poet and songwriter, Mordechai Gebirtig. A working-class Jew from Krakow, Gebirtig was a furniture worker by day, and a musician and actor the rest of the time. He published his first collection of songs in 1920 under the title Folkstimlekh, or “of the folk.” and his songs quickly became fixtures in Yiddish theater. But Gebirtig’s life was cut short in 1942 when he was killed by the Nazis during the “Bloody Thursday” shooting in the Krakow ghetto.

Gebirtig’s best-known work is a song titled, “S’brent” or “It Is Burning.” He wrote it in 1938 as a response to anti-semitic violence in the Polish town of Przytyk. During WWII, the Jewish resistance adopted “It Is Burning” as its anthem and it was sung in ghettos across German-occupied Europe. Although it was written for a different time and place, it still serves as a call to action against fascism and injustice for people around the world.

 

IT IS BURNING

 By Mordechai Gebirtig

It is burning, brothers, it is burning.
Our poor little town, a pity, burns!
Furious winds blow,
Breaking, burning and scattering,
And you stand around
With folded arms.
O, you stand and look
While our town burns.

It is burning, brothers, it is burning
Our poor little town, a pity, burns~
The tongues of fire have already
Swallowed the entire town.
Everything surrounding it is burning,
And you stand around
While our town burns.

It is burning, brothers, it is burning!
You are the only source of help.
If you value your town,
Take up the tools to put out the fire,
Put out the fire with your own blood.
Don’t just stand there, brothers,
with your arms folded.
Don’t just stand there, brothers,
Put out the fire, because our town is burning.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Notes From the Warsaw Ghetto by Emmanual Ringelblum and Jacob Sloan

Some more inspirational nuggets for today:

  • This day in 1943 saw the first Warsaw ghetto uprising. It was triggered by the Nazis’ attempt to deport Warsaw’s Jews to the death camps. Led by the Jewish resistance, hundreds of Warsaw residents took up gasoline bottles and smuggled weapons to fight off German troops. Most knew their efforts held little chance of saving them. But it was about the honor of the Jewish people. Author Wladyslaw Szpilman wrote, “It’s a disgrace to us all … We’re letting them take us to our death like sheep to the slaughter! … We could break out of the ghetto, or at least die honourably, not as a stain on the face of history!” During the first uprising, the Germans deported 5,000 Jews from the ghetto — 3,000 less than they had planned to remove. But the people’s victory was short-lived. By May, the Nazis had completely destroyed the ghetto and deported its remaining residents to the camps.
  • On a lighter note, today is National Popcorn Day. Popcorn’s roots trace back to the Aztec empire, and there’s evidence they popped corn as early as 4700 BC. But popcorn wasn’t just a snack food for the Aztecs — it was also an element in their religious rituals. When the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, encountered the Aztecs he reported they wore popcorn garlands in dances performed in honor of the rain god, Tlaloc. The Aztecs used popcorn in a religious ceremony for the protection of fisherman, too. They believed the popcorn looked like hailstones, and they offered it to the gods of the water to satisfy them. Popcorn also figured into the celebration of the festival of Toxcatl during the rainy season. While the men performed a winding procession called the “serpent dance,” the women mingled among them to perform the “popcorn dance,” dancing and jumping in a way that resembled popping kernels.

Eat your heart out, Orville Redenbacher. And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac. Thanks for listening.

Be kind, take care of each other and I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

“It Is Burning” by Mordechai Gebirtig. Public domain.

For the audio podcast, visit https://spiritualalmanac.buzzsprout.com.

For the video podcast, visit https://www.youtube.com/c/Granolasoul.

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