Yiddish Revolutionaries- A Forgotten History

Yiddish Revolutionaries is a performance of Yiddish songs, Klezmer music and readings.This is our story of the Jewish Left, and aims to add a different perspective to much of the current discourse about the Jewish experience. It tells a story of poverty and resistance that has resonance  across place, time, culture and country. While the songs are sung in Yiddish, the slide show  provides translations, as well as supporting illustrations

The company consists of Yoyvl – Phil Tomlinson, Adrian Dobson and Hannah Monteiro – supplemented by Sue Cooper and Judy Sherwood.

Performance in 2019 have taken place in  Derby, New Mills, Belper and Hayfield, with great success, and arrangements are well under way for 2020, starting with Derby and Manchester in Feb 2020. Further discussions are under way including Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham. Phil taught a Yiddish Song workshop at Limmud in Edinburgh in Nov 2019, based on some of these songs.

“The music was sublime and it moved me in ways no other music does”

“I found the songs about hunger and poverty almost too much to bear”

“The production is well thought out, performed and presented”

See Events page for details of performances

Phil Tomlinson


The Company

The core of Yoyvl is the Trio of Phil Tomlinson (voice, guitar and mandolin), Adrian Dobson (accordion) and Hannah Monteiro (violin and flute). They have formed in the last few years as the Derbyshire variant of the Klezmer band, The Klatsh, which has been playing across Britain for well over a decade. Yoyvl have focused particularly on presenting a mixture of the Yiddish song repertoire with Klezmer. For the last 3 years, they have toured Mir Zaynen Do, a performance of Holocaust songs, Klezmer and narration, together with Judy Sherwood (narration). For Yiddish Revolutionaries they are delighted to be joined by Sue Cooper on double bass. Sue and Judy bring their personal experience and knowledge together with research to bring this project to life. 4 of the 5 company members have been central to the organisation  of Kleznorth, the annual weekend of klezmer music, dance and Yiddish song in Derbyshire since its inception 11 years ago.  For our first performance in Derby we were delighted to be joined by Kaleidoscope Community Choir, and then with Open Voice choir in Manchester, and hope for further choral collaborations in other locations.

Performances so far have taken place in Derby (twice), Belper, New Mills, Hayfield and Manchester, with Sheffield, Nottingham and Glossop now in the diary. Several more are in various stages of discussion. Phil is also running song workshops around the repertoire, 3 so far, with plans for Derby, Manchester and Sheffield under discussion. We would be very happy to be invited to other places.



A Very Brief History of the Jewish Left in Northern Europe.

In the latter part of the C19th there were substantial Jewish populations across much of Northern Europe, from Britain to Russia. While experience varied substantially according to location, there are some generalities. The typical Jewish family was urban rather than rural. Official accounts from Eastern Europe often identified Jews as “illiterate”, but that was because they excluded Yiddish and Hebrew from their statistics – the Jewish population was in fact more literate than the rest of the population. On the whole they were poor, formally excluded from many professions and occupations, and suffered not only from institutionally ordained discrimination, but also from periodic outbursts of pogroms – racist attacks on Jewish communities supposedly in the name of Christianity.

At the same time, the Europe-wide economic processes of industrialisation and urbanisation were progressing at speed. The social and political structures were slow to capture these changes and social pressures were building. Many people lived in great poverty, and it is no surprise therefore that we see large international movements of people beginning at this time. For the Jewish people this included moving towards the West, and large-scale emigration especially to the USA. The songs in this production describe aspects of this poverty – some in terms of individual situations, others in terms of political action.

Different Jewish people chose different strategies in response to these challenging circumstances. Some chose to emigrate. Others chose the comfort and certainties of religion. Others sought to assimilate. In this production, we focus on those who sought a better life through social change or revolution. Jewish people were major contributors to the development of socialism internationally, and especially the Russian Revolution. The Jewish socialist movement, and especially the Bund, spread across Europe, from Russia to the USA. The message of these songs and readings is that while the Jewish people were suffering badly, the solution was to unite with other working people, and overthrow the established system that only benefits the wealthy – “to struggle until the whole world will be freed” (paraphrased from the song, “In Kamf” by D. Edelshtat (1866-1892)).


The songs in Yiddish Revolutionaries can be found in a number of places, and all are in one or more of the following books, with the exception or Der Internatsional, which I have only been able to locate on line.

Anthology of Yiddish Folk Songs Book 3, A. Vinkovetzky et al, 1985, Magnes Press

Anthology of Yiddish Folk Songs Book 4, A. Vinkovetzky et al, 1987, Magnes Press

Anthology of Yiddish Folk Songs Book 5, Sinai Lechter,2000, Magnes Press

Jewish Folk Songs, ed Ruth Rubin, 1965, OAK

Mir Trogn A Gezang, ed Mlotek and Mlotek, 1972, Workmens Cicle,

Pearls of Yiddish Song, Ed Mlotek, 1988, Workmens Circle

Songs of Generations, Ed Mlotek, 2004, Workmens Circle

The Yiddish Songbook, Ed Silverman, 1983, Stein and Day

Yiddish Folk Songs, YL Cahan, ed Weinreich, 1957 YIVO

Research for Yiddish Revolutionaries has drawn on  a number of books, as well as personal histories. Together with the sources of readings, we would mention:

Children of a Vanished World, Roman Vishniac, 1999, Uni of California Press

Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100, Ed Jack Jacobs, 2001, St Martin’s Press

Of Lodz and Love ,Chava Rosenfarb, 2000, Syracuse Uni Press

Revolutionary Yiddishland, Alain Brossat 2017, Verso

The Tree of Life, Chava Rosenfarb, 2005, Uni of Wisconsin Press

What You Did Not Tell, Mark Mazover, 2017, Penguin

Whitechapel Noise, Vivi Lachs, 2018, Wayne State Uni Press

And last, but not least, thankyou Google and Wikipedia!