STLT#222, Mi Y’Malel

It is apparently old folky week here at the Far Fringe… because I first learned this song a million years ago through a recording by The Weavers:

Yessiree, that’s Pete Seeger on the banjo, along with the incredible Ronnie Gilbert on lead vocals, along with Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman. I remember once in my twenties hearing Holly Near, whose music I had learned at Girl Scout camp, singing with Ronnie Gilbert, and it was an embarrassingly long time before I connected Gilbert as the female singer in the Weavers.

I know I’m hardly writing about the song these last few days, because I suddenly find myself swimming in the deep blue waters of memory. I suppose some of it is that I’m at the end of a ministry and ready to launch a new one, some of it is that I’m just a couple of weeks away from my ordination, but certainly some of it is that the Hymnal Commission had the good sense to include in our Living Tradition music that resonates beyond its immediate meaning. For just as Light One Candle is about Hanukkah but so much more, so is Mi Y’Malel. And these songs carry with them lyrical meaning but also the meaning of a time, when folk exploded in the American consciousness as a gentle, familiar form to help us enter the difficult sideways.

Anyway, this is a traditional Hebrew song for Hanukkah, given life by our familiar and beloved folkies, and now preserved with all its meaning and memory for us.

Mi y’malel g’vurot Yisrael Otan mi yimneh?
Henb’chol dor yakum hagibor, Goel Haam.

Sh’ma! Bayamin hahem baz’man hazeh.
Makabi moshia u fodeh,
Us v’ya menu kol am Yisrael,
Yitached, yakum v’yigael.

Mi y’malel g’vurot Yisrael Otan mi yimneh?
Henb’chol dor yakum hagibor, Goel Haam.

Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them?
In every age a hero or sage came to our aid.

Ah! At this time of year in days of yore
Maccabees the Temple did restore,
and today our people, as we dreamed,
will arise, unite, and be redeemed.

Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them?
In every age a hero or sage came to our aid.

Who can retell the things that befell us? We must preserve the stories and write the histories and make sure future generations – and we in the present – know what happened. This is important, certainly today in this weird time of alternative facts and fake news. Who will be our heroes and sages….and bards?

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