The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #22526   Message #244382
Posted By: GUEST,judy
19-Jun-00 - 09:31 AM
Thread Name: OBIT: Yiddish folklorist Ruth Rubin (1906-2000)
Subject: Yiddish songs folklorist Ruth Rubin
From: Joanna Cazden
Sun 7:45 PM
Subject: Ruth Rubin, 93, Folklorist of Yiddish Songs By MARGALIT FOX
June 17, 2000

Ruth Rubin, 93, Folklorist of Yiddish Songs

Ruth Rubin, a scholar, collector and performer of Yiddish folk songs who lugged a tape recorder into hundreds of immigrants' living rooms in an effort to preserve a vanishing cultural tradition, died on Sunday in Mamaroneck, N.Y. She was 93. A resident of the Sarah R. Neumann Nursing Home, she formerly lived in Manhattan.

One of the first women to become a prominent folklorist, Mrs. Rubin was also among the first American scholars to document the culture of Eastern European Jews, anticipating by decades the Yiddish revival of the 1970's. Starting in the 1930's, she amassed a collection of about 2,000 songs --love ballads, lullabies, songs of the factories and streets -- still considered unparalleled in its scope.

"It is arguably the most important collection, because it's so early," said Steven Zeitlin, the director of City Lore, the New York Center for Urban Folk Culture. "Much of the material dies with the succession of generations.

She was collecting songs from the people that learned them in the old country."

Mrs. Rubin, whose books included "A Treasury of Jewish Folksong" (1950) and "Voices of a People: The Story of Yiddish Folksong" (1963), also performed the songs in concert and on records. Her studio recordings, first made for Folkways in the 1940's, are available through the Smithsonian Institution.

"Eastern European Yiddish folk song," Mrs. Rubin wrote in the preface to "Voices of a People," "reflects vividly the life of a community of many millions over a period of many generations. In the songs, we catch the manner of speech and phrase, the wit and humor, the dreams and aspirations, the nonsense, jollity, the pathos and struggle of an entire people."

Unlike klezmer music, which was performed primarily by men at public occasions, the songs Mrs. Rubin collected flourished in more intimate, domestic settings -- in the kitchen, over the cradle -- and were sung almost exclusively by women, a group largely ignored by the cultural chroniclers of her day. "While Irving Howe was writing 'World of Our Fathers,' she was, in a sense, at work on the world of our mothers," Mr. Zeitlin said.

Mrs. Rubin was born Rifke Rosenblatt in Montreal on Sept. 1, 1906, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia. As a young woman she moved to New York, with its swirling ferment of Yiddish music, literature and theater, and in 1929 published a volume of her own poems in Yiddish. In 1932 she married Harry Rubin, who died in 1971; the couple's only child, Michael, died in 1959. Mrs. Rubin is survived by a sister, Esther Spivack Marks, of Toronto.

In the mid-1930's Mrs. Rubin began to concentrate seriously on folklore, going on to study with the eminent Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich and, during World War II, translating diaries smuggled out of ghettos and Nazi camps.

With the end of the war and the revelation of the extent of the Holocaust, and of its sweeping destruction of Yiddish culture, Mrs. Rubin became even more determined to preserve a piece of what remained by making field recordings.

Dragging her bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder from house to house in cities in Canada and the United States, she captured well-known songs like "Roizhinkes Mit Mandeln" ("Raisins and Almonds") and lesser-known material like "A Brivele der Maman" ("A Little Letter to Mama") and "Oy, di lumpn /zey zenen shpionen" ("Oh, the lumpen / they are spies").

In the last decades of the 20th century, Mrs. Rubin's work was a cornerstone of the Yiddish revival movement. With an older generation of Jewish singers dying off, young musicians who wanted to learn Yiddish folksongs turned to her books and records. Mrs. Rubin's field recordings are now housed in various collections, including the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Mrs. Rubin earned a Ph.D. in 1976 from Union Graduate School in Cleveland, writing her dissertation on the songs of Jewish women. She received an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory of Music and YIVO's Lifetime Achievement Award, among other honors.

Although she performed in prestigious concert halls like Town Hall and the Carnegie Recital Hall, Mrs. Rubin regarded these appearances not as recitals but as links in a chain of cultural transmission she hoped would stretch far into the future.

"She didn't try and put on any great airs," recalled the folk singer Pete Seeger, a longtime friend who occasionally performed with her. "She just sang a song very simply. She was mainly interested in seeing that the song got out so that other people would learn it and sing."