Back to the heim

Baruch Friedland has joined forces with Eddy Somiren to keep flame of some of old Yiddish songs burning brightly in 21st century.

baruch 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
baruch 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Baruch Friedland has come a long way during his two decade-plus musical career to date – particularly in recent years.
The 49-year-old, boyish-looking singer, songwriter and producer has been one of the leading members of the local pop and rock scene for around a quarter of a century. His composing efforts have benefited the likes of Gali Atari and Ilanit, while his own band, Tofa’at Doppler (The Doppler Effect) has been around, on and off, for 30 years and has released three albums to date.
Fans of Friedland’s rock-oriented efforts may be surprised to hear that he is now devoting much of his working hours to advancing an artistic project of a very different kind. He has joined forces with music producer Eddy Somiren to try to keep the flame of some of old Yiddish songs burning brightly in the 21st century. This is quite a professional departure for Somiren, too. His main line of work for the last 20 years has been in the hip-hop sector, although he has also played a fair amount of klezmer music himself.
In fact, Friedland is hardly new to Yiddish culture.
If anything, speaking Hebrew – let alone singing in the language of the modern State of Israel – is a more recent development for him. “I was born in Israel and my parents came here from Poland,” explains Friedland. “The language spoken at home was Yiddish. Up to the age of five I didn’t know any Hebrew. My mother tongue is Yiddish. I started kindergarten when I was five, and that was when I began to speak to Hebrew.”
Friedland’s musical education was even more disparate.
“I heard the Yiddish songs my parents listened to, but my older brother – he’s six years older than me – had a record player so I heard his pop and rock stuff, and there was also all the usual music from the time – you know, the top 20 pop hits, nothing too heavy.” And then there was the parental influence. “My dad used to play me things from the annual Children’s Song Festival and, of course, Yiddish songs by people like Benzion Witler and Chava Alberstein, which we heard on the record player.”
Back in Poland, his father, Moshe Friedland, had played the violin and the mandolin and written poetry. So the genetic infrastructure for Friedland’s current project was certainly in place from the start.
Most children at some stage tend to rebel against their parents’ dictates and musical preferences. That didn’t happen with Friedland. “It never bothered me to hear the Yiddish songs,” he says. “I enjoyed the music, but I also heard music in English, French, Russian – although there was no classical music at home. I only got into that, and jazz, when I was older. I have always loved music.”
Unfortunately, his artistic penchant did not blossom into instrumental wizardry. That was not for the lack of desire; it was a matter of basic economics as well as some negative cultural-social baggage. “I wanted to learn piano or guitar, but my parents couldn’t afford to buy me either of those,” he recalls. “And also, they remembered that people who walked around with a guitar, in Poland, were normally beggars. They suggested I take [up] the accordion, like my aunt, but that didn’t interest me.
So I never learned to play an instrument.”
But it appears that Friedland is made of sterner stuff. “I turned into a sort of autodidact who sings and composes without knowing how to play an instrument,” he says.
It was a while before he considered taking his Yiddish musical roots more seriously. The trip back to his childhood musical stomping ground was triggered by a fortuitous encounter. “I went to do a gig with Tofa’at Doppler at a place on Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv called Shanbo, and Eddy Somiren was the soundman there.” The two hit it off and they embarked on all sorts of musical escapades.
“Eddy invited me to sing on an album he was producing, and I did some jingles for him.” But it was Somiren’s musical roots that really appealed to Friedland. “We started talking about our childhood, and he told me his father was a klezmer musician and that he played clarinet and accordion himself.
We’d talk about stuff to do with the Holocaust and about yiddishkeit [Jewishness]. He was into hip-hop music and I was into my stuff, but that Yiddish stuff was our common denominator.”
The musical confluence really took off a few years ago, when Somiren worked at a recording studio in Hod Hasharon. “That’s when we started talking about doing something we both really loved, that we got when we were kids,” Friedland recalls, “and we started thinking about recording the old Yiddish songs we loved, but to rework them and to present them in a new way.”
That led to the Yiddish Welt (Yiddish World) project, which Friedland is currently doing his utmost to push along. “We wanted to sing songs that people knew and have fun with the songs,” says Friedland.
“But it’s tough to do with an old song – to change [it] and make it more contemporary but without losing anything of the original spirit and charm. There is a tendency in the Diaspora to sing Yiddish songs like dirges, like a nebach (misfortune), but that simply isn’t attractive. I want the songs to be fun and emotive.”
Somiren and Friedland quickly got down to brass tacks. The first song they recorded was “Kinderyuhren” (Childhood Years) which was originally written by Mordechai Gebirtig, who died in the Krakow Ghetto in 1942. There is a clip of the Friedland-Somiren rendition on YouTube, with video material provided by the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. It was not a random selection.
“Whenever my grandfather heard ‘Kinderyuhren,’ he’d cry,” says Friedland. “He remembered the old days in Poland. So I wanted to start this Yiddish music project with that song.”
The pair’s version is more upbeat than the traditional way of singing “Kinderyuhren,” while still maintaining that inimitable spirit of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. “Kinderyuhren is about an old man remembering his youth,” continues Friedland, “and that’s a universal theme. All the songs we are choosing for Yiddish Welt, in terms of text and music, are universal.”
Friedland’s enthusiasm for the Yiddish Welt venture was also fired by his father’s frustration. “He was such a talented artist, and so clever and inventive, but he was a modest man,” recalls Friedland.
“He worked as a knife-sharpener in a factory and he invented all sorts of patents which were later applied abroad, but he never got a penny. I’ve carried that frustration with me all my life, so I really want to make this project a success.”
The idea is to try to raise funding for the project through the StartArt web site (, which, says Friedland, is crucial to completing an invaluable project. “We want to share these beautiful songs with the world so we don’t forget the rich heritage of our parents and grandparents,” he declares. “The music and the words are so precious. It would be a great pity if they were lost to future generations.”