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How a Sentimental Yiddish Song Became a Worldwide Hit—and a Nazi Target

May 17, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Sophie Tucker was best known for her sexy songs—crowd-pleasers that showed off her curves, her sass, and her frank love of men and money. But when the singer took to the stage in 1925, something else was on her mind: her mother.

That night, Tucker debuted a new song. Instead of singing about dating or success, it was about a successful person mourning her departed Jewish mother—an angelic “yiddishe momme” who had suffered in life, but was now dead. Performed in both English and Yiddish, the song was a hit. When Tucker finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And though she felt a deep personal connection to the song, she had no idea she had just performed an anthem.

“My Yiddishe Momme” would become one of Tucker’s signature songs. Performed in both Yiddish and English, the song took the world by storm during the 1920s and 1930s, giving voice to many immigrants’ complicated feelings about assimilation and the sorrow of losing a mother. But the song was more than a tearjerker, or an American phenomenon. “My Yiddishe Momme” would go on to play an unexpected role in Nazi Germany and even the Holocaust.

The song hit a nerve with Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike, writes biographer Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff. “The singer was steadfast in her explanation that the song was meant for all listeners,” she notes. But it expressed a bittersweet emotion that would have rung true to audiences of immigrant and second-generation Jews who were far from home and whose mothers had sacrificed to make their lives better.

My yiddishe momme I need her more then ever now
My yiddishe momme I’d like to kiss that wrinkled brow
I long to hold her hands once more as in days gone by
And ask her to forgive me for things I did that made her cry

A large group of Jewish immigrants sitting down to dinner in a converted hangar at Atlantic Park, Southampton serving as a hostel for immigrants en route to the U.S. from eastern Europe.

The song was written by lyricist Jack Yellen and composer Lew Pollack. Yellen is best known for writing upbeat hits like “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” He had something in common with Sophie Tucker: Both were Jews who emigrated to the United States as children in the late 19th century, and both …read more


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Viewing All Challenges Through an Inequality Lens Distorts Focus on the Big Issues

May 17, 2019 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a
political leader who believes in equality of economic outcomes,
differences between groups look like injustices.

Jeremy Corbyn has made reducing disparities a central goal of
his political programme. Whether thinking about gender outcomes,
income inequality, or regional divides, he sees a world not
conforming to his priors as automatically unjust.

For him, there’s no room for positive explanations for
differences in economic outcomes, such as free choice, hard work,
or welfare-enhancing entrepreneurship. No, as the Pope once
claimed, inequality is an “evil” that must be stamped
out. In fact, economic inequality is the egalitarian Left’s
explanation for most social and economic ills that afflict us,
including our current political turmoil.

Such a world view has never had much truck with the public. Yet
usually careful analysts and journalists are increasingly
suspending their critical faculties in the allure of this
monocausal thinking. Starting with Richard Wilkinson and Kate
Pickett’s book The Spirit Level and pushed on by Thomas
Piketty’s bestselling tome Capital In The Twenty-First
Century, it’s now common to hear or read that, left
unchecked, inequalities threaten slower growth, health crises and
the future of capitalism and democracy.

It’s in this context that to great fanfare, the Institute
for Fiscal Studies launched a major inequality review this week,
chaired by economic Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton. They promise
us “a comprehensive understanding of inequalities”
covering “living standards, health, political participation
and opportunity, not just between the rich and poor but by gender,
ethnicity, geography and education too”.

Its first paper provides interesting data on all these issues,
but is at pains to point out that the trends analysed need not be
thought problematic. Indeed, a key aim of the project is
disentangling which inequalities we worry about, which we should
worry about, and which are benign.

Yet reading the report, something struck me. The most concerning
trends are nothing to do with inequality, and should occupy us
regardless of which groups they affect. Meanwhile, the issues about
economic inequalities are often the least worrying.

In shoehorning together disparate issues under an umbrella
“Inequality Review”, the IFS therefore risks faulty
interpretation of their work’s message — with people
claiming economic inequality causes the bad outcomes they highlight
and over-dramatising what policy should do to correct them.

Some media reporting and political reaction to the paper shows
these fears are justified.

Take mortality rates. The IFS noted that among the middle-aged
(45 to 54-year-olds), death rates have risen for both men and women
since the early 2010s following previous continuous improvement.
This recent trend has been driven in part by higher “deaths
of despair” — suicides, overdose and …read more

Source: OP-EDS