The Troubadour by
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(165 Stories)

Prompted By Being Different

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I’ve written about my childhood summers at my grandmother’s small Catskill hotel.  (See My Game Mother and My Heart Remembers My Grandmother’s Hotel) 

Here’s another memory.

Once or twice every summer when I was very young,  an elderly man whom we called the Troubadour came to the hotel to spend an evening entertaining the guests with story and song.    He was short in stature,  wore a kippah,  and dressed all in black.   His face as I remember was wizened but kindly,  with twinkly eyes and a long,  curly gray beard.

The Troubadour performed in our “casino” , a  small building with a raised stage,  an upright piano,  and a stack of folding chairs,  where the hotel’s festivities were held.    Our parents allowed us to stay up past our bedtime to see him,  and we kids would sit cross-legged on the floor,  all vying to get as close to the stage as we could.

And although he spoke and sang in Yiddish and Hebrew which neither I nor surely any of the other kids understood,   the Troubadour had us all mesmerized.

And as we watched we’d hear our parents and the other adults call out to him,  and sing along,  and laugh,  and to our puzzlement we’d sometimes even hear them cry.

I don’t know if our Troubadour lived in one of the religious Catskill communities,  or came up from the city every summer to tour the Jewish hotels in the Borscht Belt.   And I don’t know if my grandmother paid him or if he passed a hat.

And I was too young then and too blissfully colorblind to realize there was something a bit different about our wonderful Jewish Troubadour – he was Black!

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: Judaism

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Dana, this is a charming story! I love the image of the Troubadour mesmerizing all the kids even though he was singing entirely in Yiddish and Hebrew. Did you and the other kids not notice that he was black, or just not realize that there was anything surprising about that?

    • Thanx Suzy, it’s a sweet, vivid memory. I’m not sure of the answer to your question, I assume I was simply too young and too innocent to wonder at his race. Maybe I assumed all troubadours were Jewish and Black!

      The daughter of friends works for B’chol Lashon, an organization based in San Fran that supports Jews of color. I should share my story with her!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    What an amazing story, Dana. You set it up so well…the mesmerizing man, bringing tears to the eyes of the elders, who was a Black man! Quite an image. Obviously, the youngsters didn’t think anything of it, but I’m sure it was rare. I’d love to know how he became proficient in those old songs, but there is probably no one left alive to ask. A rare tale; thanks for sharing it.

  3. Dee, thanks to your vivid descriptions, this story has the charming and magical quality of a children’s picture book. I can almost see the illustrations — the hotel in the Catskills, the “casino” with the stage and the piano, the kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, the lively adults calling out, singing, crying, and of course your colorful troubadour. A gem of a story!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    What a surprise ending, Dana. I love that a black man knew all of the old Yiddish songs our grandparents loved. You paint a vivid picture of a moment in time.

  5. Suzy says:

    Of course there ARE black Jews, although they are not always welcomed in the Jewish community. I just read a fabulous book about growing up black and Jewish, The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad, which I recommend to everyone.

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