The strange and inspiring history of “Mir Velen Zei Iberleben,” or “We Will Outlive Them”
By Avi Shafran
January 30, 2018
At the recent second Women’s March, New York participants saw a banner held aloft with a hand-lettered Yiddish message, helpfully transliterated and translated into English. The transliteration read “Mir Velen Zei Iberleben”; and the translation, “We Will Outlive Them.”
The banner didn’t specify who the intended “them” might be (not men, I hope–though, of course, women do tend to live longer than those of us burdened with Y chromosomes). As to the legend on the banner, well, therein lies a tale, and it is a moving one.
It begins with a love song penned by Latvian-born cantor and composer Solomon Rosowsky, who received a degree in law from the University of Kiev but then opted to study music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. (One of his teachers was Rimsky-Korsakov).
The song, with its lively gypsy-style melody and a favorite of klezmer groups, is in the voice of one half of a couple begging the other half to reconsider some unelaborated-upon spat.
Its clever lyrics match its catchy tune, rhyming fenster (“window”–from the Latin fenestra; “fenester” was in fact a common English word for window until well into the 16th century; and see: “defenestrate”) with shenster (“most beautiful”); and pomerantzen (“oranges,” from the Latin pommom, “fruit” and Italian arancia, “orange”) with tantzen (dance).
The song’s title and refrain is “Lomr Zich Iberbetn”–or, rendered colloquially, “Let’s Make Up.”
Iber means “over” or “above.” Its German cognate, Über, is familiar to those who have read Nietzsche or requested a ride service (the philosopher’s Übermensch is a “superhuman”; and the recently resigned CEO Travis Kalanick’s choice of company name was intended to herald a “super” form of transportation).
And betn means to “request” or “plead.” So iberbetn might be understood as a plea for forgiveness, a “getting over” a quarrel, a reconciliation
What the song has to do with perseverance or overcoming something or someone lies in an account told to the Holocaust researcher Moshe Prager by an eyewitness, one Dr. Warman.