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Hirsh Cashdan - Tzamah Nafshi

D’ror Yikra
Tzamah Nafshi
Yom Zeh M’chubad


Hirsh Cashdan“My father used to sing a lot of zmirot every Friday night and Shabbat and I’ve sung them since I was a small child until I left home. I’ve kept the tradition. We sing at home - because we like it.

I grew up in Liverpool. My father was a schochet, teacher and minister in Grove Street schul. It was on its last legs when I was a child because the Jews, as they often did, had moved out of the town centre - and so we did too.

I’m the youngest of six children. My two elder brothers both went to the same secondary school, both studied classics at Oxford and both broke away from Jewish things at university and my father was extremely unhappy. I was his ben zekunim. There’s a big gap between them and me - my youngest sister and I were the only ones at home when I was growing up - and many years on when I wanted to go to university, my father wanted me to go to yeshiva. We compromised. One of my brothers intervened and I went to Jews College. I didn’t go to study to be a rabbi - that was never in my mind - I read Hebrew and Aramaic. I don’t regret it. My parents were in Liverpool (my father died part way through the course) and I was in London so it was my first taste of freedom.

Hirsh's father's sisiter married his mother's brother in 1924 - the same year as his parents and so this photo has both sets of grandparents flanking the bride and groom and lots of uncles and aunts.

But I left it all behind. I worked for IBM for many years and lived all over the country - sometimes in places where there were very few Jews. Although I am very fond of the tradition, as you have heard, and I feel connected emotionally, historically and traditionally, I don’t feel connected intellectually or religiously. But these days I have re-found my connections through Jewish music.

My father came here in 1906 from a village about 50 miles south of Minsk in what is now Byelorussia. His father, my grandfather, was born in Stariye Dorogi and came over here with his children - half the family were born in Russia and half were born here.

Hirsh's parents: Shael and Yitta in 1924

As I said, I learned my zmirot at the dining table from my father. Most of what I’ll sing is, I think, imported from Byelorussia, from the family traditions, but there are some pieces that came into the family when we were in Liverpool although they came from a long way outside Liverpool. There was a small yeshiva in Liverpool that my father taught at and we used to provide hospitality to some of the yeshiva bocherim, some of whom were refugees, some from North Africa, who came and we learned some pieces from them from different parts of the world.

My mother was born in Gateshead but her parents were born in Poland. But as far as I’m aware she didn’t have any tunes. She played very second fiddle to my father; she sang with us but I don’t think she brought any of the tunes to the family.

The tunes that I think come from Byelorussia have a similar sort of style to them. They tend to be slow and stately, savouring the rest and relaxation of Shabbat. I’ve been to other people’s houses, of course, but I’ve not heard our tunes anywhere, particularly Tzamah Nafshi, which I think hardly anyone sings or even knows.

With the more popular songs - I’m not really sure where they came from. For example I know quite a few Yah Ribon tunes - one from a yeshiva bocher from North Africa which is certainly Sephardi - possibly Yemenite or Moroccan in origin, and one with a bit of Yiddish in the middle!

I don’t think you’ll know my Yom Zeh M’chubad - there aren’t too many tunes to it; and my tune for D’ror Yikra I learned from my late uncle Eli Cashdan, who was a very well known Jewish teacher and translator and sang it with great enthusiasm.

These days, one of my brothers is in Israel and one in Sheffield; and of my three sisters - two went to Israel and one is in Brooklyn. So the tunes have dispersed to some degree.”

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