The song was written by a Belarusian composer and singer, Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) in 1907. The author also had experience of migration to the United States. The song became very popular. In particular, it was used as a basis for a theatrical production and a film in Yiddish. The work raises the issue of migration caused separation of families. While the son who went to America has a successful life and a new family, his mother feels abandoned. Before her death, she asks her son not to forget to read Kaddish, a memorial prayer for her. The problem of separated families remained common to all migrants, but in this text the Jewish prayer becomes a way to overcome the crisis and pay tribute to family relations, even after death.


A brivele der mamen (A Little Letter to Mama), song about emigration, 1907

Solomon Smulevitz
Milken Archive of Jewish Music
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A brivele der mamen (A Little Letter to Mama)

My child, my comfort, you are going away.
Remember to be a good son.
With anxious tears and fear I beg you,
your loyal, dear mother.
You are traveling, my child, my only child,
across distant seas.
Just arrive in good health
and don’t forget your mother.
Oh, travel in health and arrive in good spirit.
Please send a letter every week,
and thus lighten your mother’s heart, my child.

A letter to your mother 
you shouldn’t delay. 
Write right away, 
dear child.
Grant her this consolation.
Your mother will read your little letter
and she will recover.
You’ll heal her pain, 
her bitter heart.
You’ll delight her soul.

These eight years I’ve been alone.
My child has sailed far away.
His childish heart is hard as stone:
Not a single letter has arrived.
How can my child go on?
How is his life going?
He must be doing very well there,
since he’s forgotten me.
I’ve sent him a hundred letters,
and he still has no sense
that my pain is so deep.  

A letter to your mother …

In the city of New York there’s a wealthy home,
with hearts that have no feeling.
Her son lives there in lavish style.
He has a lovely family:
a beautiful wife and two children
with radiant face.

And as he sits and beams with pride at them,
he receives a letter:  
“Your mother is dead,” it has happened.
In life you neglected her.
This was her last wish:

Say a little kaddish for your mother,
don’t delay. 
Say it now, 
dear son.
Grant her this consolation.
Your mother will hear the kaddish 
from her grave. 
You’ll heal her pain, her bitter heart.
You’ll delight her soul.

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Worked on the material:
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Vladyslava Moskalets

Translation of the comment into English

Svitlana Bregman

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