The Apples Will Not Fall: A Passover Song

דער עפּל װיל ניט פאַלן

For many years during Passover, my family would sing a Yiddish song called The Apples Will Not Fall. For several years, I've been trying to find out where it came from. Any new information would be appreciated.

Structurally, the song somewhat resembles Chad Gadya -- there's a cat, a dog, a stick, etc. But in Chad Gadya the actions just happen; outside of a theological allegory, there's no obvious causality. In this song, there different items are sent, deliberately.

In my family's version, a boss sends a worker into the forest to pick some apples. The worker won't pick the apples, and the apples refuse to fall. The boss then sends the cat to scratch the worker; the cat refuses to scratch the worker, who refuses to pick the apples, which won't fall.

The progression is similar to that in Chad Gadya, with the boss sending in a slaughterer, an ox, some water, a fire, a stick, a dog, a cat, and a worker, all in a futile attempt to get the apples picked. Finally, the boss sends in the Angel of Death, who is willing to kill the slaughter. At that point, everyone starts co-operating, apparently out of fear: the slaughterer will kill the ox, which will drink the water, etc., up to the apples, which finally fall.

In a long-ago Netnews posting, Len Shustek mentioned a similar song in his family. Apart from the fact that his song is about pears instead of apples (i.e., "the pears will not fall"), it's more theological: the Almighty sends in a small boy to pick the pears. The boy refuses, at which point a cat is sent in, a dog, etc., culminating again in the Angel of Death. You can find his version here. He recorded a version, too.

I've speculated that the difference between the two versions may have to do with the labor movement: the worker is striking, so the boss keeps sending in enforcers to break the strike. My grandfather, from whom I learned the song, was active in the left wing of the ILGWU. But that may not be the full explanation; Len reports that his family was similarly involved in union activities.

My wife visited the library at YIVO, to ask about the song; they were unable to help, though she did run into someone whose family also knew the song. (Theirs was about pears, too, but had the boss and the worker.) Someone suggested that it might be in the Workman's Circle or Shalom Aleichem haggadahs. We checked at the National Yiddish Book Center; the reference librarian there had never heard of the song.

Here's a transliteration, prepared by a Yiddish-speaking aunt of mine. This MP3 recording is by my wife—you really don't want to hear my singing voice...

My grandfather lived in Brzeziny, a small village near Lodz, Poland. I don't know if that's where the song originated. (You can find a map of Poland showing Lodz and Radom here; there's a larger map here.)

If you have any information about this song or its history, I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me a note.

April 2006 Update

This year, I learned some more:

I've set up a mailing list to discuss the song; if you want to join the list, please let me know. I hope to set up a posting forum here some time.

Steve Bellovin

18 April 2003