|Vos iz gevorn fun mayn shtetele?
Although one 1970s anthology cited Ellstein’s beloved song Vos iz gevorn fun mayn shtetele? (What Has Become of My Little Hometown?) as having been featured in “an operetta” (suspiciously unidentified) starring Menashe Skulnik at Brooklyn’s Hopkinson’s Theater, no play has been located that would verify this. More likely, this is one of Ellstein’s various single songs, whose fame was advanced by its many renditions on a variety of stages and especially on the radio by such artists as Moyshe Oysher, Freydele Oysher, Moshe Ganchoff, Seymour Rechtzeit, and a host of others.
This is the quintessential Yiddish “longing for home” song of that era, not meant to be taken literally in its romanticized imagination of the shtetl or, for that matter, of anything to do with Europe. In that sense it is highly fictional and therefore theatrical, joining an entire category of songs titled after particular towns or even larger eastern European cities. Such songs reflect little actual sentiment among Jewish immigrants, many of whom certainly missed relatives, but precious few of whom missed the Europe they had so eagerly left. Even among the most disillusioned laborers in sweatshop conditions, there was never any organized expression of a desire to return, although a very small number of orthodox Jews did occasionally go back, for religious reasons. Yet these songs of an idealized past, whether as components of plays or as singles, made for good theater and emotionally satisfying entertainment.
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics by Isidore Lillian
When I reminisce about
how it was when I was a child,
at home in the shtetl, once upon a time,
I recall how
in those beautiful winter nights
we used to stroll around
and dream countless dreams.
Oh, how things were
so heartfelt, so beautiful then,
when we used to pass by the synagogue,
and the cantor’s sonorous voice
resounded so piously,
so emotively, by the lectern:
“As when a shepherd takes account of his flock,
causing his sheep to pass under his staff
one by one.”
Such a longing for bygone days
has remained in my heart.
Whatever became of my shtetl?
Whatever became of my old home?
Oh, what a longing I have for my shtetl.
That is where I spent my youth.
The alleyway, the little synagogue,
how heartfelt and how beautiful …
The tree, the little dairy—
Will I ever see them again?
Oh, whatever became of my shtetl?
Oh, whatever became of the old home?
Lyrics by Isidore Lillian
ven ikh nem dermonen zikh
ven ikh bin a kind geven
in der heym, in shtetele a mol.
in di sheyne vinter nekht
flegn mir shpatsirn geyn
un kholemen khaloymes on a tsol.
oy, vi demolt iz geven
azoy hartsik, azoy sheyn,
ven mir flegn geyn farbay di shul,
un dem khazns sheyne shtim
hot geklungen azoy frum,
bay dem omed mit groys gefil:
“k’vakoras ro’e edro
ma’avir tsono taḥas shivto.”
aza benkenish fun frier
geblibn iz in harts bay mir.
vos iz gevorn fun mayn shtetele?
vos iz gevorn fun mayn alte heym?
oy, vi es benkt zikh nokh mayn shtetele,
mayn yugnt hob ikh dokh farbrakht in dem.
dos gesele, dos shulkhl,
vi hartsik un vi sheyn...
dos beymele, dos milkhl—
vel ikh es ven nokh zen?
oy, vos iz gevorn fun mayn shtetele?
oy, vos iz gevorn fun der alter heym?
Composer: Abraham Ellstein
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Elli Jaffe, Conductor;
Benzion Miller, Tenor;
Vienna Chamber Orchestra
Date Recorded: 10/01/2001
Venue: Baumgartner Casino (A), Vienna, Austria
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Music Sales Corp.
Arrangers: Ira Hearshen/Zalmen Mlotek
Orchestrator: Ira Hearshen
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation