“Heymishe Tekhter,” a poem by Avrom Reisen, is part of a vast work contained in a definitive anthology of Jewish-American writers in the years 1870-2000. In two volumes of some 700 pages each, Professor Emanuel Goldsmith of Queens College has carried through a historic achievement. Equally impressive is the translation of this work into English by Barnett Zumoff and collaborators mentioned in a previous column.
One of Zumoff’s favorites is
Ikh gey in di royshike gasn,
Shoyn zeks iz der zeyger far nakht
In reyen in lange zikh tsien
Di yidishe tekhter farshmakht.
O yidishe tekhter fun sheper!
In blik ayers ze ikh geheym
Dem kheyn fun dem yidishn shtetl
Dem glants fun der vayt vayter heym.
Ir geyt iber shteynerne gasn
Di erd un der himl farshtelt
Dukh duftn nokh ayere kleyder
Di duftn fun shtetlshn feld.
Un kuk ikh aykh on ale tifer,
Derze ikh nokh merer un nokh;
Di kroynen fun toyznter yorn,
Zey glantsn aroys fun dem yokh.
Vayl ale zayt ir dokh bnoys-malkes—
Der yikhes rut shtil aykh in blik.
Vi zayt ir farshklaft itst gevorn?
Ver brengt aykh tsum kenig tsurik?
Daughters of Our Own
Translated by Barnett Zumoff
I walk the narrow noisy streets
The time is 6 o’clock at night
And rows of careworn Jewish girls
Pass by now, fading like the light
O Jewish girls, you sweatshop girls,
Your faces still show secretly
The charm of former Jewish towns
A glow that ev’ryone can see.
You walk along the stony streets—
The sky is bleakly overcast.
But still your clothes aromas breathe
Of village days from time long past.
And if I deeply look at you,
I see much more, oh so much more
The crowns of bygone centuries
Still shine beneath the yokes you bore.
For all of you descend from queens
Your faces show your pedigree,
How have you been enslaved like this
And who will help to make you free?