Little Jewish Streets

Little Jewish Streets
by Leyb Stotsky (Leib Stocki) [לייב סטאָצקי]

(Vilna, 1902-Vilnius, 1967)

[ יידישע געסלעך / Yidishe geslakh]


Read by Pinchos Fridberg

Raya Shapiro and Howard Jarvis translated the poem for those who don’t know Yiddish from a translation into Russian by Polina Pailis and Pinchos Fridberg.

I was walking along the little Jewish streets
Fantastically winding, narrow and curved
When a strange anguish seized me.

The buildings, somber and silent,
Were speaking to me in the ancient language
Of God-fearing, pious generations.

They told me about houses of learning
Where the light of the Torah shone brightly.
Maybe it is still shining today.

As though a ray from the eternal Menorah
Flashed suddenly like a spark in my soul,
Wrapping it in a shroud of longstanding traditions.

Cracks on bricks–a faded imprint
Of old stories–were looking at me,
Like letters written on yellow parchment.

It seemed to me the bricks held
Treasures hidden deep with secrets within
Narrations of the great and righteous.

These walls, frozen witnesses of the past,
With a seal of impenetrable darkness,
Are just longing for the times of ancestry.

Cloaked in legends about the souls of forefathers,
I walked further and further,
Plunging into bizarre, frightening thoughts.

The further I went, the more captivated I was
By the charming tightness of the little Jewish streets
With the Song of Songs hovering above them.

An obscure anguish gripped my soul
Back to the petrified, motionless past,
Back to bygone captivity, to the ghetto.

Run from the noisy, impudent boulevards
Back to the tender little Jewish streets,
To a prayer house to lock myself in like a hermit!

Run from the ear-splitting racket of a jazz band,
From the hectic chaos of dance classes,
Where foxtrot and wild shimmy rule.

Run from the mad screaming streets,
From the mindlessly depraved boiling pot,
Where blatant insolence roams obscenely.

Run to the little Jewish streets,
To let yourself be woven into devout legends
Like in the times of the Vilner Balebesel. *

So that only here my soul finds its prayers,
Perceiving the eternal meaning of life…

Vilna, 1930

* famous Vilna cantor David Levenshtein or Strashunski (1816-1850)