Seeds that didn't wait to be sown

Updated: Aug 13

On the 20th anniversary of the death of Emil Gorovets and the 69th anniversary of the execution of the JAC members.


AUGUST 17, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the famous Jewish singer and composer Emil Gorovets.

Emil was born in 1923 in a typical Jewish town called Haisin, in the Vinnitsa region. In early childhood, the boy showed a wonderful voice and artistic abilities, he played, against the will of his father, a blacksmith by profession, in the Jewish folk theater.

With the outbreak of the war, the Gorovets family was evacuated to Tashkent, where Emil fell seriously ill. But staying there played a decisive role in the development of his artistic career. There, in Tashkent, the Moscow Jewish State Theater (GOSET) was evacuated under the leadership of the great Solomon Mikhoels. After leaving the hospital, Emil Gorovets was admitted to the Drama Studio at the GOSET, and two years later, together with the theater, he moved to Moscow and played on the stage of the GOSET, while studying at the Gnesins School of Music.

Gorovets made a dizzying career on the Russian stage. Leading Soviet composers wrote songs for him, he performed in many cities and gathered full auditoriums. In the USSR, 42 gramophone records were released with songs performed by him and 7 author's albums. His songs, which became hits, were often broadcast on the radio.

At the same time, Gorovets remained one of the few Jewish artists who, in the 50-60s, after the defeat of Jewish culture in the USSR, continued to perform in their native language Yiddish. In many of his programs and recordings of gramophone records, he included songs in Yiddish. His name was familiar and dear to almost all Jews of the USSR, not only as a famous pop artist, but above all as the keeper of the spark of mame-loshn, even in the conditions of Soviet state anti-Semitism.

Gorovets was honored to be a member of the delegation of Soviet Jewish artists at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Sholem Aleichem in 1959 in Paris.

Nevertheless, despite his immense popularity and success in the USSR, in 1972 he decided to leave for Israel. Soon he received a 7-year contract from the leading American organization in the field of Yiddish culture "Arbeter Ring" and moved to New York. In America, he gave many concerts, taught vocals, performed a solo program at his own restaurant in Manhattan. He translated famous songs into Yiddish, hosted a radio program called "Mame-loshn", toured Europe, Israel, and Russia. Emil Gorovets passed away in New York on August 17, 2001.

It is important to note that the Yiddish-speaking public in the USSR and in the world knew and appreciated Gorovets not only as a great singer, but also as a composer. He performed dozens of songs to the words, mainly of Soviet Jewish poets, set to his own music. But from all this heritage it is enough to name one work that forever imprinted the name of Emil Gorovets in golden letters in the treasury of Jewish music, as well as of Yiddish culture as a whole. Undoubtedly, this is a romance to the poem of David Hofshtein "In winter-farnakhtn af rusishe felder" (Winter evenings in the Russian fields). This nostalgic poem by Hofstein, thanks to the music of Gorovets, began to be perceived in the Jewish world as a real requiem for the murdered Jewish culture in the Soviet Union.

Today, 12 AUGUST, on the anniversary of the execution of thirteen figures of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow - the cultural elite of Soviet Jewry, among whom was the poet David Hofshtein, I would like to recall him in particular.

Hofshtein undoubtedly occupied a leading position on the path of Jewish literary creativity in the USSR. He was born in 1889 in the town of Korostyshev between Kiev and Zhitomir, received a traditional Jewish education, which subsequently left a significant imprint on his poetic language and on those universal and national values to which he remained devoted all his life. Hofshtein made his poetry debut in 1917, lived in Kiev, then in Moscow, was one of the leading members of the “Shtrom” literary group. He opposed the persecution of the Hebrew language in the USSR, in 1925 he temporarily left for Berlin, in 1925 - 1926 lived in Palestine. He was in love with Eretz Israel and enthusiastically sang the Halutz spirit in both Yiddish and Hebrew. In those years he wrote:

Bodn!

Bodn - af aker,

Af grobn,

Af boy.

Shtark iz af bodn ot der,

Vos af erdn

Mit baruf iz balodn,

Mit troym.

Earth!

Land - to plow

To dig

To build.

That is strong on earth

Who is endowed with a purpose

And a dream.

Hofshtein so yearned for his two sons from his first marriage, Shamai and Hillel, that he decided to leave his second wife Feiga with his two-month-old daughter Levia in Tel Aviv for a while and visit his sons in Kiev. But he could no longer allowed to return from Kiev... Feiga, for three years, sought permission to come to Kiev and reunite with her husband.

Even under Soviet conditions, Hofshtein continued to dream of Eretz Israel, introducing the motive of longing for the Jewish Homeland into his poetry wherever possible. Feeling personal, creative and national responsibility, he wanted to remain true to himself and live in peace with his conscience, even with all the Soviet ideological pressure:


S’hot mir main folk fartroyt

Dreyste un hoykhe farlangen,

Vil ikh ot di geshanken

Oysbahaltn fun toyt ...

My people entrusted me

Bold and lofty aspirations

I want these gifts

Save from death …

On September 16, 1948, Hofshtein was arrested in Kiev in the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and shot on August 12, 1952.

As mentioned above, an excerpt from his poem, set to music by Emil Gorovets, began to be perceived in the collective consciousness of Yiddish culture bearers as a kind of requiem for the Jewish culture destroyed in the USSR:

In winter-farnakhtn af rusishe felder!

Vu ken me zain elnter, vu ken men zain elnter ...

A ferdl an altinks, a skripnder shlitn,

A shlyakh a farshneyter - un ikh bin inmitn ...

Fun fornt farshpreyt zikh and midber and veiser,

Un veit dort tzezeyt iz a tzendlikl heiser -

Dort dremlt a khutor, farzunken in schneyen ...

Tzum yiddishn heizl fil stezhkekelekh geyen,

A heizl vi ale, nor greser di fentzter,

Un zvishn di kinder dort bin der eltster ...

Un eng iz mein veltl, un klein iz mein redl:

In tzvey vokhn ein mol fun khutor in shtetl.

Un benken in schveign fun felder di breyte,

Fun vegn un veglekh farshneyte, farveyte ...

Un trogn in hartzn farborgene veyen

Fun zoymen, vos vartn un vartn af zeyen ...

In winter-farnakhtn af rusishe felder!

vu ken men zein elnter, vu ken men zein elnter?

Russian fields on winter evenings! Where can one be more lonely, where can one be more lonely.... An old horse wheezing and a sleigh creaking, And I half-way along a snow-covered road. Below, in the only pale corner of a twilight,

Sad streaks of light dying and smoldering.

Before us stretching a desert of whiteness, And sown in its vastness a scatter of houses. Sunk in its snow-depths a farmhouse dreaming... Many paths leading to a house like the others, To a little Jewish house, but its windows larger.

Among the children I am the oldest. My little world narrow, my circumference tiny --

Only once in two weeks to visit the village. In silence longing for the fields in the distance, For the paths and the by-paths wind-blown and snow-covered... And concealed in the heart the sorrow of seedlings And keep waiting,

Keep waiting their time for sowing... Russian fields on winter evenings! Where can one be more lonely, where can one be more lonely!*

In addition to nostalgia for the old Jewish town, for the world, which was based on the solid foundations of Jewish tradition and morality, and longing for distant mysterious roads, this poem also contains words that have become a tragic prophecy, namely:


Un trogn in hartzn farborgene veyen

Fun zoymen, vos vartn un vartn af zeyen ...

And concealed in the heart the sorrow of seedlings And keep waiting, keep waiting their time for sowing...

The cherished seeds of goodness, philanthropy and creativity, which ripened in the hearts of hundreds of creators of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, were never destined to wait for their sowing, for they were barbarously destroyed by the Stalin regime …


*Translation into English is from the Mishkan website: http://www.mishkan.com/yiddish.poem.html

Romance "In winter-farnakhtn" performed by Emil Gorovets.