Ellis Island

Words and music by Solomon Smulewitz-Small (1868-1943). Published in sheet music by the Hebrew Publishing: Co., N.Y., 1914. The song was revived in the Off-Broadway musical The Golden Land (1982-1987).

Illustration of musical notes from the books


The poor Jew runs as from a fire, beaten and terribly agitated.
He searches for a place where he can breathe more freely.
His home has been shattered and ruined.

All his possessions have been robbed and he’s been left in desolation and poverty.
He is seeking a new home where to rest his head and to earn his bread.

He seeks a place where to root his poor life and he sheds a river full of tears.
He knows that in America rights are given equally to everyone.

With troubles he reaches the shore, and here’s Ellis Island who asks:
— Do you know the language?
Do you have a trade?
Are you bringing a lot of money?
The Jew answers: — No.
And then he’s told to go.

Oh, Ellis Island, you border to the free land.
How big and how terrible you are.
Such outrages can only be committed by evil spirits.
You torture the tortured needlessly.
They come with troubles, barely having crossed the ocean.
The Statue of Liberty they see — and here’s Ellis island, the border to the free land,
Who says: — Stop, you can go no further!

Der yid, nebekh, loyft vi fun fayer,
Dershlogn un shreklekh farvirt,
Er zukht vu an ort kenen otemen frayer,
Zayn heym iz tsebrokhn, ruinirt.

Avekgeroybt hot men zayn gantsn farmegn,
Gelozn in elnt un noyt,
A naye heym zukht er zayn kop vu tsu leygn,
Un vu tsu fardinen oyf broyt.

Er zukht tsu bashitsn zayn oremen lebn,
Un trern fargist er a taykh,
Er veyst in amerike zaynen gegebn
Di rekhte far alemen glaykh.

Mit tsores dershlogt er zikh gor on a breg,
Do kumt elis-ayland un git im a freg:
— Tsi kenstu a shprakh, tsi hostu a fakh,
Tsi brengstu nit gelt mit a sakh?
Der yid entfert: — neyn,
Dan heyst men im geyn.

O, elis-ayland, du grenets fun fray land,
Vi groyzam, vi shreklekh du bist.
Azelkhe retsikhes
Dos kenen nor rikhes,
Du plogst di geplogte umzist.
Mit tsores gekumen,
Dem yam koym dershvumen,
Di getin fun frayhayt derzen,
Do kumt elis-ayland,
Di grenets fun frayland,

Zogt: — halt, du kenst vayter nit geyn!

דער ייִד, נעבעך, לױפֿט װי פֿון פֿײַער,
דערשלאָגן און שרעקלעך פֿאַרװירט,
ער זוכט װוּ אַן אָרט קענען אָטעמען פֿרײַער,
זײַן הײם איז צעבראָכן, רויִנירט.

אַװעקגערױבט האָט מען זײַן גאַנצן פֿאַרמעגן,
געלאָזן אין עלנט און נױט,
אַ נײַע הײם זוכט ער זײַן קאָפּ װוּ צו לײגן,
און װוּ צו פֿאַרדינען אױף ברױט.

ער זוכט צו באַשיצן זײַן אָרעמען לעבן,
און טרערן פֿאַרגיסט ער אַ טײַך,
ער װײסט אין אַמעריקע זײַנען געגעבן
די רעכטע פֿאַר אַלעמען גלײַך.

מיט צרות דערשלאָגט ער זיך נאָר אָן אַ ברעג,
דאָ קומט עליס־אײַלאַנד און גיט אים אַ פֿרעג:
— צי קענסטו אַ שפּראַך, צי האָסטו אַ פֿאַך,
צי ברענגסטו ניט געלט מיט אַ סך?
דער ייִד ענטפֿערט: — נײן,
דאַן הײסט מען אים גײן.

אָ, עליס־אײַלאַנד, דו גרענעץ פֿון פֿרײַ לאַנד
װי גרױזאַם, װי שרעקלעך דו ביסט. . .
אַזעלכע רציחות
דאָס קענען נאָר רוחות,
דו פּלאָגסט די געפּלאָגטע אומזיסט.
מיט צרות געקומען,
דעם ים קױם דערשװוּמען,
די געטין פֿון פֿרײַהײט דערזען,
דאָ קומט עליס־אײַלאַנד,
די גרענעץ פֿון פֿרײַלאַנד,
זאָגט: — האַלט, דו קענסט װײַטער ניט גײן!

Song Title: Elis-ayland

Composer: Solomon Smulewitz
Composer’s Yiddish Name: שלמה שמוליװיטש
Lyricist: Solomon Smulewitz
Lyricist’s Yiddish Name: שלמה שמוליװיטש
Time Period: Unspecified

This Song is Part of a Collection

Pearls of Yiddish Song Cover with Illustration of musicians playing instruments

Pearls of Yiddish Song

First published in 1988 as Pearls of Yiddish Song: Favorite Folk, Art and Theatre Songs, this anthology contains 115 songs. Some material had never been published, while others, included in rare song collections or sheet music, were largely inaccessible. The songs presented reflect Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the United States and depict childhood, love, family celebrations, poverty, work and struggle. There are also songs from the Hasidic and Maskilic movements, songs of Zion and of America, as well as songs from the Yiddish theater.

The title of this anthology derives from the weekly two-page feature column “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry,” which the compilers Yosl and Chana Mlotek initiated in 1970 in the Yiddish newspaper Der Forvertz (the Yiddish Daily Forward). Hundreds of readers from around the world — including authors, composers, singers, actors — became co-participants in this collective folk project and recalled melodies, lines, fragments, stanzas and their variants of songs, poems, and plays which they had heard in their youth. At first, readers sent in only written material. Later, they also taped songs on cassettes, many of whose melodies had, until then, never been recorded. They also identified and supplied missing information regarding lyricists, poets, and composers and described the circumstances surrounding the songs’ origins, their dissemination, diffusion and impact.

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