Sundays at noon in the late '30s and early '40s, Bei Tate-mames Tish
(Round the Family Table) aired on WEVD in New York City. Each week listeners
were brought into the home of a Jewish family coping with the problems of immigrant
While most dramas on the American radio dial offered escapist fantasies, Stutchkoff's
creations writhed with actuality. His characters were hewn from the stuff of
real life, facing difficulties their listeners knew well: the alienation of
the older generation, racism within the Jewish community, miscegenation, the
conflicts between secular America and Jewish religiousness.
Though a private man who worked in extreme seclusion, Stutchkoff
felt bound to the community that was the source of his artistic inspiration.
His wife and children often found him crying at his writing desk over the fate
of the radio characters he had just created. If he did not weep over them, he
asked, who would?
The 26 Bei Tate-mames Tish episodes salvaged by the Yiddish Radio Project
are the only of Stutchkoff's half-dozen radio series to have survived. Not a
single broadcast remains of Tsuris bay Laytn (People's Troubles), Stutchkoff's
most popular show, which ran on WEVD for two decades and helped raise donations
for the Brooklyn Jewish Home for Chronic Diseases. But one child actor on the
program -- Isaiah Sheffer, host of WNYC's Selected Shorts and the artistic
director of New York City's Symphony Space -- remembers it well.
"It was totally frantic," Sheffer recalls. "Everything was
last-minute and done quickly, with all the actors learning their parts along
with Stutchkoff." The writer-director often passed freshly penned lines
of script to actors at the mike, a situation par for the course in the radio
universe of Nahum Stutchkoff.