Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Yiddish Short Stories by Joseph Opatoshu (Aka Yousef or Yosef) author of The Romance of a Horse Thief








Yousef Opatoshu, 1986, born in Miana Poland, moved to New York City, 1907, died in New York City 1954, (aka Yosef, Americanized pen  name Joseph) did not begin writing Yiddish prior to immigrating to New York City.  There are two very interesting short stories, about Eastern European Jews in America, included in the necessary anthology Jewish Literature in America.  My one small issue with this huge collection (815 works) is that no first publication dates are given for the works.  Some I can find via a Google search, some, like these two, I have guessed.

"Judaism" (1919?) is a story of a Rabbi's abuse of a young Christian woman who has come to him to be converted.  She wants to marry a rich young a Jewish man.  The Rabbi asks her how her family feels about this and she says they love her fiancé.
He subjects her to a much more lengthy and demanding course of study than normal.  He is tired of being the lackey of his rich congregation and is taking it out on her.

"The rabbi’s Sabbath had been disturbed. Why did he take such pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, when in reality he was a lowly slave who did whatever the wealthy Bizhorn told him to? Abulafia took revenge. He saw to it that the lessons with Helen would be a living Hell for the girl. Right away, at the first lesson, the rabbi threw up a mountain of difficulties."

"President Smith" (1923?) is set in Chicago. Just as have other immigrant groups, people from the same area in Poland would tend to live in the same area in America, relatives and friends helping each other.  The Synagogue was the heart of the community.  This is the story a Rabbi, who when just a young man and already a Rabbi, moved to New York City where most of his congregation landed in Chicago.  Forty years has long by and he is come to visit them in Chicago.  The President of the Synagogue is Mr. Smith. He changed his name and most of his cultural trappings as he over many years has become rich.  The story is kind of about President Smith's acknowledging his cultural roots.  In just a few pages Opatoshu brings a lot of the Yiddish immigrant experience to life.

"It was the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. The New York-to-Chicago express train raced in like a demon, whistling and gasping. Passengers started tumbling out of the cars. Some moved to the exit and others just stood there. From the last car, Reb Yosl the cantor emerged. He was a tall man with a long black beard that was turning gray at the edges, and he was wearing a rabbi’s hat. He had come to pray with his fellow townsmen, the people of Mlave, on the High Holy Days. Reb Yosl put down the valise he had been holding in his hand and started looking around, looking for the delegation from the Anshey Mlave synagogue". From "President Smith"

Joseph Opatoshu
BORN YOYSEF-MEYER OPATOVSKY ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1886 NEAR MŁAWA, POLAND, TO A FAMILY OF LUMBER MERCHANTS, HE IMMIGRATED TO THE U.S. IN 1907. WHILE HE WORKED IN A SHOE FACTORY AND OTHER ODD JOBS, HE DEDICATED HIMSELF TO WRITING. HE CONTRIBUTED STORIES AND SKETCHES TO THE NEW YORK-DAILY DER TOG FROM ITS START IN 1914 UNTIL HIS DEATH 50 YEARS LATER. HIS FIRST NOVEL TO RECEIVE WIDE NOTICE WAS ROMANCE OF A HORSE THIEF (1912) ABOUT JEWISH THIEVES WHO SMUGGLED HORSES BETWEEN POLAND AND GERMANY—ROMANTICIZING THIEVES, DRUNKS, AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE JEWISH UNDERCLASS IN STARK CONTRAST TO HIS QUAINT AND MORE FRIENDLY JEWISH FIGURES DESCRIBED BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES SUCH AS SHOLEM ALEICHEM.
OPATOSHU ALSO WROTE DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF EVERYDAY JEWISH LIFE IN POLAND, AND THE INTERACTION BETWEEN DIFFERENT GROUPINGS OF JEWS AND BETWEEN JEWS AND NON-JEWS AS IN HIS FAMED IN POLISH WOODS(1921), A HISTORICAL NOVEL DESCRIBING THE DEVOLUTION OF THE KOTZKER DYNASTY BETWEEN THE AGE OF NAPOLEON AND THE POLISH REVOLT OF 1863. From Yiddiskayl.org



Yiddish Literature on The Reading Life

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