Chaim Grade,in the image above with his second wife, his first was murdered by Germans, Inna (née Heckler) Grade
Born April 4, 1910 in Vilna, Lituania
1932 begins to write Short Stories in Yiddish
He spends WWII in Russia
1948-moves to New York City, where he will live from then on, after a couple of years in Paris
Dies April 26, 1982 in The Bronx, New York
Chaim Grade is considered one of the greatest of Yiddish writers. He wrote plays, several novels considered Master works, learned treatises about how the Holocaust should be understood in Jewish tradition but I think it his Short Stories and Novellas depicting life in Vilna, Lituania that are most now read.
He was a contributor to the Sunday Literary section of the NYC Yiddish Newspaper, The Forward. Today’s story, some would classify it as a novella, was first published in Forward. It is now translated for the first time ever by Curt Leviant and is included in a very valuable anthology, Have I Got a Story for You: More than a Century of stories from The Forward. This is from the preface
“ the Forward soon became associated with the most talented Yiddish writers of the day, from Sholem Asch and Avrom Reyzen in its early decades to Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Grade in later ones. Under the leadership of Cahan and his successors, the newspaper became home to serialized novels and novellas, humor sketches and one-act plays, “high literature” and sensational potboilers. Often the paper would be running two or three novels at once, in addition to short fiction, belles-lettres, and poetry. For more than a century the Forward produced an immense trove of literature, most of which remained untapped—until now.”
“Grandfathers and Grandson” is set in Vilna between the wars, in the days when it was called “The Jeruseleum of Europe”, home of the highest regarded traditional schools. The story begins with a lyrical description of Vilna in the Winter. The story begins in a group of elderly men, the grandfathers. In rapidly secularizing world they see their grandchildren being educated as if they were gentiles, with no grounding in the Torah. They have been made to feel, by their children and their spouses, as if the traditions that once they would have passed down are just to be trotted out on Holiday Holy Day Dinners. One day a young Boy wanders into their gathering. It turns out his deceased great grandfather was a highly revered Vilna Torah scholar. Sadly the boy is getting only a secular education. The grandfathers basically bribe him and soon his friends with food treats to let them teach boys Jewish tradition. We see how both sides gain from this.
Grade does just a wonderful job with this story, taking his time creating the feel of Vilna, individuating the different personsalities of the grandfathers and the Boys. Of course there is some drama, we meet mothers of some of the boys, we listen in as the men kvetch about their wives. I found this a delightful story.
Vivo Institute Article on Chaim Grade
An interesting human interest story about Chaim Grade from The New York Jewish Week.
I want to read more of his work. There are Kindle editions available but they are way over priced at $30.00 or more. Nothing seems in print otherwise.