Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Yosele: A Jewish Life by Jacob Dinezon - 1877 - translated from Yiddish by Jane Peppler - 2015 - 139 pages.

Jewish Storyteller Press

1851 - New Zhanger, Lithuania

1899 - Publishes Yosele: A Jewish Life

1919 - Warsaw

I first began reading Yiddish literature in translation in December of 2012.  Yale University Press inspired my interest with a gift of The Yale Yiddish Library Collection. The alleged theme of my blog is literary works about people who lead reading centered lives and I quickly came to see how central reading was to Yiddish culture.  

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  In the stories of pogroms by I. L. Peretz a terrible history was brought to life with incredible depth and feeling.  Dinezon was friends with them both.

Thanks to the selfless dedication and strongly focused work of Scott Davis, Jacob Dinezon (I urge all to read the very informative webpage on Dinezon I link to at the start of this post for background information on Dinezon and his relationships with other now much better known writers) Dinezon will soon become a canon status Yiddish writer.

Yosele gives us a detailed vivid vision of what it was like to be a poor school boy, maybe 12, in a traditional Jewish School focusing on the Torah.  (They were known as cheders.) Through focusing on Yosele we learn of the abuse and cruelty they were common in such schools.  Yosele's mother is the mainstay of the family, her husband can be violent with his children and her.  Yosele is often the subject of his anger. His mother very much wants to enroll him in a school normally reserved for boys from afluent families.  She begs the teacher's wife to let Yosele enroll, she will work double to pay his fees.

Because he is much poorer than the other boys, they feel free to ridicule him.

The teacher takes his anger on other boys out on him, then claims it was a mistake.  Failure to learn your lessons, memorizing text, could lead to a beating.

The teacher's wife makes him do household work for her.  We see the humiliating way he is treated.  His parents come to resent him. On what should've been a lucky day Yosele finds a rubble and gives it to his mother.  His parents assume he stole it.  From here things spiral badly down for Yosele.  He is expelled. He is branded all over the area as a thief  when someone frames him for stealing a pin knife.  From here things get much worse.  He ends up expelled, his siblings are farmed out as servants.  I don't want to tell to much more but the depiction of the death of his mother, caused by her humiliation was powerfully real.

There are good people in the story.  A man finds Yosele sleeping in the street on  a cold night and takes him in.  His wife feeds and clothes him.  They cannot believe he was treated so cruelly.

Yosele can stand with the classic novels by Dickens about schools. We learn a lot about life in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.  

Through it all young Yosele wanted but to study the Torah and to honor his parents.

Dinezon does a very good job with the characters.  Everyone was very convincing.  

Dinezon was heavily involved in school reforms.  

I highly recommend this work.  

As a Kindle edition it is very fairly prized at $3.95

JANE PEPPLER - Translator

Jane Peppler graduated from Yale University with a degree in Russian language and literature. She began singing Yiddish songs in 1983 and directed the Triangle Jewish Chorale in North Carolina for fourteen years. Peppler studies with Yiddish professor and textbook author, Sheva Zucker, and has attended two intensive summer Yiddish courses at the Medem Bibliotheque in Paris.
In addition to translating Yiddish stories by Sholem Aleichem, Ayzik Meyer Dik, and Mendele Moykher Sforim, Peppler has completed English translations of Jacob Dinezon’s Yosele (, Alter, and Hershele.
In 2014, Peppler published Yiddish Songs from Warsaw 1929-1934: The Itsik Zhelonek Collection. She has also produced and performed on several albums of Yiddish music, including “I Can’t Complain (But Sometimes I Still Do),” “Cabaret Warsaw: Yiddish and Polish Hits of the 1920s-1930s,” and the three volume set, “Yiddish Songs from Warsaw.”

I'm hoping to read another novel by Dinezon Hershelle:A Jewish Love Story in May.

Mel u

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