Sunday, April 2, 2017

Two Short Stories by S. Ansky- Author of The Dybbuk

Excellent Bio on S. Ansky- from Jewish Heritage Online

"In the Tavern", 1884, translated by Robert Szulkin

"The Sins of Youth", translated by Lucy Danidowicz, 1910

I know for sure if I had not entered the international book blog community years ago I would have never dreamed of reading Yiddish literature.  Sometime back Yale University Press gave me the wonderful gift of all the books, eleven, in The Yale Yiddish Library.   Among them were a collection of works by the famous dramatist, S. Ansky, best now recalled for his play, The Dybbuk, first produced in 1914 and still widely preformed.

Yiddish literature, a great deal of which was written in America, is a world class cultural treasure.   (I recently acquired a fabulous 1500 page anthology, Yiddish Literature in America, 1870 to 2000, edited by Emmanuel Goldsmith and translated by Barnett Zumolf which will, I hope, greatly expand my erudition in Yiddish literature.).

Ansky grew up in what is now Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire.  The stories I am featuring today are set in the now lost culture of the shtel. They are not happy feel good stories, they depict the lives of the impoverished.

"In the Tavern" lets us see what goes on in a shtel tavern.  The tavern is the social center of the Shtel.  Sansky lets us see the business side of the tavern and the escape of the patrons into drunken oblivion.  It is a very harsh look which has the complete feel of the truth.

"The Sins of Youth" centers on a young teacher.  He has set up shop in a shtel he just moved to, tutoring a number of boys.  He gets in trouble when he begins to teach literature besides religious studies.  When there are rumors of a possible coming pogram, the shtel Rabbi says it is warning of God that this teacher must leave the community.  In a chilling scene, the community members burn a mass of forbidden books.

The two short stories I am featuring today are both set in


  1. some years back i read a bio of a person who became enamored of Hebrew lit at an early age and devoted his life to collecting every book in Yiddish he could find... after a number of years he had so many he had to acquire warehouses to hold them all... it was a fascinating and engaging tale and i very much wish i could remember the name of the guy... he was a real hero in the most meaningful sense of the word...

    i read The Dybbuk once... never saw it, tho...

  2. Mudpuddle- The book you mentioned is Aaron Lansky's Outwitting History- The Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. Here is a link to my post

    You are very right, he is a hero of the reading life. If you are into Facebook you can follow his Yiddish Book Centrr there

    Thanks for your comment as always

  3. Aaron Lansky, right... tx very much... i'll follow up...

  4. Do you find that the tone of the stories, their impoverished characters' difficulties, makes you want to read just one (or two) and then take a break? Or, are there aspects to the stories which make that more bearable, so that you are eager to read more, even in a shorter time frame?

  5. Buried in Print. I find it best for me to read the stories slowly, not back to back. The harshest stories depict pograms and are painful to read. I recommend the stories of Lamed Shapiro. Yiddish literature began around 1860 and for all practical purposes ended in 1939,


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