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Sholem Aleichem on The Reading Life
In October of 2012 Yale University Press very generously gave me a complete set of The Yale Yiddish Library, nine volumes of the consensus greatest works of Yiddish literature, novels, plays, poems, essays and lots of short stories. My first reaction, aside from delight and gratitude, was “where do I start?”
One of first works I read was an epistolary novel by Sholem Aleichem, The Letters of Menalham Mendi and Sheyne Sheyndi (ok not catchiest title but they did not have marketing departments in publishing houses in 1905). This turned out to be a great delight, hilarious, realistic and the characters ring true. Here are parts of my thoughts from October 22, 2012:
“The letters that make up the novel are between a man and wife in early 20th century Ukraine. It is just so funny I laughed out loud as I read it. The man has left home to make money to send home for the support of his long
suffering wife and their many children. The woman is a conservative stay at home grounded in folk wisdom and the family wife and mother where the husband is bolder and though he probably loves his wife, finds his home life a bit boring. He ,tries six different occupations from stock broker, writer,real estate sales, loan factoring and insurance sales man to match maker. He starts each new occupation with a letter to his wife saying how he was cheated in his previous occupation but the new venture he had undertaken will bring the family riches. His wife writes back, with each letter starting with a loving greeting, and tells him how terrible things are at home, how her mother tells her she married a fool, and how he is an idiot with a bloated ego. As I read this I could not help but see myself getting letters like this had this been me and my wife. I felt it when she kept calling him "your highness". I found the ending terribly sad.”
Today’s story takes place on Yom Kippur Day, The Day of Atonement in the Jewish Liturgical Calender. We are at a synagogue. A highly talented cantor is preforming the closing prayer. Sadly,he dies in mid-preformance. Of
course his wife is in shock as is everyone else. We then learn that anyone who dies on Yom Kippur days is given, at the expense of the community, a first class funeral all envy.
A simple story that I enjoyed reading.
Sholom Aleichem is by far the most now known Yiddish writer. Most identify him as the creator of the characters on which Fiddler on The Roof is based.