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Sholem Aleichem (Hebrew: ???????????, Russian: ?????-???????; March 2 [O.S. February 18] 1859 – May 13, 1916) was a popular humorist and Russian (geographically, Ukrainian) Jewish author of Yiddish literature, including novels, short stories, and plays. He did much to promote Yiddish writers, and was the first to pen children's literature in Yiddish.

His work has been widely translated. The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964), loosely based on Sholem Aleichem's stories about his character Tevye the Milkman, was the first commercially successful English-language play about Eastern European Jewish life.

Early life
Born as Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich (alternatively: Sholom, Shulem, Rabinovitz, Rabinovitsh, etc.) (Russian: ??´??? ???´????? ??????´???) to a poor Jewish family of Menachem-Nukhem and Khaye-Ester Rabinovitsh in Pereyaslav (Poltava region, east of Kiev), Imperial Russia. Sholem Aleichem's mother died when he was fifteen. His first writing was an alphabetical vocabulary of the epithets used by his stepmother. At the age of fifteen, inspired by Robinson Crusoe, he composed his own, Jewish version of the famous novel and decided to dedicate himself to writing. He adopted the comic pseudonym Sholem Aleichem, derived from a common greeting meaning "peace be with you", or colloquially, "hi, how are you". For this reason, he is never referred to simply as "Aleichem", either in literary discussion or in bibliographic references.

After completing Pereyaslav local school with excellent grades in 1876, he left home in search for work. For three years, Sholem Aleichem taught a wealthy landowner's daughter Olga (Golde) Loev. Against the wishes of her father, Olga became Sholem Aleichem's wife on May 12, 1883. Over the years, they had six children, including painter Norman Raeben—whose teaching Bob Dylan credits as an important influence on Blood on the Tracks—and Yiddish writer, Lyalya (Lili) Kaufman. Lyalya's daughter Bel Kaufman wrote the novel, Up the Down Staircase, which was made into a successful film.


Writer's career
At first, Sholem Aleichem wrote in Russian and Hebrew. From 1883 on, he produced over forty volumes in Yiddish, to become a central figure in Yiddish literature by 1890. Most writing for Russian Jews at the time was in Hebrew, the liturgical language used largely by learned Jews. Sholem Aleichem wrote in Yiddish, the vernacular language often derogatively called "jargon" [zhargon], but which was accessible to nearly all literate East European Jews.

Besides his prodigious output of Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem also used his personal fortune to encourage other Yiddish writers. In 1888-1889, he put out two issues of an almanac, Di Yidishe Folksbibliotek ("The Yiddish Popular Library") which gave important exposure to many young Yiddish writers. In 1890, Sholem Aleichem lost his entire fortune in a stock speculation, and could not afford to print the almanac's third issue, which had been edited but was subsequently never printed. Over the next few years, while continuing to write in Yiddish, he also wrote in Russian for an Odessa newspaper and for Voskhod, the leading Russian Jewish publication of the time, as well as in Hebrew for Ha-melitz, and for an anthology edited by Y.H. Ravnitzky. It was during this period that Sholem Aleichem first contracted tuberculosis.


Emigration

After 1891, Sholem Aleichem lived in Odessa, and later Kiev. In August 1904, Shalom Aleichem edited Hilf: a Zaml-Bukh fir Literatur un Kunst ("Help: An Anthology for Literature and Art"; Warsaw, 1904) and himself translated three stories submitted by Tolstoy (Esarhaddon, King of Assyria; Work, Death and Sickness; Three Questions) as well as contributions by other prominent Russian writers, including Chekhov, in aid of the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. In 1905, he left Russia with some reluctance, forced by waves of pogroms that swept through southern Russia. Originally, Sholem Aleichem lived in New York City, but failed to establish himself in the Yiddish theatre world there. His family, meanwhile, set up house in Geneva, Switzerland. Sholem Aleichem soon discovered that his income was far too limited to sustain two households, and he left for Geneva. Despite his great popularity, many of Sholem Aleichem's works had not generated much revenue for the author, and he was forced to take up an exhausting schedule of travelling and touring in order to make money to support himself and his family. In July, 1908, while on a reading tour in Russia, he collapsed on a train going through Baranowicz. He was diagnosed with a relapse of acute hemorrhagic tuberculosis and spent two months convalescing in the town's hospital. Sholem Aleichem later described the incident as "meeting his majesty, the Angel of Death, face to face", and claimed it as the catalyst for writing his autobiography, Funem yarid [From the Fair] [1] During Sholem Aleichem's recovery, he missed the First Conference for the Yiddish Language, held in 1908 in Czernovitz; his colleague and fellow Yiddish activist Nathan Birnbaum went in his place.[2] Sholem Aleichem spent the next four years living as a semi-invalid; only eventually becoming healthy enough to return to a regular writing schedule. During this period the family was largely supported by donations from friends and admirers.

In 1914, most of Sholem Aleichem's family immigrated to the United States, where they made their home in New York City. Sholem Aleichem's son Misha was ill with tuberculosis at the time and therefore inadmissible under United States immigration laws. Misha remained in Switzerland with his sister Emma, and died in 1915, an event which put Sholem Aleichem into a profound depression.


Death

Sholem Aleichem died in New York in 1916, aged 57, while still working on his last novel, Motl the Cantor's son, and was laid to rest at Mount Carmel cemetery in Queens.[3] At the time, his funeral was one of the largest in New York City history, with an estimated 100,000 mourners. [4] [5] The next day, his will was printed in the New York Times and was read into the Congressional Record of the United States.

The will contained detailed instructions to his family and friends; both in regards to immediate burial arrangements as well as to how Sholem Aleichem wished to be commemorated and remembered on his annual yartzheit. He told his friends and family to gather, "read my will, and also select one of my stories, one of the very merry ones, and recite it in whatever language is most intelligible to you." "Let my name be recalled with laughter," he added, "or not at all". The gatherings continue to the present-day, and in recent years have become open to the public.


Legacy

In 1997, a monument dedicated to Sholem Aleichem was erected in Kiev; another was erected in 2001 in Moscow.

In 1996, a stretch of East 33rd Street in New York City was renamed "Sholem Aleichem Place" between Park and Madison Avenue.

In 2007, the Jewish Currents magazine began selling Sholem Aleichem bobblehead dolls.[1]

Shalom Aleichem Road in Tel Aviv is named in his honor - a historical road in the White City that hosts the US Embassy, the ElAl House, the Isrotel building, as well as several historical Bauhaus buildings.

An impact crater on the planet Mercury is also named in his honor[6].


Beliefs and activism

Sholem Aleichem was an impassioned advocate of Yiddish as a national Jewish language, one which should be accorded the same status and respect as other modern European languages. He did not stop with what came to be called "Yiddishism", but devoted himself to the cause of Zionism as well. Many of his writings[7] present the Zionist case. In 1888, he became a member of Hovevei Zion. In 1907, he served as an American delegate to the Eighth Zionist Congress held in the Hague.

Sholem Aleichem was often referred to as the "Jewish Mark Twain" because of the two authors' similar writing styles and use of pen names. Both authors wrote for both adults and children, and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. When the two finally met late in life, however, Twain retorted that he considered himself the "American Sholem Aleichem."


A short passage to illustrate Sholem Aleichem's style
"Pinhas Pincus is of less than normal height, with one small eye and one bigger eye. When he talks, it seems as if the eyes talk to each other; the smaller eye asks for and seeks approval from the bigger eye; and the bigger eye gives its approval of every plan or undertaking. When he first came to Nuremberg, there was no limit to his sufferings; he had to endure starvation, misery and personal insults from his German brethren. In Nuremberg he was protected from massacres, but was not protected from starvation." —from An Early Passover, translated by George Zinberg


Quotes

A bachelor is a man who comes to work each morning from a different direction.
Gossip is nature's telephone.
Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.
No matter how bad things get, you got to go on living, even if it kills you.
The rich swell up with pride, the poor from hunger.
Rather the bite of a friend than the kiss of an enemy.

Works

English-language collections

The Best of Sholom Aleichem, edited by R. Wisse, I. Howe (originally published 1979), Walker and Co., 1991, ISBN 0-8027-2645-3.
Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories, translated by H. Halkin (originally published 1987), Schocken Books, 1996, ISBN 0-8052-1069-5.
Nineteen to the Dozen: Monologues and Bits and Bobs of Other Things, translated by Ted Gorelick, Syracuse Univ Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8156-0477-7.
A Treasury of Sholom Aleichem Children’s Stories, translated by Aliza Shevrin, Jason Aronson, 1996, ISBN 1-56821-926-1.
Inside Kasrilovka, Three Stories, translated by I. Goldstick, Schocken Books, 1948 (variously reprinted)
The Old Country, translated by Julius & Frances Butwin, J B H of Peconic, 1999, ISBN 1-929068-21-2.
Stories and Satires, translated by Curt Leviant, Sholom Aleichem Family Publications, 1999, ISBN 1-929068-20-4.
Selected Works of Sholem-Aleykhem, edited by Marvin Zuckerman & Marion Herbst (Volume II of "The Three Great Classic Writers of Modern Yiddish Literature"), Joseph Simon Pangloss Press, 1994, ISBN 0-934710-24-4.

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