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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]  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. 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.
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.
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. At the time, his funeral was
one of the largest in New York City history, with an estimated 100,000
mourners.   The next day, his will was printed in the New
York Times and was read into the Congressional Record of the United
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.
1997, a monument dedicated to Sholem Aleichem was erected in Kiev;
another was erected in 2001 in Moscow.
1996, a stretch of East 33rd Street in New York City was renamed
"Sholem Aleichem Place" between Park and Madison Avenue.
2007, the Jewish Currents magazine began selling Sholem Aleichem
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.
impact crater on the planet Mercury is also named in his honor.
Beliefs and activism
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 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
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
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
The rich swell up with pride, the poor from hunger.
Rather the bite of a friend than the kiss of an enemy.
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.