Weekly Reader Honoring Kyiv, Home to Sholem Aleichem
March 13, 2022
Is there a better-known, better-loved, or better-read Yiddish writer than Sholem Aleichem? You’d be hard pressed to find one. In his own day he was uniquely beloved as a writer who represented the realities of Eastern European Jewish life in all of its humor and pathos. Since his death in 1916, his work and its adaptations—most notably Fiddler on the Roof—have come to represent that vanished world to successive generations of new audiences. Sholem Aleichem was born on March 2, 1859, so celebrating his work this month seems appropriate. Sadly, there’s another reason to think about Sholem Aleichem right now. Born in Perieaslav, a town near Kyiv, he spent some of his formative years in the city now falling under Russian bombardment, and is honored by a statue right in the middle of town. So we're also honoring Kyiv, home to one of the greatest of all Yiddish writers.
Why (and How to) Read Sholem Aleichem
If there’s anyone who can make the definitive case for Sholem Aleichem it’s Jeremy Dauber, the author of The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye. But after reading all of the author’s voluminous work, Dauber discovered that there are at least three ways to experience this most beloved of Yiddish writers.
An Annotated Guide
Although he’s most famous for his Tevye stories, Sholem Aleichem’s writings are vast, and so are the writings about his writings. Fortunately, we put together a handy guide to Sholem Aleichem’s work and some key resources you’ll want to check out.
A Rediscovered Novel
You would think that all the works by an author as famous as Sholem Aleichem would be well known. That’s not the case. On this episode of The Shmooze podcast, translator Curt Leviant talks about the first translation of Moshkeleh the Thief, a novel replete with characters never before seen in Yiddish literature.
For those who have devoted their lives to Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem is a gift that keeps on giving. Not long before the 100th anniversary of his death, two of the world’s most engaging Yiddish scholars—Ruth Wisse and her brother, David Roskies—spent an afternoon onstage at the Yiddish Book Center discussing and debating their favorite stories in a lively, freewheeling conversation.
Tevye on Tape
You can, of course, find the complete works of Sholem Aleichem in our digital collections. But if you want to experience Sholem Aleichem in the original Yiddish, we have just the thing: a recording of Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the Milkman) read aloud by Shmuel Atzmon, one of the great Yiddish actors of our time.