Page 105 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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91
L
i ptz in
— K
a sr ilevke
R
evalua ted
the emancipator from Egyptian enslavement, to Herzl, the father
of the contemporary Jewish rebirth. We must study not only
Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, American classics who forged
to the fore on the threshold of our century, but also their contem-
poraries Mendele, Peretz and Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish clas-
sics. It is not enough to acquaint our youth with the Boston of
the Puritans and the New York of Father Knickerbocker, with
Main Street and Winesburg, Ohio. They will not understand
themselves fully if they remain ignorant of Jerusalem the Eternal,
of Vilna of the Gaon, of Kasrilevke and Yehupetz as recreated
by Sholom Aleichem.
Sholom Aleichem’s Average Jew
Although Sholom Aleichem does not equal Mendele in rich-
ness of imagination or Peretz in profundity of insight into so--
called eternal problems, he continues to be the most widely read
oJE the Yiddish literary triumvirate. This is because he incor-
porated in his writing most frequently, most clearly and most
lovingly the inarticulate desires, the unrealized dreams, the un-
solved worries, the daily interests, the ever-recurring frustrations
and the undying hopes of the average person—not the heroic or
the unusual individual, not the rebel or the saint, but the average
Jew.
Sholom Aleichem’s average Jew possessed moral values and an
optimistic faith we sorely miss in our speed-maddened, sky-
scraping, sputnik-ridden, money-poisoned civilization. His nor-
mal Jew took for granted that every happening came from God
and must, therefore, have a good purpose, even though its divine
design might not be apparent to mere mortals.
When Tevya, the dairyman of Kasrilevke, invests his money
with Menachem-Mendel, the Don Quixotic speculator, and loses
all of it, this is his reaction: money comes and money goes but
the important thing is to remain a decent human being no matter
how the winds of fortune blow. He reasons that the more
troubles a person has, the more he needs the sustenance of faith;
and the poorer a person is, the more he needs the radiance of
hope. To live with faith and hope is surely desirable and moral.
Besides, where all are poor, including the revered rabbi of
Kasrilevke, poverty is neither a disgrace nor a cause for sadness.
A soul can be young, healthy and pure, even though the body is
old, sick and half-starved. There is a silver lining to every
cloud. Why despair? The cloud will pass away. Heaven and
earth will again be full of sunlight. Jews ought to be happy they
are alive, even when they cannot make a living. What if they
starve on weekdays? There is always the certainty of the Sabbath
when no Jew goes hungry. Though a Jew quite often cannot
afford meat or fish, he can find contentment in a piece of bread
and an onion. If he lacks these meagre ingredients for the festive
Sabbath, he can borrow them from a neighbor. On some other