Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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The Golden Era of Yiddish Li terature
The Yiddish narrators from Dick, Mendele and Linetzky to
Dineson, Shomer and Spector performed a valuable function
in developing a large reading public. Sholom Aleichem’s humor
and Peretz’s wisdom could then reach this reading public, elevate
and inspire it. By the eighteen-eighties, the groundwork had
been laid for a Golden Era of Yiddish Literature.
Sholom Aleichem commingled in his tales the serious and the
comic, the grim event and the trivial happening. His was a
healthy laughter, interrupted now and then by an involuntary
sigh and a pause of compassion. In his bitterest years he created
his most humorous character Tevye the Dairyman, a lighthearted
pauper who drives his rickety wagon and emaciated nag along the
dusty road between Kasrilevke and Yehupetz in search of a bare
pittance, but whose thoughts traverse the entire globe and
reach up to God. Though severe trials assail Tevye, this simple
being wipes away the unwelcome tear, strikes up a merry tune,
finds comfort in spiritual admonitions, remains morally im-
maculate, and rejoices in the mere fact of being alive.
Not only Sholom Aleichem’s grownups but also his children
laugh at our sorry mess of a world. His most attractive stories
about children center around Mottel Peise dem Chazans. Mot-
tel knows neither bitterness nor prejudice, neither snobbishness
nor pettiness. He does not flatter the powerful nor cajole the
weak. He comes as a bright cloud of glory out of the hand of
God. He is a pure, tender creature, cheerful for no reason
whatsoever. He is full of insatiable curiosity and, though his
questions are dismissed with a scolding, he persists in seeking
a meaningful answer. He is what Sholom Aleichem himself would
have wanted to be, wise beyond his years while a boy, and
childlike, carefree and innocent after growing up. In reality,
however, at the very time this most renowned of Yiddish
humorists was poking fun at life as being a jest, his own heart
was bruised and broken.
Peretz’s stories, like those of Sholom Aleichem, generally deal
with everyday experiences—the struggle for bread, the trials of
marriage, the joys and cares of parenthood, the cycle of births,
feasts and funerals. Yet, every event described by Peretz is ir-
radiated by a supernatural light that leads from humdrum ex-
istence to a sphere beyond mundane life. Peretz effects a felici-
tous nexus between Realism and Romanticism. He delves into
Jewish folklore of all ages for his tales, but more especially into
the folklore of Hassidism. He recognized that this irrational de-
velopment of joyous mysticism was a necessary antidote to the
harshness, scorn and hostility of the outside world. It shielded
its followers against despair and spiritual decay. The best of his