Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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On that first visit, as on his second and last, Sholom Aleichem
was most enthusiastically received by his countless readers and
admirers here. A welcoming committee of leading editors and
literary men, community leaders and city notables sailed down
the Bay in a special revenue cutter to meet the steamer bringing
Sholom Aleichem, to greet him on board ship and follow him
to the pier where a large throng had gathered to hail their
beloved author. Pulitzer’s prominent newspaper,
The World,
assigned Herman Bernstein, the noted Anglo-Jewish journalist
who was later to serve as American ambassador to Albania, to
join Sholom Aleichem on a stroll through the streets of the
East Side and jot down his remarks. Two Yiddish theatres opened
on the same night with two plays of Sholom Aleichem. Shortly
after his arrival a reception was tendered him by the Jewish elite
of the city, including Jacob H. Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb and Com-
pany, the recognized leader of American Jewry, and his fellow
philanthropists FelixWarburg, Nathan Straus, and Justice Green-
baum, the pride of the German Jewish aristocracy. It was Justice
Greenbaum who introduced Sholom Aleichem to the great Amer-
ican humorist as the Jewish Mark Twain, to which Mark Twain
graciously replied, “Please tell him that I’m the American Sholom
Aleichem.”
All this, however, was only reflected glory from the fame in the
Yiddish world. Those dignitaries, like the writers in the general
American press, could not have had any real personal knowledge
of the writings of Sholom Aleichem. Neither in 1906 nor in 1916
were Sholom Aleichem’s works available in English except for
an occasional poorly translated story in an Anglo-Jewish publica-
tion, and a miserable effort in London, a volume of atrociously
butchered stories that fortunately passed unnoticed and unsold.
When the
Dial,
the “highbrow” literary journal of the time, pub-
lished an intelligent, sensitive essay on Sholom Aleichem it could
have been written only by a person who had had access to the
original Yiddish.
A few years after Sholom Aleichem’s death I approached an
American publisher who had brought out translations of the
works of several European authors of several countries, with a
suggestion that he publish a volume of short stories of Sholom
Aleichem in English translation. Himself a Jew, that publisher
knew who Sholom Aleichem was and had a vague notion of the
quality of his writing. Yet he declined, giving a reason that sounds
strange today, forty-five years later. He said that while an Ameri-
can reader will buy a translation of a German, French or Spanish
book, it was different with a translation of a Jewish book. A Jew
would not come into a store to ask for a Jewish book, and a non-
Jew would not be interested.