Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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— S
h o lom
le ich em
the generations it has also been the medium of cultural accumu-
lation and expression by a people saturated with its own ancient
culture and absorbing the diverse cultures of its many neighbors.
Yiddish is therefore exceptionally rich in idiom and allusion,
in hints and nuance, in varieties of color and mood of meaning.
Sholom Aleichem is the great master of this speech; no other
Yiddish writer, however great, approached him in this field of
greatness. This is the ground for the axiom among all who know
Yiddish that Sholom Aleichem is untranslatable, as indeed these
values of his writing are.
Secondly, there was what might be referred to as familiarity
with the reader. Sholom Aleichem was not writing for an abstract
reader. He wrote for the people of whom he wrote. Hence no
circumlocution, no copious expression was necessary; a mere turn
of speech, a choice of nuance of a word like the gesture of an
actor on stage, told the reader more than reams of writing. What
some lacking in understanding regarded as loquaciousness in
Sholom Aleichem, was no part of the narration or description,
but the train of thought wherein writer and character become
one. It was therefore assumed that a non-Yiddish speaking person
reading Sholom Aleichem in translation would be like a stranger
listening in on a family conversation.
Thirdly, the disappearance of the world which Sholom Alei-
chem presented in his writing. The world of Sholom Aleichem,
Kasrilevke the Jewish town, Yehupetz the Jewish city, their mul-
titudinous harassed inhabitants, the little folks with little out-
looks, their conditions and problems, their petty quarrels and
basic solidarity, their struggles, strivings, hopes—these were obso-
lete when Sholom Aleichem wrote of them, and now seem to
belong to a distant dead past. Actually, Sholom Aleichem’s death
in the midst of the second World War barely preceded the de-
struction of his world by war, revolution, civil war and commu-
nization. His stories faced the danger of becoming historical tales
with little to say to the people of our time, particularly people
to whom his writing was foreign and unknown in its day.
What is it, then, that keeps Sholom Aleichem’s works so fresh,
so meaningful, so attuned to our time as they are today?
Primarily, his absolute humanity. A penetrating writer, Dr.
Nahum Syrkin, wove into his eulogy on Sholom Aleichem the
Biblical phrase, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob.” He
might have added the words of the Psalmist, “His tender mercy
on all His creation.” The characters of Sholom Aleichem mean
evil things, but they are not mean, evil persons. The author’s
faith in mankind and his compassion detach the evil from the
evil doer. At heart man is good and wants to do good. The evil
derives from the human comedy, the social circumstances, the