Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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THE GRANDFATHER OF MODERN
Y I DD I SH L I TERATURE
B
y
Y
udel
M
ark
I
t
is
a lm o s t f i f t y y ea r s
since the death of Sholem Yakov
Abramovitch, who became famous as Mendele Mocher Sforim.
We are certain he died in December 1917 in the Odessa Jewish
Hospital, but we are not sure when he was born; whether it was
two days before Hanukkah in 1836, 1835, 1834 or even earlier.
We are not certain because he himself evidently did not know
the exact date of his birth.
Is this, however, important? We know Sholem Yakov Abramo­
vitch died in the fullness of his years, famous throughout the
Jewish world. He was read in Yiddish or Hebrew, loved and
respected among his fellow writers in both our languages and
admired by masses of readers. We also know that he has
remained great in the last fifty years and perhaps has become
even greater in the eyes of the critics while being largely forgotten
by the reading public. We also know that English readers hardly
know either the man or the works of the oldest of the three-star
constellation, Mendele, Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, generally desig­
nated the classicists of modern Yiddish literature.
If everything written about Sholem Yakov Abramovitch in
Yiddish and Hebrew were compiled, it would comprise thousands
of pages. T o this day, however, there is no exhaustive biography
of Mendele. Much is known about his life, but because of a
number of large gaps in this knowledge, it is doubtful if they
will ever be filled. Nevertheless, this personality embodies a strong
will, solid moral and artistic principles, spiritual courage, a sense
of duty to his people, and a profound knowledge of our thousand
year old cultural treasure. T o this should be appended the
prudence of the scholar and the vein of irony which runs through
his realistic writings.
Sholem Yakov was born in one of the poorest towns in Byelo­
russia, Kapulia, in the Minsk district. His father was a prominent
and learned man who taught his son and also provided him with
other good teachers. He studied Talmud, but also had a thorough
grounding in the Bible, which was rather unusual for that period.
The future writer’s childhood and youth coincided with the
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