Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
Fathers and Sons
(the same title as Turgeniev’s famous novel).
In this novel he depicts the conflict between fanatical parents
and their children who aspire to secular knowledge. Abramovitch
soon became well known in the Hebrew literary world. In Berdi-
chev he married a woman descended from a respectable family,
and became active in communal affairs. He helped organize a
loan fund for indigent merchants and artisans. At thirty he was
a man of modest means with a respectable position in the com­
munity and a literary career.
At this point in life Sholem Yakov Abramovitch made a sig­
nificant decision, deciding to become a Yiddish writer. Many
years later he explained that he was prompted by two motives:
first, to be useful to his people, to teach them and this was not
possible in Hebrew; secondly, compassion for the downtrodden
Yiddish language of the common people and the desire to elevate
it. There was undoubtedly also a literary esthetic motive: it is
more natural and more realistic to describe an environment when
one uses the vernacular of that environment. In addition, there
was conceivably some impact from the Russian literature of that
period and the Russian populist movement “ Go among the
People.” There was probably the personal influence of the radical,
warm proponent of Yiddish, Joshua Mordecai Lifshitz, the Yid­
dish lexicographer who lived in Berdichev and whom Abramo­
vitch regarded highly. Unquestionably, the fact that the Yiddish
Kol Mevasser
was being published in Odessa at this
time played a role in the decision. Abramovitch wrote a novelette
Dos Kleine Mentchele
and sent it to the editors o f
Kol Mevasser.
It is the life story of an unscrupulous servant who through
chicanery and fraud rose to power in his town, became rich
exploiting the fear and ignorance of the common people, and
confessed as he lay dying.
How does the author reach his public? The name Sholem
Yakov Abramovitch sounded too formal, too alien, very different
from the way ordinary Jews addressed one another. People were
called by their mother’s or father’s first name, or they were
known by their trades or characteristics, i.e. Sholem-Yankel
Chaim’s, Moshe-Ber Pessie’s, Senderl Shmulik the tailor, Reuven
the red, etc. Sholem Yakov therefore took the pseudonym Sen­
derl Mocher Sforim. It sounded folksy, since booksellers were
familiar in the Jewish towns. They would travel from town to
town with a horse and wagon peddling their wares of
mahzorim, tsitses, mezuzes,
laments, women’s prayers, and folk
tales in Yiddish which sold for a few coppers. The writer chose
the story line, depicting himself as a jolly, short-bearded little
Jew who liked to talk to people and to his horse and bestow
on the children of Israel the instruments o f Jewishness. The
problem with the pen name Senderl Mocher Sforim was that