Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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M a r k — G r a n d f a t h e r o f Yiddish L i t e r a t u r e
the editor of
Kol Mevasser
was Alexander Cederbaum, and since
Sender is a variant of Alexander the readers might think Ceder­
baum was the author, especially since he was in the book busi­
ness. Accordingly, Cederbaum crossed out Senderl and inserted
Mendele. This was the end of Sholem Yakov Abramovitch on
the Yiddish literary scene. Later, the name Mendele Mocher
Sforim played a conspicuous role in Hebrew literature.
The first novelette was very well received by the public. It
was something new for the Yiddish reader—not a fairy tale about
princes and sorcerers, not an essay on what is wrong in the
Jewish community, but a depiction of lively characters from
various walks of Jewish life, a story which if it did not happen
in one’s own town could certainly happen in a town nearby.
When the novelette was published in book form it was quickly
sold out, and its author soon became very well known. We shall
not mention all his books, only those that are o f special impor­
In 1869 he published a drama
The Meat Tax or the Gang of
Town Do-Gooders.
This was not a play for the Yiddish theatre,
which had not yet come into existence, but an angry and very
realistic satire on the peculations of the Berdichev communal
leaders in whose administering the kosher meat tax provided
an opportunity for all kinds of corruption. The characterizations
and events were so real that every person in the gang was clearly
recognizable by the Jews of Berdichev. The author himself is
represented in the play by the character Solomon Vecker (arous-
er). (Later Vecker became popular as a name for revolutionary
publications; the magazine of the Jewish Socialist Farband in New
York is called
Der Vecker
today.) Actually it was a clarion call
for an internal Jewish revolution. It was passed by the Czarist
censor because Mendele disguised his criticism by referring to
the “good government” that knew nothing of how the communal
leaders wrong the poor people. With the ruling clique, however,
Mendele was in trouble. They began to prosecute him, inform
on him. He had to be on his guard lest he be beaten or even
In the end Mendele had to leave Berdichev. He settled in
Zhitomir. There he published the first version of the book which
later became one of his gems,
Fishke, the Lame.
It is a tale about
a band o f wandering beggars in which a tender love between the
main character and a young hunchbacked orphan girl is inter­
woven in the plot. In Zhitomir he continued to teach in a
Crown School. This city had a seminary where Crown rabbis
were trained, and Mendele fulfilled all the requirements for a
diploma. However, part of the examination consisted of a speech
in Russian in the synagogue and since the speech he made was
too radical, he was rejected and never received the diploma.