Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
In 1881 Mendele was brought to Odessa to become the prin­
cipal of the city Talmud Torah. He kept this position until he
was advanced in years. It required a great deal of his time, and
when in a bad mood, he would complain about his “ damn job .”
His personal life was also troubled. One of his daughters, a
talented artist, died, and his only son was exiled to the far north
because of revolutionary activity. Nevertheless, these were quiet
years. He was surrounded by love and respect. Sholem Aleichem
began to develop as a writer, and remembering the admonition
in Ethics o f the Fathers: “ Find thee a teacher,” he chose Mendele
and referred to him as grandfather. The self appointed “ grand­
child” was only 25 years younger than Mendele, but the title
implied love, respect and intimacy. Thus the name became Men­
dele, the grandfather.
Mendele was the first Yiddish writer who felt the need and
the capacity to describe nature with love and accuracy. Among
his writings are wonderful word pictures of field and stream,
of forests and animals seen through Jewish eyes. He enveloped
the world in worshipful wonder; he clothed it in ritual garments
and fell on his knees before every blade of grass. No one before
or after him in Yiddish or Hebrew literature approached his
masterful description of nature.
The Author's Greatest Novel
In the late 1880’s Mendele wrote his greatest novel
The Wish­
ing Ring,
and in the late 1890’s the autobiographic novel
Reb Khayim’s,
which incidentally he never finished. These are
calm, plastic works, devoid of belligerency. Here we find the
broad panorama of life in the small town and to some extent in
the large city. Here we discover the realist, the synthesis in all his
glory. The town in
The Wishing Ring
is called Kabtzansk from
the word
pauper, and the city is named Glupsk from
the Slavic glupi, foolish. Here we find the characteristic, the
typical, not the unusual as we do in Peretz. Both books are
static, because there was no dynamism in Jewish life of the second
third of the 19th century. The story is constantly interrupted by
detailed descriptions of characters, institutions, mass scenes, and
prudent digressions about Jewish mores. Here Mendele is both
painter and sculptor. These are books for gourmets who like to
drink good wine a sip at a time. They are not written for the
average reader, but for the refined reader who savors the delight
of each page. Here, too, the “ eternal Jewish beggar’s bag” shows
through. Even here the outcry against wrongs and injustice is
evident. However, the dominant note is sympathy and the author
is no longer ashamed to display his inherent love for his people