Having grown up in a shtetl near Kiev, Sholem Aleichem wrote about the extreme poverty, pettiness and greatness of shtetl life, as well as the threat of conscription into the Russian army, pogroms and intermarriage. But, like the American author Mark Twain, he addressed dark subject-matter in such a light-hearted manner that the reader often did not realize their attention was being fixed on great suffering and injustice.
When Mark Twain heard of the writer called ‘the Jewish Mark Twain,’ he replied, “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.”
Among Sholem Aleichem’s quirks was a fear of the number 13; he gave his manuscripts a page ’12a’ instead of a ’13,’ and perhaps with good reason – he died on May ’12a’ 1916 at the age of 57. And it appears to be a genuine coincidence that this show should air on August ’12a’ 2014. We think he would see the funny side.
100,000 mourners attended his funeral at Old Mount Carmel cemetery in Queens, New York, in the largest funeral to date in the history of New York City. In his will he wrote, “Let my name be recalled with laughter, or not at all.”
Photo: Sholem Aleichem, author of the Yiddish ‘Tevye the Dairyman’ stories, upon which the musical Fiddler on the Roof is based.