HIGH SCHOOL READING ACTIVITY
Sholem Aleichem’s Ethical Will, published in full in the New York Times in 1916, laid out his key personal and collective concerns. He asked to be memorialized not with grandiose statues, but instead through his work. Specifically, he requested that readers enjoy his works by reading them aloud every year on the anniversary of his death.
The reading activity below, designed by sholemaleichem.org in collaboration with project partner Professor Jeremy Dauber of Columbia University, invites students to honor Sholem Aleichem’s ethical will by reading his work aloud. This activity offers students a fun and participatory way to engage with the writings of Sholem Aleichem.
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- Become familiar with some of Sholem Aleichem’s most beloved characters, which are some of the most famous in all of Yiddish literature
- Gain an understanding of Jewish life in the Russian Empire in the late 19th Century, and the cultural, economic, political and religious forces that shaped this experience
- Draw parallels between their own modern-day experiences and those of a group on the verge of modernity.
Included in this packet are five excerpts from Sholem Aleichem’s most famous stories:
- “If I Were Rothschild”
- “My Brother Elye’s Drink” from Motl the Cantor’s Son
- “The Pot”
- “On Account of a Hat”
- A conversation between Tevye, Chava, and Golde in “Chava”
These excerpts cover some of Sholem Aleichem’s most beloved characters and explore some of the core themes of his work, offering a window into the world of Eastern European Jews as they began to confront the forces of cultural, political, and religious modernity that tore through the Russian Empire in the final decades of the 19th Century.
As part of your educational programming, invite students to read the excerpts aloud, either in groups or as a single unit. Follow these student readings with a group discussion inspired by the prompts listed under each reading.