Sholem Aleichem’s graphomania was evident from the start. As a child, lacking reserves of clean, white drawing paper, he substituted the whitewashed walls of neighboring houses, scrawling on them with charcoal, and every morning the maids and domestics would wash off the previous day’s activity, cursing the child as they did so. Though his list of his stepmother’s curses was in Yiddish, he had, like his father and many of his contemporaries in the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, inherited the sense that real, literary, modern writing took place in other languages. And in his early years, following in his father’s footsteps, that meant writing in Hebrew.
Sorting through Sholem Aleichem’s prolific work in the first few years of the twentieth century isn’t easy. But over and over again, in their separate ways, they all spoke to his attempt to make sense of Jewish life while creating specifically Jewish art: a grounded, deeply rooted set of works that spoke to an image of Jews, not as they were now or even had been, but how they saw their changing selves in their own imaginations and reflections.
–Excerpt from The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem by Jeremy Dauber