WHO WAS SHOLEM ALEICHEM?
Sholem Aleichem: novelist, essayist, playwright and one of the great writers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Born Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich he created rich characters that stand out because of their humanity and their universal appeal. He was read and admired by Tolstoy and Chekhov, and by hundreds of thousands of newspaper readers1 who pored over his weekly installments, eager to find out what happened next. Published serially with great frequency in the burgeoning mass medium of Yiddish newsprint, Sholem Aleichem had a close relationship with his readers, similar in many ways to popular bloggers and their readers today.
His protagonists are lovable, fallible people from a traditional world, running headlong towards the brink of modernity. In his day, Sholem Aleichem was often called “The Jewish Mark Twain.” Like Twain, he was skilled at writing dialogue in many different voices. His Motl, Menakhem Mendel, Sheyne Sheyndel, Tevye and a panoply of other characters still pop off the page today.
Sholem Aleichem wrote primarily about Eastern European Jews, and is perhaps best known for Tevye the Dairyman, upon which Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof, one of the most popular shows of all time, is based. The theme of Fiddler on the Roof is now so universal, it has been performed in Japanese, Hungarian, Hindi and even by sock puppets viewed by many thousands of people on YouTube. “There’s a reason that Tevye—particularly in his later incarnation as a musical theater star—has been beloved by audiences from Broadway to Tokyo. That reason has to do with the brilliance and heart that Sholem Aleichem lavished on his creation, forging a character that tells us something about what it means to live, to love, to struggle, and to change.”
On the 100th anniversary of the writer’s death in 1916, we want you to dive into the prose of Sholem Rabinovich, whose pen name Sholem Aleichem literally means “how do you do” (in Yiddish and Hebrew). Explore the site, which includes Dauber’s recommended stories, biographical information, a full bibliography, an interactive timeline and map, and course syllabi.
Sholem Aleichem wrote an ethical will, which was published in the New York Times and no doubt read by the more than 150,000 people who attended his funeral in New York City in 1916—the largest public funeral in New York to date at that time. The author’s will has one main request: that his work be “read aloud in whatever language that you speak.” We invite you to listen to Sholem Aleichem’s voice; to become entranced by one of the founders of Yiddish literature and modern literature, and a master teller of tales.