Friday, September 17, 2010

Tevye the Dairyman


I find myself reading Sholem Aleichem's stories of Tevye the Dairyman, after finishing Petersburg (more on Petersburg later).  I have a translation by Hillel Halkin, who also writes a lengthy forward describing the Jewish condition in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the time in which these stories are set.  Aleichem eventually immigrated to America, as many Eastern European Jews did during this time, escaping the harsh tsarist rule that had consigned them to the Pale of Settlement.  Still, some Jews prospered as Aleichem noted in his amusing introductory chapter, as Tevye meets a wealthy family from Yehupetz (Kiev) in an odd and round about way.

The stories are filled with religious anecdotes as Tevye tries to come to terms with his lowly place in the world.  These amusing reveries are passed along to Aleichem, who sets himself as the narrator of these stories.  Halkin noted that Aleichem used a number of pen names, this being the one that stuck, which literally translates into "Hello, there."   He grew up in the vicinity of Kiev, where a monument commemorates him on Rognedinskaya street.  These stories were first published in the Warsaw yearbook Der Hoyzfraynt, constituting a vibrant part of Yiddish culture in Russia and Eastern Europe.

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