“The Dangerous Matzo”– A Passover Story by Sholem Aleichem
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question:: How is the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem remembered each year?
Sholem Aleichem is probably the best-known and most well-loved Yiddish writer. He was born Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich in Russia in 1859, and throughout his relatively short career wrote novels, short stories, and plays. He also did a lot to promote Yiddish writers, and was the first to write children’s literature in Yiddish. While he was a zionist, he was also an impassioned advocate of Yiddish as a national Jewish language.
At first, Sholem Aleichem wrote in Russian and Hebrew, but from 1883 on, he produced over forty volumes in Yiddish, and by 1890 he had become a central figure in Yiddish literature. He also used his personal fortune to encourage other Yiddish writers. In 1888-1889, he put out two issues of an almanac, Di Yidishe Folksbibliotek (“The Yiddish Popular Library”) which gave important exposure to many young Yiddish writers.
Sholem Aleichem was often referred to as the “Jewish Mark Twain” because of the two authors’ similar writing styles and use of pen names. Both authors wrote for both adults and children, and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. When the two finally met late in life, however, Twain retorted that he was considered the “American Sholem Aleichem.”
Sholem Aleichem died in New York on May 13, 1916, at the age of 57. At the time, his funeral was one of the largest in New York City history, with an estimated 100,000 mourners. The next day, his will was printed in the New York Times and was read into the Congressional Record of the United States. Among other things, the will contained detailed instructions as to how Sholem Aleichem wished to be commemorated and remembered on his annual yartzheit. He says to his friends and family “gather, read my will, and also select one of my stories, one of the very merry ones, and recite it in whatever language is most intelligible to you.” “Let my name be recalled with laughter,” he adds, “or not at all”. The gatherings are still held each year, and are open to the public.
Sholem Aleichem’s memory has been honored in many parts of the world and in different ways. In recent years monuments dedicated to him have been erected in Kiev and Moscow, and streets have been named for him in several cities in the former Soviet Union, including Birobidzhan and Zhitomir. In 1996, East 33rd Street in New York City between Park and Madison Avenues was renamed “Sholem Aleichem Place” and many streets in Israel are also named after him.
An impact crater on the planet Mercury was named for him, and on March 2, 2009 (on the 150th anniversary of his birth) the National Bank of Ukraine issued a commemorative coin with his face on it.
This story, The Dangerous Matzo, is one of Sholem Aleichem’s children’s stories. I’d like to thank my mother, Rose Jimenez, for translating it for us.