“The Magician”: A Passover Story by I.L. Peretz
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – Isaac Leib Peretz is considered to be one of the three great classical Yiddish writers, along with Mendele Mokher Seforim and Sholem Aleichem. He was born in Zamoshtch, Poland, in 1852, and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home of Sephardic origin. At the age of 15 he joined the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment movement and began a deliberate plan of secular learning, reading books in Polish, Russian, German, and French. He soon began to write poetry, songs, and stories in Hebrew. However, his first poem in Yiddish, a ballad called “Monish”, was not written until 1888. From that time until his death twenty-seven years later, Peretz wrote hundreds of Yiddish stories, poems, plays, articles and songs for children.
In 1889 he settled in Warsaw, where he became the teacher and guide for many young Yiddish writers, who came to him for criticism and advice. Between 1894 and 96 he published a series of magazines called Di Yontov Bletlech (“The Holiday Papers”) which were published on the occasion of each Jewish holiday. They included stories and poems as well as articles on political, scientific and cultural topics. He was a writer of social criticism, sympathetic to the labor movement, and was arrested and imprisoned by the Czarist police while reading one of his stories to a gathering of Jewish workers.
Between the years 1899 and 1914, Peretz wrote his famous Folk Tales and his Chassidic Tales. After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and until his death the following year, Peretz devoted his entire energy to the children’s community homes and schools which were established in Warsaw for the thousands of homeless and orphaned child-victims of the war. During that year he wrote many poems and songs for children.
Peretz died in Warsaw in 1915. There are streets named after him in Poland, in Zamoshtch and Warsaw, in several cities in Israel, and Peretz Square, in lower Manhattan, was dedicated in November, 1952.
This story, called “The Magician“, was published in the book Yiddish Stories for Young People, compiled and edited by Itche Goldberg. We hope you enjoy it and that you are having a very happy Passover.