Yom Kippur in Hell: A 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 the shtetl of 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. At the end of the 1870’s he passed the examination to become a lawyer, and worked at that profession until his license was revoked in 1889 by the Imperial Russian authorities, because they suspected him of having Polish nationalist feelings.
After that he lived in Warsaw, where he had a job in the small bureaucracy of the city’s Jewish community. There he founded Hazomir (The Nightingale), which became the cultural center of pre-World War I Yiddish Warsaw.
His first Yiddish work, a long ballad called Monish, was published in 1888, in the anthology Folksbibliotek (“People’s Library”), edited by Sholom Aleichem. He then continued to write in Yiddish, and also assisted other Yiddish writers in publishing their work. He was a writer of social criticism, sympathetic to the labor movement, and wrote stories, folk tales and plays.
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, “Yom Kippur in Hell”, is from the anthology Celebrating the Jewish Holidays, edited by Steven J. Rubin and published by Brandeis University Press in 2003.