Friday, January 14, 2011

sholem aleichem

its that time of year again. the new york jewish film festival is here. last night i saw the movie sholem aleichem : laughing in the darkness. it was quite informative.
sholem aleichem was a yiddish writer who wrote the ever popular tevye stories of  which fiddler on the roof  was based . i read the short stories about tevye when i was a teenager. they were very different from the hollywood movie  fiddler on the roof.  i did have the fortune to see the yiddish movie tevye der milker which was filmed in new jersey in 1939 and stars maurice schwartz (  and btw this is also playing at the jewish film festival this year) . the 1939 movie is a must see.  if you miss it at the festival you can also get it from the new york public library. first of all the ending was very different. though chava marries a goy she returns to her father after there is a pogrom and she finds that her goyishe husbands family stole her mother's wedding dress. i liked it better than the hollywood version. all the peasants speak yiddish in the 1939 movie. its such a hoot. once you see the original tevye movie you will have a different view of the subsequent  movie.
sholem aleichem wrote about the old jewish world in russia that was changing. modernity was approaching. though he himself did not end up remaining frum in his adult life he did believe in jews marrying jews. all four of his daughters married jewish men.
aside from the actual story itself the old shtetl footage was fabulous. it captured the joy of life that those in the shtetl had. it showed the genuine smiles of children and adults. there was much hardship in the shtetl , but even so these people were able to smile.
sholem aleichem's characters suffered, but had a hard time accepting the hardships that befell them. this is true about jewish people to this day. this is why we complain so much. goyim on the other hand are able to just say 'its g-d's will ' and they muddle through it. ive seen this continually at work. something bad happens and they accept it. the jewish people complain and try to improve the circumstances. its so hard to accept the worst as being inevitable. i guess this is why the israeli national atthem is hatikvah (the hope).
long after sholem aleichem's 1916 death he became well respected for his writings in russia. this continued even after the 1952 murder of yiddish writers in russia.. he was respected by jews and gentiles alike.
sholem aleichem is still respected in russia as a writer until today. last night was the premeire of sholem aleichem laughing in the darkness. the film's director joseph dorman was there, bel kaufman , sholem aleichem's almost 100 year old granddaughter as well as several of the film's editors, sound technician and others. there was a young woman in the audience who was born in the former soviet union. she said that she had grown up very secular but on her twelveth birthday her grandmother gave her a book by shoelem aleichem so that she would know her about her jewish heritage.  now she lives in new york and is living a jewish life. so even now sholem aleichem's purpose is being realized . he did not want people to forget the jewish world that had existed in europe even though he himself had become a secular jew in his adulthood. he felt that even if you did not continue all of the traditions that it was important to know where you come from.
in this documentary they focus a lot on fiddler on the roof  because it is the one sholem aleichem work that most people have heard of. the film also seems to think that sholem aleichem would have liked the fact that at the end of fiddler on the roof when they are leaving russia he sees his daughter chava who has married the goy and tells her she should live and be well. the filmmakers seemed to have thought that the evolution of sholem aleichem would be that he would have accepted intermarriage. i dont agree.
according to the film  when sholem aleichem had first come to america in 1905 he did not like what had happend to american jewry. the american jews did not like his stories and plays because they did not romantisize the old life and they just wanted to fit into the good life in america. sholem aleichem felt a sadness because jews were living a life in the united states that was better than anywhere else the jews had lived and yet they were becoming less and less observant and reliquishing all of their jewish culture. after such a bad reception he returned to russia. this does not seem like a man who would be so accepting of intermarriage even in the late sixties when fiddler on the roof came on the scene. fiddler on the roof had to be more accepting because by then intermarriage was on the rise and even one of the film's creators was intermarried. perhaps this documentary felt they had to say sholem aleichem's feelings on intermarriage would have changed because of modern audiences and the continuing rise of intermarriage these days. i for one don't buy it.
eventually sholem aleichem returned to the united states. at his 1916 funeral many public officials were in attendance. according to the film his funeral was the largest in new york city to this day. though he might have had a chilly reception at first in the united states , it had indeed changed. .the american jews cried at his funeral. the magnitude of his funeral also proved the power of the jewish community in the united states. sholem aleichem , a jewish folk writer passes away and many non-jewish politicians attend his funeral.
now that i have seen this documentary i feel compelled to read sholem aleichem's stories again. this is why i love the jewish film festival. you see a film and it broadens your interests.

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