The Yiddish subtitle of Everyday Jews is Yidn fun a gants yor, or Jews the Whole Year Through. Covering the “entire Jewish liturgical calendar,” including many a Shabes, as well as Purim, Passover, Shavuos, and Hanukkah, it is narrated by twelve-year-old Mendl, who is reminiscent of Shalom Aleichem’s Motl Pesi, writes David Roskies in his excellent introduction. Roskies also notes that Mendl’s story “tracks in meticulous detail his sexual initiation, moral struggle, and psychological maturation.”
Critics called some of Perle’s earlier works “pornographic,” chiefly because of his frankness about sex. Others came to admire him. Emanuel Ringelblum asked him to write for the Oyneg Shabes Archive, but Perle’s work was never found. In 1943 he died at Auschwitz.
Everyday Jews presents readers with striking images, such as the trees in front of a church which guarded “the shaded faces of the Holy Mother and Child.… inclining to one side, she [the Holy Mother] looked down on her half-naked breast.…[while] the sun, looking like a large, flat, golden plate, was setting on the other side of the cross.”
The novel contains some unforgettable characters. Mendl’s mother frequently refers to her first husband and the brass handles on the doors in her former Warsaw home. More than once, when “life was becoming too much for [her],” she moves the family to another house; at other times she dons her gold-rimmed glasses and escapes into books. Mendl’s father’s (probably) selective deafness allows him to ignore many a difficult situation, including the stillbirth of his daughter’s child in a snow bank.
One hopes Yehoshue Perle’s work will at last receive the recognition it deserves.