Earlier this week, Jeremy Dauber wrote about touring with his recently published biography, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem (Schocken Books/Nextbook Press). Want to win a copy? Click here. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
Everyone likes lists, right? Who doesn’t like lists? Okay, fine, you in the back, maybe. But I like lists. And Buzzfeed seems to be doing pretty well by them. So in that spirit, I’ve decided to provide, as a public service, a list of ten of the top stories Sholem Aleichem ever wrote.
The one problem is that picking ten stories out of the dazzling range of works by this remarkably talented and hugely prolific writer is bound to create discord and disagreement among the Sholem Aleichem cognoscenti. Sure, over a thirty-plus year period of writing you’re bound to come up with some dogs – and Sholem Aleichem’s pace, born of (at various points) financial necessity, ideological enthusiasm, youthful exuberance, or family and personal stress, didn’t render him immune to the more-than-every-once-in-a-while bow-wow – but there are so many fantastic stories, so many tales you envy someone a first reading, that it’s hard to know where to begin. But here are ten corkers, anyway.
1. “Chava.” The finest of the Tevye stories, which are the finest stories of Sholem Aleichem’s whole oeuvre.
2. “The Enchanted Tailor.” It’s not a folk tale; it’s not a ghost story; but it’s not not those things, either.
3. “On Account of a Hat.” See the previous blog post.
4. “Londons.” Our first encounter with Menakhem-Mendl, the notoriously optimistic (and inexpert) businessman, and one of Sholem Aleichem’s most famous creations. His wife Sheyne-Sheyndl has equally good lines, if not better.
5. “The Man from Buenos Aires.” A nasty little encounter on a railroad with a man who is not who he seems to be…or maybe he is.
6. “Dreyfus in Kasrilevke.” How do Jews talk politics? This is one way.
7. From the Fair. Sholem Aleichem never completed his autobiography; but what we do have is a now-largely hidden treasure (which is, not entirely coincidentally, a leading motif in lots of his works, including this one).
8. “The Guest.” A holiday story and a story about children – two of Sholem Aleichem’s specialties – wrapped in one. A third specialty: the twist ending.
9. “A Tale of A Thousand and One Nights.” Set not in some fantasy land, but in Jewish Eastern Europe in the throes of World War I, the tales of survival the story’s Scheherazade relates chill to the bone.
10. “Haman and Mordechai.” A bizarre little effort about what happens when the two Biblical characters – the real ones – appear in Yiddishland.
All of these, except the last, are available in translation. Happy reading!
Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University, where he also serves as director of its Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and teaches in the American Studies program. His newest book, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem (Schocken Books/Nexbook Press), is now available. Win a copy here.
Jeremy Dauber is the Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author of several books on Jewish literature, including a biography of Sholem Aleichem that was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. He lives in New York City.