Birthday of Sholem Aleichem, 1859
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
On This Day in Jewish History: March 2, 1859
On this day, 1859, Yiddish and Hebrew literary icon, Sholem Alecheim, was born. Prior to using the pen name of Sholem Aleichem, his natural name was Sholem Rabinovitz. A son of a merchant and an enlightened thinker from a young age, Sholem Alecheim’s stories can be thought of somewhat like Jewish folklore from “the old country.” Sholem Aleichem was born in Ukraine and at an early age was taught traditional stories and religious practice of Judaism. He became a writer, writing Jewish stories and observations in Hebrew, similar to other scholars at the time. Although Yiddish was the language spoken commonly by people, Hebrew was a learned language and used intellectually. At twenty-four years old, Alecheim decided to break drafting tradition and publish a story in Yiddish, “Two Stones.” His stories quickly assembled a theme about the people, the lives of Jews in Eastern Europe. He wrote novels, plays, letters, and monologues. After leaving the pogroms of Kiev, his time in Europe was short-lived, and was eventually followed by a move to New York City. His lifetime of storytelling and publications made him famous around the world, for his stories brought a lot of joy to people. One of the most famous characters to come from Sholem Aleichem’s brilliant mind was Tevye. The Tevye stories (originally published in 1894) were instantly popular and long after Aleichem’s death, became the foundation for the Broadway musical and its film, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Popularity from the stories drew from the fact that they were comical, about the life of a dairyman and his daily adventures. Despite the comedic tone to Tevye, he was a religious person that loved to share his Jewish knowledge with others in case by case situations, like when something seemed relevant to scripture. Today, Tevye and “Fiddler on the Roof” is still one of the most celebrated, revived, and globally recognized story figures, thanks to Sholoem Aleichem. Aleichem was popular with Jews around the globe, whether they be orthodox, conservative or secular. He was an early advocate and activist of the Zionist movement, using some of his novels and stories for political purposes. To make room for other Yiddish writers, he created “Di Yidishe Folksbibliotek,” a yearly publication featuring more Yiddish authors. After returning to Europe briefly, he developed Tuberculosis, a condition that would haunt him the rest of his life. He died in New York in 1916. His son worked to get many of his Yiddish works translated into Hebrew and other languages.