_The Mendele Review_: Yiddish Literature and Language (A Companion to _MENDELE_) ______________________________________________________ Contents of Vol. 04.015 27 October 2000 1) a. On Sholem-Aleykhem's "Hodl" (ed.) b. Y.-Kh. Ravitski remembers Sholem-Aleykhem (ed.) 2) "The First Years of My Friendship with Sholem Aleichem" (Ravnitski) 3) "der reyekh fun a yidn" and other olifactory matters touched on in the last issue of TMR with comments by David Assaf (ed.) 1---------------------------------------------------- Date: 27 October 2000 From: ed.
Subject: On Sholem-Aleykhem's "Hodl" a. "Hodl," integral to _Tevye der Milkhiker_ as a whole, is also a rich story in itself, or rather several stories, each one of archetypal force. There is the story of a romantic love, defined against the crumbling institution of arranged marriage; there is the story of the social idealism of youth, its romantic radicalism. Two young people follow their hearts in the face of conventional familial and societal demands and expectations, clearing untread paths, unmindful of pragmatic needs. Hodl and Feferl represent, too, all idealistic youth who would remake the world in a more attractive image (though whose chosen means may subvert their effort). Simultaneously, "Hodl" is the story of filial and parental grief and pain at parting. And yet, somehow, this is a comic -- that is, life-affirming, as well as a tragic story. Some readers may wish to read the Yiddish text alongside an English translation -- the basic aim of Project Onkelos is to make this possible. Project Onkelos, as has been announced earlier (see _TMR_ 4.002) proposes to provide the original Yiddish texts of all the stories in the well known anthology _A Treasury of Yiddish Stories_, edited by Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg. The translation of "Hodl" in the Howe and Greenberg collection is by Julius and Frances Butwin and first appeared in their _The Old Country_ (1946). A more recent translation by Hillel Hankin can be found in his _Sholem Aleichem; Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories_ (1987). All English translations of Sholem Aleichem are listed in Louis Fridhandler's compendious online "Guide to Sholem Aleichem Translations" at http://research.haifa.ac.il/~yiddish/reference/indexes.pdf. "Hodl" in Yiddish: http://www2.trincoll.edu/~mendele/onkelos/hodl.pdf. b. The Ravitski memoir in this issue of the _TMR_ gives us a glimpse into the soul of the author of "Hodl," a far more complex figure than we may have thought. The master of "laughter through tears" experienced many of life's common difficulties -- poor health, penury -- and a special order of problems stemming from an uncommon love for Yiddish. We are grateful to Louis Fridhandler for making this not very well known memoir available in a faithful English rendering. 2)---------------------------------------------------- Date: 27 October 2000 From: Louis Fridhandler Subject: "The First Years of My Friendship with Sholem Aleichem" "The First Years of My Friendship with Sholem Aleichem" by Y.-Kh. Ravnitski(1) [written late summer or early fall, 1917] translated by Louis Fridhandler [Translator's introduction: Sholem Aleichem [Yiddish: Sholem-Aleykhem] died in New York on May 13, 1916. Shmuel Niger and Y. Tsinberg shortly thereafter organized a memorial publication which included this memoir. Anecdotes and letters bring vivid images of the young Sholem Aleichem. The role of the strange and destructive Yisroel Levi in Yiddish publication history is described by Ravnitski. At the end, Ravnitski quotes a letter that is probably the most pain-filled letter Sholem Aleichem ever wrote. Ravnitski did not quote the whole letter. I therefore resorted to a fuller version published by his son-in-law.] 1. When my close relationship with Sholem Aleichem began (almost thirty years ago), we had already been corresponding regularly for a couple of years. As everyone knows, Sholem Aleichem loved to write letters. I dare say no one has ever written so many letters with such tireless enthusiasm. He never put off a reply, never waited patiently for an answer, but prompted and prodded his correspondent, writing again and again. "And I, Sholem Aleichem," the young man wrote me, "am not like other people. I answer on the spot." In another letter: "You presume to complain about me? Come, come! I think you owe me about fourteen letters! Am I mistaken?" Another letter: "I send off three, four, five, six letters a day. That's how I've been, from way, way back." When he was ill, late in life, he wrote from [a sanitarium in] Nervi [Italy]: "You scold me? How charming of you! You claim I don't answer your letters? What a laugh! There's not a blockhead on earth who would believe that Ravnitski and Byalik write, but Sholem Aleichem (that idle good-for-nothing) is too shiftless to reply. His unique, beguiling comic style became famous through his publications, but every letter proved that the spirited humor was no artifice. A gift of nature, it gushed as though from a heaven-blest font, spontaneously, not forced by the sweat of his brow. No wonder, then, a letter from him would make the recipient laugh out loud, first while reading it to himself, then when reading it to close friends who laughed along. Collaborating with a good friend in 1886, I was preparing a collection of essays to be published as _Der Veker_ [The Awakener]. Our aim was to spark a love for Zion in Jewish hearts. As the title page announced, M. Lilyenblum was the nominal editor. However, Lilyenblum merely lent his name to a project dear to his heart. Until publication, he read not a line of any manuscript other than his own. I had to correspond about _Der Veker_ with all our well-known writers of that time, including Sholem Aleichem. He had been writing Yiddish for only three years after an earlier start in Hebrew. Still, he was already a celebrity, being one of those most fortunate of writers who become well known soon after they appear. _Di Ibergekhapte Briv_ [The Intercepted Letters] had already been published along with many other stories that delighted his readers. We wanted to gather many contributions, and Sholem Aleichem's was among those at the top of our list. In early 1886, I asked for "some kind of piece" for _Der Veker_. He immediately replied: On you I would lavish dramas, satiric vignettes, humorous novellas, piercing needles, biting gnats, etc., etc. However, you propose a journal according to your taste, and bid me write.... Working "to order" is no good.... I can't persuade others to believe that in which I have rather scant faith.... No less than you, I want your idea to be well received. But what can I do if I know my people, the children of Israel, very well, and I can't believe they will take it to heart. He ended his long letter with: I have no talent for serious novels, but see here: I can mock, laugh at, poke fun at people, crawl under their skins, and still give pleasure to the reader. I can make him like me even as I heap scorn. For all of that, you see, I have the knack. I'm a scamp, a past master at that. All you'd ever want. Is it my fault that in everything, in everyone, I immediately see the worst side? A few weeks later, he answered another letter of mine with a sizable one on the same topic. In his very own style, he wrote: My friend, you tell me that I can write any way I like, wherever my talent leads, but then you set conditions, steering my course for me. For example: that I should depict the truly foolish assimilationist and his ilk. You say the nose should be long, the eyes bulging, the face swollen. He should have a portly belly, short bow legs, etc. You dub him "assimilationist" and to that Sholem Aleichem retorts: I am neither assimilationist nor do I aspire to move to Palestine. I am a Jew who loves Jews because I am a person who loves people. People like us tend to latch on to an idea, no matter how sacred, then massage it until it looks crumpled, foolish and ludicrous. And then we can ridicule both the assimilationist and the one who longs for Palestine. Sholem Aleichem then reminded me that three years earlier, he himself was devoted to that noble aim, heart and soul. "Before the fog settled over us," he had been moved to write a complete novel in Russian, _Vpered_ (Onward), an idyll in a Palestine colony. Then he added: The novel lies well hidden among my manuscripts. I recently read the last chapter, and my eyes filled with tears. (In a P.S. he remarked that it seemed my letters, feeble things, crept rather slowly on their way from Odessa). Rather striking was the fact that in the very first letters I felt a warm, comfortable tone, as though he was writing to a close, intimate friend. There's no sign of the nose-in-the-air affectation so common among writers lucky enough to be recognized as soon as they begin to toot their horn. Some time later, I took the liberty of telling the newly famous Sholem Aleichem that his latest pieces seemed hastily written, too much like caricatures. He was not offended. On the contrary, he answered in a sober, open-minded tone: (In Yiddish) You do show me the weakness in my writing. (Continuing in Russian): O, God! Is there perfection anywhere? I agree with you. I often drift into caricature and chatter. Do you know why? Because of laziness, dear friend. He went on to blame the laziness on the colleagues with whom he happened to work closely, citing a list of sickening "sweet things" served to the readers by the _Yidishe Folks-blat_. At times the whole to-do made him so disgusted that weeks went by before he could again take pen in hand. 2. A consuming, natural love for our folk tongue and folk literature comes through in many of his letters to me during the early years of our friendship. His exclamation (in Russian), "Zhargon [the common name for Yiddish at the time]! That is my passionate obsession!" comes across as no idle declaration. In this connection, a letter written near the end of 1887 is of special interest. First he stresses how hard he is working for the _Folks-blat_ to which he devotes particular attention.(2) He writes further: On top of that come demands from other journals: _Hoyzfraynd_ (House Friend), _Familienfraynd_ (Family Friend), _My Dear Friend_, plus _The-Devil-Knows-What-Kind-Of Friend_ to whom I have promised contributions. I must keep my word. No one has bought me, nobody has the right to tell me what to do. However, my love for Zhargon is more powerful than any lord or master. When it comes to that, I am ready to cooperate with everyone. Whenever I hear two men or two women speaking Zhargon, I'm right there in the middle! Rabinovitsh [Sholem Aleichem's real name] is more Sholem Aleichem than Rabinovitsh. For four hours a day, Rabinovitsh is a big shot on the stock exchange, a wheeling and dealing crafty trader, a bit of an ace, thank God. From five o'clock to three or four in the morning I am Sholem Aleichem. I am now writing two novels, a short story, a feuilleton, a comedy, three editorials, a critical study, and something else. But, then, don't we need readers? It seems it was only for the sake of appearances, but he finally sent me a relatively short and unimpressive piece. After a long and difficult incubation, our collection appeared. To make it more kosher, His Highness the censor himself changed the title to _Der Yidisher Veker_. In a long letter, Sholem Aleichem expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the collection. He dealt critically with each and every piece, and did not spare his own. About his own feeble contribution, he wrote: That there idler, pampered by luck in all his endeavors, for whom good fortune enters through every portal, deserves to be forced to lie down and take lashes, one after the other. When he dealt with the story entitled "Aheym" [Going Home], the only fiction in the collection, he wrote: Your devoted servant also once fashioned such a story entitled "Natasha".(3) I would now give a thousand rubles to have it forgotten and erased from our young Zhargon literature. Needless to say, _Der Yidisher Veker_ failed to satisfy Sholem Aleichem. As discussion, it was too biased. As literature, it was too lightweight. Apparently, neither did Spector's _Hoyzfraynd_ (then beginning to appear) provide Sholem Aleichem with the outlet he was seeking. And so he began to prepare (1888) a purely literary collection entitled _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_. It was a labor of love for which he fervently toiled with boundless energy. He searched out every writer who enjoyed any kind of reputation in either Yiddish or Hebrew literature. An unending stream of letters flowed, and he did not rest until he finally obtained a piece for his _Biblyotek_. The honoraria offered were substantial. Jewish writers of that time could not even dream of such high pay. He never stinted. I was among those contacted, and he proposed that I take on the bibliographic section of the _Biblyotek_. "It's all right," he wrote me, "You are not above working right alongside all my colleagues of whom you have probably already heard." I eagerly accepted Sholem Aleichem's proposition, and we henceforth became even closer friends. As ever, he continued to write many letters, often announcing gleefully his receipt of a fine, new piece of "goods" for his _Biblyotek_, a project dearer to him than anything else, devoting his heart and soul to it. For example, he wrote excitedly: O, my! Rabbi Kotzin!(4) A poet greater than Frug(5) has appeared. His name is David Frischmann [Dovid Frishman]. Soon you will see a poem by this rascal which will drive you to distraction. A new Heine, a Jewish Heine! In a note, I suggested that the editor of the _Biblyotek_ seemed a little overexcited, tending toward overstatement. He immediately answered: I swear, you are absolutely right! It's true. I am a little (or perhaps much?) too impassioned, just like Ben-Ami.(6) A fault it is, but not too great a fault. But neither is it any good to be a cold thing, cold as ice! I don't like cold graves. After death, we shall be cold soon enough. As long as a person is alive, he should live! Still, Frishman's poem is written in the style of Heine, and I swear Frug possesses not half the poetic talent of Frishman. Sholem Aleichem devoted a great deal of time to corresponding with many types of writers, and editing others' works. In addition he contributed his own pieces. His writing changed, becoming more serious, more respectful of his own talent. The following is from a letter he wrote me toward the end of summer 1888: My wife is not well, my three(7) children are sick, and I myself now have a little brat on my hands who must make a good impression on my readers, and stir up my critics, who, sorry to say, can't tolerate my talent. Now I talk like Shomer.(8) Don't you agree? I know I have talent. That is my misfortune. Long ago I told our best Zhargonist,(9) whom I appreciate more every day that we upstart whelps need whipping. And what a whipping! Perhaps that will make something of us. Until now, I have never rewritten anything, as you know, and almost never reread that which I wrote. Wrote, sent off, printed, and that was that. With my latest work, not so. I polish, I hone, etc. A few days later, in another letter he suggested that criticism is my metier, and complained bitterly: Nobody ever told me what my assignment ought to be, so I went off and wrote a review of Shomer's rubbish. Then off I went and wanted to build a tower higher than the sky entitled _Blank_. I mean all three novels: _Reb Sender_, _Marcus Blank the Second_, and _The Last of the Blank Family_ which I'm still writing. Composing long novels is really not my trade. By "the little brat" Sholem Aleichem meant _Stempenyu_, a new "Jewish" novel. To it he devoted a great deal of love and the essence of his artistic aspirations. Ultimately the novel was included as a supplement to his _Biblyotek_. To save time, he sent it to me so that I might print it in Odessa as a separate project. When I picked up the manuscript at the post office, the postmaster wondered why such a little packet was valued at one thousand rubles, like an expensive jewel. How could I explain that it was far more precious to the author than the finest gold? Sholem Aleichem had sent me detailed instructions on how to print his novel. To my surprise, he granted me full authority to amend, delete and add words on condition that I first read the whole manuscript, and advise him of my appraisal right away. "If time permits," he added, I will revise it. However, if the whole work is not any good, then too bad, it's too late." In another letter: "Fighting about a word here and there is unwarranted. On the contrary, toss out any unnecessary word." After extensive discussion of the types and characters in the novel, he wrote in yet another letter, "Erase, add, mince, hack, as long as you let me see what's going on." 3. I first met Sholem Aleichem face to face while printing Stempenyu. A young fellow entered my printing shop and asked where he might find Ravnitski. The typesetter pointed to me. "I've just arrived from Kiev," said the man, "And I bring you warm regards from a close acquaintance." "Must be from Sholem Aleichem." "Right you are." I began to inquire about Sholem Aleichem. The gentleman answered some but not all questions explaining that he knew him only from casual encounters almost every day at the stock exchange. All the while he revealed no trace of a smile. The answer to one question exposed the prank, and I realized that this was Sholem Aleichem himself. I must admit that at first I was somewhat disappointed. I did not like the joke, and this was not at all how I had imagined Sholem Aleichem. So debonair? Was this Sholem Aleichem, the famous writer, this nattily dressed, flashy young chap with the round little hat off to one side, appearing to be half stock trader, half artist? Then he immediately took me to his wonderful hotel where we spent quite some time. Sholem Aleichem kept asking me about _Stempenyu_, and told me about all the fine pieces he was acquiring for the _Biblyotek_ with great effort, pieces to make us very proud of our still meager folk literature. He longed for two things: to see the Black Sea, and (even more) to meet the beloved Zeyde [grandpa] who drew Sholem Aleichem's heart and soul to Odessa. Nowadays, everyone knows whom we mean by "the Zeyde." At that time, however, that was a brand new name bestowed by Sholem Aleichem. It was he who had crowned our beloved Mendele Moykher-Sforim with that affable nickname which has persisted to this day. Sholem Aleichem spoke of the Zeyde Reb Mendele the way a zealous hasid talks of his rabbi. During our first long chat, he kept asking about him, wanting to know everything I might be able to tell him. I knew very little because I was not then well acquainted with the Zeyde. It struck Sholem Aleichem as very strange, considering that I lived in the same city. That evening Sholem Aleichem spent a good deal of time with Reb Mendele at his home near the local Talmud Torah. The Zeyde with his youthful temperament, keen and witty talk, rapid-fire ideas made a tremendous impression on his Kiev "grandson." Sholem Aleichem later frequently reminded me of how much he envied me because I had the honor to live in Odessa where I could often see and listen to the Zeyde! When he returned to Kiev, Sholem Aleichem placed a picture of the Zeyde on his writing desk. While writing, he would look at it often, asking himself, "Would the Zeyde like this or not?" The first volume of _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_ soon appeared, and caused a huge stir among readers all over. For the fine gift he had conferred on Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem received many letters of thanks and praise from other writers as well as ordinary readers. A number of people, however, resented Sholem Aleichem;s great achievement for Yiddish literature. Yisroel Levi, publisher (at that time) of _Di Yidishe Folks-blat_, led this group. He persistently agitated against Yiddish and its literature in his paper. Levi was a strange character with idiosyncratic notions, peculiar attitudes and erratic whims. It was only by mere chance that such a person had gained control of the only Yiddish weekly. Alexander Zederbaum [Aleksander Tsederboym] was forced to hand _Di Yidishe Folks-blat_ over to Levi in settlement of a debt. Levi took charge at the beginning of 1888. The paper's editor was officially Y-.L. Kantor, but it was Levi who ran it, and ran it ragged. He nurtured a deep hatred toward Yiddish (or Zhargon), as did many earnest maskilim in those days (1880s). As fate would have it, an enemy of Yiddish became the publisher of a Yiddish paper who then stumbled upon a shrewd idea: to remove as much Yiddish as possible from Zhargon, and substitute Hebrew words and expressions. For example, instead of simply writing _died_ [geshtorbn], he insisted on a Hebrew-Yiddish construction, meaning (roughly) "departed from life" [shavak khayim lekhol khay geven]. Everyone had to change _Yidish_ to _Yehudish_, and other such foolishness. On top of that, Levi's _Folks-blat_ loved to heap scorn, ridicule and shame on the hapless field of Zhargon. Sholem Aleichem, who so loved our folk tongue, took this deeply to heart and was severely aggravated. "For heaven's sake!" he wrote in a letter to me, "Zhargon! O, Zhargon! They are out to destroy Zhargon!" At the beginning of 1889 he sent me an interesting letter in answer, apparently, to my letter scolding him for again having his work published in Levi's _Folks-blat_: You've dealt me a blow, and you are entirely right, yes indeed, seven times in the right! The third feuilleton, "Funem Veg," was sent off when I was still in Yalta [Sept. 1888]. I wish I could forget that crazy Litvak [Levi] as completely as I had forgotten that my feuilleton was in his hands. But you don't know under what circumstances I wrote that feuilleton. My niece was then almost at death's door in Yalta. It was late at night but I was not sleepy. I am cursed with a kind of pestilence called "feuilletonomania," and from my mouth there comes an endless stream of material for feuilletons. May you be spared such a fate! The way my material flows reminds me of a magician pulling out endless lengths of colored ribbons. Wake me up in the middle of the night and tell me, "My dear Sholem Aleichem, write a feuilleton," and one will be created. That you are concerned for my honor is of no consequence, but the only paper available to Zhargon is being ruined, and that breaks my heart. God help us! Can the _Biblyotek_ all by itself rescue Zhargon from the rascals? 4. Sholem Aleichem continued to pursue his own interests. He labored mightily to compile the second volume of _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_. At the end of summer, 1889, he wrote: "O, my good friend, what a collection here! When you see this Biblyotek, you'll be crazy about it." For this volume, Sholem Aleichem undertook to write a second lengthy "Jewish" novel. At the same time he wrote feuilletons (pulling out ribbons, as he himself put it), in a great hurry as usual, on one foot so to speak. He was quite as devoted to this novel as he was to _Stempenyu_. Perhaps, even more so. He completely revised it several times. Then he wrote me: "The censor has just released my novel, but I have chewed it up and swallowed it. I now write it anew." Sholem Aleichem faithfully heeded the Zeyde's advice that a writer must toil and sweat over a work, and hone each word. When I wrote to warn him that too much revision may be harmful, he answered: In general, the second volume of the _Biblyotek_ will put the first to shame in all respects. That goes even for my _Stempenyu_. Don't worry that my revisions (six times) might spoil the work, because I'm not correcting anything. I write a completely new work. I finish these things rather quickly, but this piece of work is something special. Because of it, _Stempenyu_ may be shown the door, told to take his violin and go away. He soon sent me the new novel which was supposed to overshadow _Stempenyu_. It was _Yosele Solovey_ [Joey Nightingale]. He wanted me to print it in Odessa for inclusion in Volume Two of _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_. I wrote him that I found the novel occasionally imitated Reb Mendele. He answered: I swear, on my word of honor, I was not aware of that. If you really find the work echoes Mendele, then I beg of you, remove those parts or change them. In any case, let me know all about it without fail. As to my opinion that he did not succeed well in describing nature, he answered: I realize that I'm weak, alas, in that art. But what can I do? I must reveal one way or another that nighttime is not daytime, early morning is not late. Tell me what to do! Truth to tell, I wanted to describe nature well, but I was afraid it might look as though I was dancing to the Zeyde's tune. Levi, the eccentric publisher of the _Folks-blat_, did whatever suited him. He waged unending war against Sholem Aleichem and me. I once dared to criticize rather sharply his "ideas" in his own paper, the _Folks-blat_, and now he was insulted by a review of mine in the first volume of _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_. He used every section of his _Folks-blat_ to mount his attacks. Even in his "Political Section" he would occasionally stop in the midst of discussing the politics of this or that European diplomat, and suddenly, viciously and mercilessly assail us and our political opinions. Levy had plenty of help from some minor writers who did their bit for his war. He occasionally inserted his own text into some other author's article, or even into a story, heaping abuse upon his "opponents." This was a frequent ploy of his. No one dared to step out of line to offer their opinions. Levy was the big boss, and no one could afford be too scrupulous. War is war. What an aggravation for Sholem Aleichem! He longed to shed this affliction, and wrote to me in frustration: If you are real mentshn, men of the world, a group of you would get together (needless to say, without Levi's a..-lickers) to send a joint letter to Kantor. Make it clear to Kantor that he is letting those people besmirch his name. Some time later, Sholem Aleichem, thinking it over, decided it would be better to ignore the _Folks-blat_ and its peculiar publisher as though they shavak khayim lekhol khay geven [had died] and had left this world. He wrote me: "The best punishment for that lunatic Levi is to say not a word about him, not even half a word." Volume Two of _Di Yidishe Folks-biblyotek_ appeared and was received by the public at least as enthusiastically as the first. Sholem Aleichem immediately applied himself vigorously, as was his way, to preparing a third. But here Solomon Rabinowitz [Sholem Rabinovits] blocked the path of Sholem Aleichem. While Sholem Aleichem the writer was enjoying success after success, Solomon Rabinowitz the stock-trading businessman (who had always harbored some traits of Menakhem-Mendl) suffered financial blow after blow. His life turned upside-down, he lost all his money, and became a pauper. Forced to abandon his writing and publishing plans, he left Russia while his family moved from Kiev to Odessa. Sholem Aleichem wandered a few months in foreign parts. None of us heard from him, and we had no idea where he was. Unexpectedly, I received a letter from somewhere, not Russia, dated November 10, 1890.(10) It began in Hebrew, then continued in Yiddish, as did his first letters to me: My friend Ravnitski, Your friend Sholem Aleichem still lives, although his life is no life at all. If not for love of the one and only beloved of my heart on this earth, my wife, and for the love of my daughters and only son, if not for them, I would have long ago put an end to my life. This life has become disgusting! Still, I shall go on living. I am compelled to live, as my punishment. Then he switched to Yiddish: O, believe me, it is now so hard for me to write a Yiddish word. I am beaten. I feel butchered. But I am not annihilated. I feel in my soul that the hearts of my best friends are no longer near but have moved far, far from me. They must wonder if they ought to still consider me a friend. Right now, I am entitled to nothing more. From you I seek no letter, no favors. Take no pains on my account. Just have a quiet talk with Ben-Ami, two or three words. He and I are now equally rich. His fortune may be a little greater than mine. I cannot write to him myself; and to my own family, of course not. You tell him to send my family the few rubles that happen to be in his possession. He knows which rubles and how many. Believe me, they will come in very handy now. They may support my family for half a year! These few lines cost me blood, and I hope you will remember how I have always been ready to serve others. Please do this with care, and I expect to hear soon that a few more rubles have turned up. As for me, I repeat, I live. That's all! On one occasion, before I left, I recall sitting with the Zeyde complaining about my health. He said, "O, well, now you'll be all right." Can you appreciate the depth of that insight? Your old, old, Ahasuerus.(11) A short time later [Spring, 1891], Sholem Aleichem returned from his foreign travels, and rejoined his family in Odessa. He became a close neighbor of mine, and we spent some time together almost every day. Endnotes 1. From the Yiddish in _Tsum Ondenk Fun Sholem-Aleykhem_ [In Memory of Sholem Aleichem], ed. Sh. Niger & Y. Tsinberg, Petrograd: Y.-L. Perets Fund, 1917, pp. 43-56. 2. [Ravnitski's footnote] Here he [Sholem Aleichem] used _utshastiya_, Russian for "special notice." Early on, Russian words would occasionally slip into his writing. In time, he avoided that. A few years later, he lectured me in a letter: What's that all about? Using Russian to write, 'Talk over!' Have you already forgotten the zeyde's instruction, that in Zhargon there should be no trace or reminder of the language of _fonye_ [a pejorative term for a Russian]? 3. Later entitled "Taybele." 4. Ravnitski's pseudonym for his reviews in _Di Yudishe Folks-bibliotek_. _Kotzin_ means big shot or officer. 5. A contemporary Yiddish poet. 6. A Jewish writer of volatile temperament. 7. The original is numbered 8, apparently a typographical error. 8. A popular writer of Yiddish potboilers whom Sholem-Aleichem attacked savagely and not altogether justly. 9. Mendele Moykher Sforim. 10. I rely here on a version of the letter more complete than that given by Ravnitski. This is a translation from the memoirs of I.D. Berkowitz [Y.-D. Berkovits]: _Undzere Rishoynim_, Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1966, Volume 5, page 30. 11. Y.-.D. Berkovits in _Undzere Rishoynim_, Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1966, Volume 5, p. 31, explains that Ravnitski did not know why Sholem Aleichem signed this letter "Ahasuerus." Berkovits suggests it refers to an elaborate banquet once given by Sholem Aleichem for Jewish writers of Odessa when he still had his money. Presumably the allusion is to the extravagant banquets given by King Ahasuerus (Book of Esther). 3)---------------------------------------------------- Date: 27 October 2000 From: (ed.) Subject: "der reyekh fun a yidn" and other olifactory matters touched on in the last issue of TMR with comments by David Assaf David Assaf was kind enough to comment on the expression "der reyekh fun a yidn" and related matters. David Assaf is the translator and editor of Volume One of Kotik's memoirs in Hebrew. (See _The Mendel Review_ vol. 3. no. 7 [14 April 1999]). Assaf's edition is richly annotated -- its three thorough indices (of persons, places and subjects) make it a useful reference source for the many subjects discussed by Kotik. An English edition is soon to be published. Assaf writes as follows on our problematic expression, "the smell of a Jew": "I am sure that in the phrase 'reyekh fun a yidn' (note, in the original: _yidn_, not _yid_) Kotik means the smell of typical Jewish cooking, and not the typical smell of the Jewish body, a term which only anti-semites -- or extremist critics of the shtetl -- would use. Kotik was neither." I was puzzled by the expression, "reyekh fun a yidn," and would be happy to accept Assaf's explanation. But I have never encountered the metonymic equation Jew = Jewish cooking. A single citation at the least would be reassuring. Moreover, I wonder if "Jewish cooking" in eastern Europe a century ago smelled so differently from that of co-territorial non-Jewish cooking. Jewish cooking was certainly subtly different because of kashrut -- especially the non-use of pork and blood, the extensive use of dairy dishes, holiday associations, local traditions, etc. But was the "smell" of this food utterly distinctive? In the matter, for instance, of onions and garlic, their use was general. That one would have to be an antisemite to use the expression in question is contestable. Marcus Aurelius criticized Jews for the smell they gave off as a result of eating garlic -- Jews in Roman times were conspicuously self-identified as garlic-eaters --, was he necessarily being anti-semitic? After all, halitosis was even a cause for divorce in Jewish law (Ket. 75a) and women chewed ginger, cinnamon, and other substances to sweeten their breath (Shab. 65a). Moreover, what is plain bigotry when spoken by an outsider can be mere playfulness when uttered within a group. Regarding the Rebbe of Lakhovitsh's saying, Assaf points out that "Kotik wrote: 'az es iz faran a bazunder eyver [alef, bet, reysh] ba a idn, vos hot nor hano'e fun tsibele um shabbes' [p. 16]. Now, _eyver_ means 'penis', but this is not just a dirty joke! According to the sages, Ezra ha-Sofer made this rule of eating GARLIC on Fridays to improve sperm count (the Talmud recommends that scholars have intercourse on Friday night). So, Kotik has probably confused the onion with garlic, and made this mistake, or maybe he understood Hebrew _shum_ to mean 'onion'?" Assaf has a strong case regarding confusion of onion and garlic, since the onion's aphrodisiacal qualities were said to be second only to those of garlic. Also, the onion and garlic belong to the same genus Allium. Chapter Two of Volume Two of Kotik's memoirs in the Yiddish original is archived in both romanized and Yiddish-letter form. Yiddish-letter text at: http://www2.trincoll.edu/~mendele/tmr/kotik1.pdf. Romanized Yiddish text of Vol. 2, Chapter 1 at: http://www2.trincoll.edu/~mendele/tmr/tmr04002.htm. For an indeterminate period, a draft of Lucas Bruyn's translation of the entire second volume of Kotik's memoirs can be viewed at: http://www.onforeignsoil.com/kotik.htm ______________________________________________________ End of _The Mendele Review_ 04.015 Leonard Prager, editor Subscribers to _Mendele_ (see below) automatically receive _The Mendele Review_. Send "to subscribe" or change-of-status messages to: email@example.com a. 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