INTERVIEWS WITH THE FAMOUSLY DEPARTED
Sholem Aleichem Speaks
Sholem Aleichem was born Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich in 1859 outside the City of Kiev in then Imperial Russia. A writer of short stories, plays and novels Aleichem is best known for his Yiddish stories told with humor and compassion about Eastern European Jews.
One story about Tevye the Milkman was made into the successful musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Aleichem died in New York in 1916. Many refer to him as the Jewish Mark Twain. We, who know better, refer to Mark Twain as the Gentile Sholem Aleichem.
During his lifetime, Aleichem, a prolific writer who turned out a short story per week, never realized the fame he sought when he sought his fortune in America. However, his legacy lives on in a new movie – Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness – now playing at selected theaters.
As Tevye would say, “L’chaim!”
WRR: Shalom, Sholem. So, Sholem, there have been a few changes in the world since you were here. What do you think of mobile technology. What say you?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Gossip is nature’s telephone.
WRR: We’re barely out of a recession and may be headed for a double-dip. Times are hard. Any advice for how to cope?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: No matter how bad things get, you got to go on living, even if it kills you.
WRR: Any other thoughts on coping in general?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.
WRR: What do you think of today’s politicians?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: As if that weren’t enough, our hero is unlucky in his occupation. He’s a traveling salesman and it’s part of his job to be friendly. He has to talk a lot, and in his business it’s important that he should not just talk, but that he should be heard, and not just be heard, but above all be seen. In short, he’s a sorry creature. (Two Anti-Semites)
WRR: How Democrats view Republicans?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: The wealthy do not give and you have to pluck it out of their teeth. (A Passover Expropriation)
WRR: How Republicans view Democrats?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: There is no man without his burden. (Haunted Tailor)
WRR: And Independents?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: If you’re meant to strike it rich, you may as well stay home with your slippers on, because good luck will find you there. (Tevye Strikes it Rich)
WRR: And politics in general?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Rather the bite of a friend than the kiss of an enemy.
WRR: How opponents will describe each other in the next debate?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: A gadabout, a wastre, a faker, a worthless vagabond, may he never stand still in one place. (The Bubble Bursts, Tevye’s Daughters, 1949, 1977)
WRR: In other words?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: You’re a cheek, insolent, impudent, impertinent illiterate. (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
WRR: And what do Republicans and Democrats really think of each other. Let’s try to be bipartisan here.
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: He shouldn’t live to cross his own threshold; he should die a hundred times from a fire, from a fever, from an earthquake, from a plague, from an ill wind that carries him away! He should croak! He should burst! He should dry up like a puddle! He should swell like a dead fish!” (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
WRR: How would you advise President Obama when trying to find a solution to the Middle East?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Life is a blister on top of a tumor and a boil on top of that.
WRR: In other words?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: You can’t ride one ass to two fairs. (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
WRR: If one doesn’t go into politics what’s a good second choice?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Lawyers are just like physicians: what one says, the other contradicts.
WRR: Equality among the sexes?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: The best marriage is the worst death.
WRR: And what did your wife say?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: May he get five ulcers in his stomach. (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
WRR: What’s your take on psychiatry?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: I was foolish enough to butt in on a married couple in order to make up between them, the outcome of which was that I took it on the chin from my own wife (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: There’s no pleasing everyone. It’s hopeless even to try, and the more you play the peacemaker, the less peaceful things become. (Railroad Stories, Competitors)
WRR: What best distinguishes man from the four-legged animals?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Without fingers you can’t thumb your nose.
WRR: Fiddler on the Roof was quite the hit. What happened when you tried a second musical?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: A cow flew over the roof and laid an egg.
WRR: What’s the best part about being young?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: Adam was the luckiest man in the world. He had no mother-in-law.
WRR: And the worst part about being young?
SHOLEM ALEICHEM: A bachelor is a man who comes to work each morning from a different direction.
Well, thanks for taking the time. Shalom, Sholem.
References are attributed except where noted.
Joe practiced law in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 14 years and designed large scale databases for AT&T for five years. He currently works for NextLevel Web Strategies, a legal marketing firm based in Princeton, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received his J.D. from George Washington Law School and he has a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Drexel University.
Joe’s book, Philadelphia Originals, was released for publication by Schiffer Publishing in 2009. The book shows that the unique styles (how Philadelphians paint, sing, practice law, tell a joke, cook) of Philadelphia’s most notable professions can be traced back to the perfect complement of the spiritual William Penn and the practical Benjamin Franklin.
His second project. Philadelphia Before You Were Born, is a study of the last time Philadelphia newspapers used artists for all their illustrations. It was published in 2011.
Joe’s many other published writings include a humorous look at book clubs for the Bucks County Writer and the literary stages of a baseball season for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also writes the Interviews with the Famously Departed Column for the Wild River Review.
Joe Glantz in this Edition
Dick Perez: Sports Artist for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Phillies
From Washington DC to Salt Lake City: How Nancy Boskoff became Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council