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Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

As the ad says, before there was “Fiddler on the Roof” there was Sholem Aleichem, the Yiddish storyteller whose takes of Tevye the Dairyman were the inspiration for the beloved award-winning musical and film.  Sholem Aleichem was the pen name for Solomon Naumovich Rabinovic who was born in the Ukraine in 1859 and died in New York in 1916.

This new documentary by Joseph Dorman is filled with photographs and images that tell Sholem’s story, but it also recounts in vivid detail and image the story of Eastern European Jewry in the late 19th century and their efforts to join the modern world. The experts who comment are informed and enthusiastic about their subject, but none more so than his granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who was five years old and still living in Russia, when her grandfather died.
 
Sholem Aleichem’s legacy is that he helped create the Yiddish press and preserve a culture often looked down upon by some moderns who wish to speak only Hebrew.  Although written in the Hebrew alphabet, Yiddish is a fusion of high German, Russian,  Aramiac and the Romance languages.  It is spoken by Orthodox Jews and within Hasidic communities.
 
The documentary also traces Jewish life and history in the Russian Pale, or Jewish settlements confined to areas by the Czars and where pogroms were often carried out.
 
Sholem went through many fortunes in his life and he created the character Tevye, the milkman, to have someone to talk to. There is a deep irony to Sholem’s life and writings. And many parts of the film made me laugh. For example, when Sholem’s mother died, his father sought a new wife. However, he had twelve children, so he parceled them out to neighbors and once he was firmly remarried, he brought them home one or two at a time, so she had to take care of them.
 
If you are a student of humanity, religion, history, literature or theater, I hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy this film.

Click here for a list of screenings of this film.


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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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