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Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

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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John Leonardi: "I am only one person! Why should I do anything? What good would it do?" Today, as in any age, people seem plagued with the dilemma of getting involved. In his own way John Leonardi answered these questions. He chose to become a priest. 
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