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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

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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Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

 
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