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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.


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