Vox Tablet

From Teen Chronicler of Yiddish Curses to Global Fame: Sholem Aleichem’s Multitudes

Jeremy Dauber’s biography of the genius behind Tevye traces his life and legacy from shtetl child to international superstar

October 7, 2013
Sholem Aleichem convalescing in Nervi, on the Italian Riviera, in 1911.(YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York)

Sholem Aleichem convalescing in Nervi, on the Italian Riviera, in 1911.(YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York)

When people hear the name Sholem Aleichem, they very often think of Tevye the Dairyman and his Broadway showstoppers. It’s true, Sholem Aleichem wrote the stories on which Fiddler on the Roof is based, but his body of work is much broader than that. In dozens of stories, novels, newspaper articles, plays, and even poems, Sholem Aleichem, who was born Sholem Rabinovich, depicted the humor and despair that characterized shtetl life at a moment when it faced threats from within and without. He was also a great advocate of Yiddish, and of the Jewish people. Readers and critics considered him the “Jewish Mark Twain” and when he died from tuberculosis in 1916 at the age of 57, he left behind tens of thousands of fans in Europe and the United States.

His life was relatively short but it made a lasting mark. Sholem Aleichem is now the subject of a new biography by Jeremy Dauber, a professor of Yiddish at Columbia University. The book is called The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem and it’s the newest title from Nextbook Press. Dauber joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss the real-life milkman behind Tevye, how it was that Sholem Aleichem reached epic levels of adoration, and his unforgettable humorous prose. [Running time: 22:20.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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