The best-known and best-loved Yiddish writer of all, Sholem Aleichem (pen-name of Solomon Rabinovich), was born on this date in 1859 (some sources say March 3rd) in the Ukraine, then controlled by tsarist Russia. Sholem Aleichem, whose works included Menahem-Mendl and Tevye the Dairyman (later adapted and commercialized as Fiddler on the Roof) wrote with shrewd humor and deep compassion, and gained a readership that spanned rich and poor, religious and free-thinking, intellectual and uneducated. His popularity was so great that he became a living legend, a cultural hero, and a fixture of Jewish life. Fans shouted requests at his readings, and families read him at home. His stories, plays, and novels have been translated into scores of languages, and millions of copies of his work have circulated around the world. Sholem Aleichem’s funeral cortege in New York City in 1916 was trailed by 150,000-200,000 mourners. For a more detailed profile, marking Sholem Aleichem’s 100th yortsayt, click here.

Here lies a plain and simple Jew, who wrote in plain and simple prose;
Wrote humor for the common folk to help them forget their woes.
He scoffed at life and mocked the world, at all its foibles he poked fun.
The world went on its merry way and left him stricken and undone.
And while his grateful readers laughed, forgetting troubles of their own,
Midst their applause — God knows, he wept in secret and alone.”
—Sholem Aleichem’s gravestone epitaph, written by Sholem Aleichem (translated from the Yiddish)

* Now available at our Pushcart: the first English translation of Mazl Tov, a one-act comedy by Sholem Aleichem.