Biography of Sholem Aleichem
Be With You
Aleichem was the pen name of Solomon Rabinovich in Hebrew translation
(1859-1916). Rabinovich was a most successful writer in Yiddish, Hebrew, and
English. The musical Fiddler on the Roof
was based on his stories.
was not the only writer who used a so-called pen name to cover his true
identity. Women writers before the 20th century had no choice but to
use men’s names in order to get published. Jane Austen called herself “A
Lady,” thereby concealing her name entirely, and the Brontë sisters called
themselves Bell. Mary Evans, a most successful British writer, called herself
George Elliott, and the most prominent French novelist of the 19th
century, the so-called George Sand, was in fact Aurore Dudevant, the live-in
woman friend of the composer Chopin.
Rabinovich was born in the
Ukraine. When he was only 13 years old his mother died. He started his writing
career when he was 15 years old, writing a novel which was a Jewish version of Robinson
Crusoe. In 1876, he graduated from school and became the tutor of Olga Loew,
whom he married in 1882. They had six children. One of his grandchildren was the
author of Up the Down Staircase. Her
name was Belle Kaufman.
In 1905, Rabinovich settled in New
York City. He wrote mostly in Yiddish which has foolishly been called a
“jargon” because it is based on German. One might likewise call English a
jargon because half of its words come from the Latin (jargon is a French word
meaning “idle chatter”).
At age 24, Rabinovich published
his first Yiddish story, called Two Stones. By 1890 he was a leading author of literature, having
produced over 40 volumes in Yiddish. He made a good deal of money and encouraged
other Yiddish writers by founding The Yiddish Popular Library, giving exposure
to young Yiddish writers. He lost all his money in 1890 and thereafter began to
write in Russian as well as in Hebrew.
Seeking to help the Jews who
had been victimized by the so-called “Kishenev Pogrom,” Rabinovich
edited a book called An Anthology For
Literature and Art.
Rabinovich was a promoter of the
Yiddish language. An ardent Zionist, he wanted Yiddish to become a language of
Israel. He served as American delegate to the eighth Zionist Congress.
Sholem Aleichem died of
tuberculosis on May 13, 1916. 100,000 mourners attended his funeral. The next
day the Congressional Record of the United States recorded his name. In 1997 a
monument to him was dedicated in Kiev and another one was erected in Moscow in
2001. Streets were named after him in Odessa and four other Russian cities. And
in New York City, E. 33rd St. is called Sholem Aleichem Place. In
Israel there are numerous monuments and streets erected in his honor. In Israel,
Russia, Romania, and the Ukraine, postage stamps were issued showing his face. A
number of Jewish schools all over the world are named after him, and in 2016 an
official Sholem Aleichem website marked the 100th anniversary of his
Because the Yiddish language has
few followers in America. his work has been translated into English. Included is
The Best of Sholem Aleichem and a very
large collection of numerous novels, stories, essays, and an autobiography.
Sholem Aleichem also wrote a number of plays, including Tevye
the Milkman, which is the basis for Fiddler
on the Roof.
There have been other Jewish
writers and scholars who have used pen names or have become known by their books
while their names fell into disuse. One of these was Israel Kagan, who was
generally known as The Chofetz Chaim, which is the title of his book Desiring