Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fiddler on the Roof: The Back Story

“Sholem Aleichem” Documents Celebrated Yiddish Writer

There is a lot more to Sholem Aleichem than “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye the careworn Russian dairyman was just one of thousands of characters and yarns created by the most prolific, celebrated writer in Yiddish literature.
“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” is his story, now playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
The writer was born Sholem Rabinovich near Kiev, Russia in 1859. Early in his career he adopted his pen name, which loosely means “peace be with you.”
There was little peace for Russian Jews in the 19th century. Aleichem was born into a fairly prosperous family, but it was not immune to the political, religious and economic oppression of the Russian Empire in pogram after pogram. This is a well-researched and beautifully presented documentary by Joseph Dorman, with appearances by actors Peter Riegert as Tevye and Jason Kravits as Menachem-Mendl. Aleichem’s own 100-year-old granddaughter Bel Kaufman is a major source of recollection, and “Fiddler on the Roof’ lyricist Sheldon Harnick tells how the writer inspired him. Other scholarly sources are Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center and Mendy Cahan of Yung Yiddish, an Israeli center for the preservation of Yiddish culture.
You don’t have to be Jewish or speak Yiddish to appreciate the accomplishments of this endlessly-creative, hard-working artist. Sholem Aleichem is a writer for all time who crosses all political and cultural boundaries. This documentary is a fitting tribute.

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