A Page From The Song Of Songs
04/03/2010 - 21:24
Jonathan Mark

On this, the Shabbos of the Song of Songs, take a look "A Page From The Song of Songs" by Sholom Aleichem. It is sometimes painted as a "children's story" but in reality it is the first of four stories -- taking place on a Pesach, a Shavuous, and a Pesach and Shevuous many years later -- culminating in an excrutiating romantic misunderstanding between two young adults that can break the hearts of old men and women long past their childhoods.

The four stories illuminate one of the nicest things about Sholom Aleichem that I only realized years after first reading this. He was no longer Orthodox when he wrote the story, and yet when he writes about erev Pesach he doesn't bring any cynicism to the story, as most lapsed Orthodox writers might; he is able to evoke the enchantment of an erev yontif that is as idyllic as ever was put to ink. By the time you get to the fourth quadrant of the tale, published at a later point, do you see his full twist on the original Shir HaShirim -- the longing and misunderstandings between two lovers, the Jew who stays faithful to Yiddishkeit and the Jew who strays. And as a great writer, it is not necessary to read it that way at all, it works simply as an exquisite love story. This is only chapter one.

In an interesting side note, Bel Kaufman, his granddaughter, told me that she was in Odessa when her beloved grandfather died in the Bronx, and the fateful telegram from New York was translated for Bel's family by an English-speaking neighbor, none other than Chaim Nachman Bialik. I once got a hold of Sholom Aleichem's business card that he had printed up not long before he died, painfully poor and in need of work and speaking engagements. You could have found him at 968 Kelly Street, a walk-up in the Bronx. His telephone was Intervale-2-215.

Comments

What a great piece, Jonathan. A delicious read.

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