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June 18, 1976 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1976-06-18

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56 June 18, 1976


The Noted Yiddish Writer Sholem Aleichem
Is Recognized as a Major Proponent of Zionism


Jewish News Special
London Correspondent

LONDON — Sholem Al-
eichem is recognized as one
of the greatest of Yiddish
writers and is called the
Jewish Mark Twain. In
1959, the 100th anniversary
of his birth was celebrated
in Israel and the Diaspora,
in Moscow and in New York.
Sholem Aleichem stamps,
in honor of the Yiddish king
of laughter and humor, ap-
peared in Russia and in Is-
Lately Russia is.silent
about Sholem Aleichem. It
is difficult for the Kremlin
to allow the Jews of Kiev
and Moscow to follow in the
footsteps of Sholem Alei-
chem, the Zionist.
Sholem Aleichem, the
author of "Shyer zu zein a
Yid" in Russia, died in 1916.
Sixty years after his death
he would add another play
to his works: "Shyer zu zein
a Zionist" in Russia which
initiated the anti-Zionist
UN Resolution.
Young Sholem Aleichem
joined the Hovevei Zion
movement and in 1890 he
was a delegate to the first
conference of the Odessa-
Palestinie Committee,
where among 60 others the
important leaders Rabbi
Samuel Mohilever, Leo
Pinsker and Moshe Loeb
Lilienblum were present.
After the publication of
"The Jewish State" by Theo-
dor Herzl, Sholem Aleichem
became a member of the
Zionist Organization and a
Shekelholder in Kiev where
he earned well-deserved rec-


ognition for his valuable
work for modern Zionism,
the aim of which was the
creation of a Jewish state in
the historic territory of the
Jewish people.
In 1897, after the First
Zionist Congress in Basle,
Sholem Aleichem trans-
lated Max Nordau's memo-
rable speech on "The Gen-
eral Situation of the Jews
Throughout the World" into
Yiddish and his pamphlet
became one of the first in-
troductions to modern Zion-
ism to appear in Russia.
Kiev, where Sholem Al-
eichem lived at that time,
had only one delegate at Ba-
sle—Prof. Max Mandel-
stamm. He was an old Hov-
evei Zionist, now a political
Zionist and a true friend of
Herzl who immortalized
him in his novel-'4D1d-New
A few weeks after the
Congress, Mandelstamm
spoke at a Kiev meeting

for two hours on the im-
pression he had carried
away with him and called
upon the Jewish intelli-
gentsia and workers to
, join the ranks of the new
movement. The mission of
Herzl's Zionism, he de-
clared, was to "relieve the
distress of the Jews and to
restore Jewry to its former
glory." The words of the
veteran fighter moved the
audience, among them
Sholem Aleichem, deeply.
Even delegations from
neighboring towns arrived
in Kiev, to hear, person-
ally, about the outcome of
Basle, from Prof. Mandel-
stamm, who inspired the
Russian Jews to work for
a Jewish state.
Sholem Aleichem, who
belonged to Mandelstamm's
close circle of friends, edited
and translated the Russian
speech of the professor into
Yiddish and the booklet of
some 30 pages was sold at 15--
kopeks. They were circu-
lated with the aid of the
Zionist Organization, wher-
ever Yiddish was spoken.
Thus Sholem Aleichem be-
came the mediator and mes-
senger between the Yiddish
masses of Eastern Europe
and political Zionism. In
those times, already popu-
lar and loved, he spoke the
characteristic language of
the simple Jews. The pam-
phlet was often read aloud
in synagogues or at meet-
ings and it sustained the
hopes of tens of thousands
of Jews — as Sholem Alei-
chem and Mandelstamm
had intended it to do.
Sholem Aleichem was the
laughing propagandigt of
Zionism. His readers be-
came Zionists as tears of
laughter ran down their
cheeks. How did Sholem
Aleichem explain Zionism?
In his own pamphlet,
"Why Do the Jews Need a
Country," Sholem Alei-
chem promoted Zionism in
his own way. "What kind of
question is that?," asked the
king of Jewish humor.
"Could one not ask differ-
ently? Why should it be just
the Jews who do not need a
The Jewish problem was
actually for Sholem Alei-
chem a question of habita-
tion. With the fall of Jeru-
salem the Jewish people
lost their land, their home
— their own habitation.
The Jews looked for a hab-
itation in the Diaspora but
were always given notice
to quit going from one
dwelling place to another.
So now they had come to-
gether in Basle to solve the
"housing problem" of the
Jews. Under the guidance
of Herzl, so thought Sho-
lem Aleichem, the Jews
would once more gain pos-
session of their land, their
home — their own place of
Sholem Aleichem's book- •
let was widely read. It be-
came the text-book, or the
Aleph-Beth of Zionism in
Eastern Europe. The pam-
phlet was naturally wel-

corned by the Zionist press
and Prof. Michael Berkow-
icz, Herzl's Hebrew secre-
tary, wrote in "Die Welt"
that Sholem Aleichem had
succeeded in making plain
the principles of Zionism to
the masses, and in "illu-
minating the natural need
of the Jewish people for a
homeland." Berkowitz also
admired the fine style of the
language and the substance
"of this successful little
Herzl published some of
Sholem Aleichem's humor-
ous stories in "Die Welt"
though he never mentioned
him in his "Diaries." I once
found a letter written by
Herzl to the editor of "Die
Welt" which I included in
my booklet "Dr. S. Werner
— a Collaborator of Herzl"
(1939). On Jan. 17, 1904
Herzl wrote: "Dear Friend,
we absolutely cannot print
the Sholem Aleichem scene.
Please give the manuscript
back immediately." It is dif-
ficult to say which scene he
meant — probably one
about the Uganda conflict.
Through his writing for
"Die Welt" and for other
Zionist journals Sholem Al-
eichem became well-known
in Western Europe. At Zion-
ist meetings and on festive
occasions the reading of his
stories became increasingly
popular. When Sholem Alei-
chem's name appeared on a
program success was cer-
tain. The audience laughed
and so did the reader. Sho-
lem Aleichem did not want
only to amuse his Jews but
to educate them. Almost
every funny story had a.
In "Ma Nishtana" Sho-
lem Aleichem asked four-
in-fact four-times-four-
and more-kashes (ques-
tions): "Why do we know
so well the history of all
peoples, ancient and mod-
ern — with the exception
of only one people, our own
Jewish people?" — "Why
are we so at home, in the
geography of all countries
— with the exception of
one country, the Land of
When Herzl died in July
1904 there was mourning ev-
erywhere. In Kiev the Jew-
ish shops were closed and
the Jews gathered in the
synagogues where sermons
and speeches were deliv-
ered. Sholem Aleichem said
at that time: "Is it true then,
that Israel has no luck?".
"Is it true then, that Is-
rael has no luck?", — was
soon repeated. In Kiev po-
groms raged (1905). Sholem
Aleichem sent reports and
appeals to a Jewish paper in
New York. This was quite
another Sholem Aleichem.
No longer tears of laughter
but tears of terror and suf-
fering. Sholem Aleichem
then believed that: "A time
will come when the Rus-
sians will read the history of
their liberation and their
hearts will soften, their eyes
overflow with tears and
they will kneel before our
descendants and ask their
forgiveness for the sins of


their barbaric ancestors."
Sholem Aleichem was
He left Kiev. His Euro-
pean tour was a triumphal
procession for the well-
loved story-teller. Every-
one — Zionist and non-
Zionist, Bundist and Ter-
ritorialist, Socialist and
religious Jew — flocked to
see him and partake of his
medicine: "Laughter is
healthy, doctors order
laughter!". Loebl Taubes,
a pioneer of Zionism, ac-
companied him through
the old Austro-Hungarian
Empire, and in other coun-
tries reception committees
were formed. He also vis-
ited England, and was
greeted in London by Jo-
seph Cowen, who was for
many years president of
the English Zionist Feder-
ation, Israel Zangwill, and
in Manchester by Chaim
Every new Jewish library
in East and West Europe or-
dered the works of Sholem
Aleichem first of all, either
in Yiddish or in a transla-

many types in his writings,
above all — Menachem Men-
del. Max Nordau, in his
speeches at the Zionist Con-
gresses, described the same
type as a "Luftmensch"
with complete brutality and
bitterness as opposed to
Sholem Aleichem's love and
humor. "Menachem Men-
del" has now disappeared
and belongs to the past. But
he lives and will always go
on living in the works of
Sholem Aleichem.


tion, and in Zionist centers
his picture, provided by the
Keren Kayemet, could gen-
erally be seen. He attended
the eighth Zionist Congress
in The Hague (1907) and
here he enjoyed literary dis-
cussions with Chaim Nach-
man Bialik and with the He-
brew writers Mordechai ben
Hillel Hacohen and El-
chanan Loeb Lewinsky. In
Vienna he was the honored
and celebrated guest of the
Zionist students.
Sholem Aleichem created

There was a time when
Sholem Aleichem was wide-
ly-read, more than Mendele
Mocher Seforim and Yizhak
Leib Peretz. He ha', ‘-
mained the favorite -,
of the Jewish people.
his stories read much nowa-
days? What did Sholem Al-
eichem ask over 60 years
ago? "How is it we know so
exactly who Pushkin was
and Lermontov, Gogol,
Gorki and Tolstoy and know
nothing of Yehuda Halevy,
Levinsohn, Lewanda, Gor-
don and Mendele Mocher
Seforim ?"

A Bicentennial Feature

David Franks-Merchant, Diplomat


Editor, Jewish Currents

As patriotic merchant,
army officer and diplomatic
courier, David S. Franks
served our country during
the revolutionary war for
independence. The historian
of the American Revolution
and the Jews, Samuel Rez-
neck, has noted that no
other Jew "played such a
diverse role in the Revolu-
tion in close proximity to
some of its principal fig-
ures" — Benjamin Frank-
lin, John Jay, Jefferson and
Born in Philadelphia
about 1740, his father Abra-
ham and he moved to Mon-
treal some time after the
British captured Quebec in
1763. By 1774, David was a
prosperous merchant; in
1775 he was elected presi-
dent of the Montreal Con-
gregation Shearith Israel.
On May 3, 1775 he was ar-
rested for having gotten into
a fist-fight over his revolu-
tionary sentiments and held
16 days. Although David's
father was a loyalist, David
supported the Continental
forces by advancing money
and goods; when Gen. Rich-
ard Montgomery's troops
conquered Montreal in Nov.,
1775, Franks was appointed
paymaster-gpneral for the
Montreal garrison, again
advancing his own funds.

When the British recap-
tured Montreal in the
spring of 1776, Franks re-
treated with the troops.
Speaking French, he was
appointed in 1777 as liai-
son officer on the staff of
Comte d'Estaing, French
naval commander. In 1778,
Major Franks was as-

signed as aide-de-camp of dispatches to our officials
in Europe, which he did un-
Gen. Benedict Arnold.
, Arnold's plot to surrender til April 11, 1787. By 1784,
West Point was uncovered he had been promoted to the
and Arnold deserted late in rank of lieutenant colonel
Sept., 1780. Arrested Oct. 2 in the Continental Army.
Having delivered the
with another staff officer,
Franks was tried by court final treaty of peace to
martial next day; both were _Franklin in Paris in April,
1784, Franks was ap-
Gossip led Franks to ask pointed U.S. vice consul at
Washington for a Court of Marseilles in Sept., 1784.
Inquiry into his relations In 1786, he served on the
with Arnold. Meeting Nov. 2 staff of the Morocco Trade
to 5, the Court ruled that Treaty Commission; April
". . . every part of Major D. 11, 1787, he delivered the
S. Franks's conduct was not text to Jefferson, conclud-
only unexceptionable but ing his service as U.S.
reflects the highest honor courier.
In 1789, he was secretary
on him as an officer, distin-
guishes him as a zealous of a commission to nego-
friend to the independence tiate a treaty with the Creek
of America, and justly enti- Indians. In 1791, he was
tles him to the attention and working for the Bank of the
confidence of his country- United States in Philadel-
phia, becoming assistant
In July, ;1781 Washington cashier. He died in the yel-
gave Franks an extended low fever epidemic that
leave to serve as a diplo- killed ,5,000 of 50,000 Phila-
matic courier to carry secret delphians.



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