To the world, he is the celebrated Jewish writer and humorist. To me, my great-grandfather. Although I did not know him personally, he left a legacy of laughter which we continue to celebrate and learn from.
My father’s mother, Marie Waife Goldberg, was the youngest daughter of Sholom Aleichem. She passed down to my generation and those that follow the life story of the greatest figure in Yiddish literature in her book, My Father, Sholom Aleichem.
My grandmother told me she remembered her father standing up while he wrote at a pulpit he designed himself. It was tall enough for him to rest his elbows with a place for a candlestick on top. He would stand there for hours, never disturbed when the children were playing. My grandmother told me that he loved children above all, and on each of his six children’s birthdays, he would take them for a walk in the country and give them “This mountain, those trees, and the flowers.” The birthday celebration, in Russian tradition, would last for a week.
Sholom Aleichem’s Last Will and Testament was read into the Congressional Record and is considered one of the great ethical wills in history. Sholom Aleichem asked to be remembered on the anniversary of his death with laughter: “Gather with my family and good friends and read this last will of mine and pick out a story - one of the very happiest”.
The yahrzeit tradition continues to be faithfully maintained by our family. Each year in May we gather, and his Will and a few of his humorous stories are read aloud in Yiddish and English. The event started as a family gathering and now includes friends and admirers. This year was the 102nd year of our remembrance.
“To make people laugh, to point out the ludicrous, was almost a sickness with me,” Sholom Aleichem wrote in his autobiography. To his children he wrote: “Dear Beloved Children, To you I dedicate my work of works, my book of books, the song of songs of my soul. I realize that this book, just as any man’s handiwork is not without defect. But who knows better than you what it has cost me! I have given to it of my best: my heart. Read it from time to time. Perhaps you or your children, will learn something from it -- to love our people and to appreciate their spiritual treasures which lie scattered in all the dark corners of our great Exile, in this great world. This would be the best reward for my faithful, more than thirty-years’ labor in our mother tongue and literature. Your father, the author, Sholom Aleichem."
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