Tales of the Old World and the New by Chone Gottesfeld
By Ira Leibowitz
Related to: Podolia (Province)
, Book Reviews
By Chone Gottesfeld. Translated from the
Yiddish by Jacob Richman. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1964 (278
pp.) [originally published in Winter 1999 Mishpacha, Vol. 18, No.
of the following may be reprinted or republished without permission
of the publisher.
Chone Gottesfeld, a Yiddish-language playwright and Forward staffer, published
this memoir -- really a series of vignettes -- shortly before his death. His
stories display a dry, penetrating wit that skewers many, including himself. At
heart he is a gentle man who loves humanity.
Gottesfeld is from Skala, Galicia (now Skala Podolskaya, Ukraine), a town 20
miles northwest of Kamanets Podolskiy. His Chasid father, a small trader,
suppresses his enthusiasm for the theater because "no decent Jew went
to the theater except the miscreants, who shaved their beards." After
studies in Chernovtsy and Vienna -- which put his father in debt -- in 1910
Gottesfeld heads for America, having heard that one can both work and study
In New York City he fails in several pursuits, save for a modest, irregular
income through his humorous sketches. He feels lucky at first when his
new landlady, honored by boarding a writer, refuses to ask for rent. But
he soon finds out that he must listen to her poetry.
In perhaps the book's most riveting section, Gottesfeld returns to Skala in
the mid-1930s to visit his father's grave. What he sees shocks and saddens
him. The porch of his old house has collapsed. The once-vibrant
synagogue is ghostlike and nearly deserted; the windows are caked with dust. Few
weddings take place, the cemetery caretaker tells him, but many funerals. The
sense of foreboding is palpable.
"Tales" is valuable to the family historian as a cultural touchstone. It
is a record of Jewish society in communities of the Old World and the New at
a certain place and time.