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Famous Ukrainian Jews Commemorated on Postage Stamps

Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916)

Read about other commemoratives here.


Birthplace and Memorial of Sholom Aleichem

Sholom Aleichem is a traditional Hebrew and Yiddish greeting and means "peace be with you". It was also the pseudonym adopted in 1883 by Solomon Rabinovich (1859-1916), a Yiddish short-story writer, dramatist, and humorist. Regarded as one of the most creative writers in Yiddish, Sholom Aleichem was famous for his sad and ironical novels and stories that describe the life of simple Russian Jews in small towns. His most known characters are Menachem Mendel, the typical small-town Jew; the eternal dreamer and schemer (Luftmensch); and the best loved, Tobias the Dairyman (Tevye der Milchiger), an indestructible optimist. More than any other writer, Sholom Aleichem taught his fellow Jews the value of humor in adversity. When his own affairs were at their lowest point, he published a collection of sketches that embody the saving grace of humor, Tovye der Milkhiger (1894; translated as Tevye Stories, 1965), about the impoverished driver of a milkwagon who endures hardship and maintains his love of life.

Born in Pereyaslav, Russia near Kiev (now Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, Ukraine), Sholem Aleichem was educated in nearby Voronkov, whose inhabitants were the models for the characters of the fictional community Kasrilevke, the setting of many of his stories. His childhood was a troubled one: both his mother and stepmother died, and his father had to struggle with debts. He served as an official rabbi in Lubin for several years, eventually marrying and moving to Kiev when he inherited money from an uncle. Here he briefly edited a literary annual, Die Yiddishe Folksbibliothek (1888-89), but he was generous to a fault in paying the contributors and always unlucky in commercial matters, a failing also of the disastrously impractical hero of his epistolary novel, Menakhem Mendl (1895). Bankrupt, he moved to Odessa in 1890. By this time he was well known to readers of Yiddish but his financial affairs did not improve. He continued to write his popular humorous sketches, and despite unremitting money problems he traveled widely. Among his other works are Stempenyu (1889), Yosele Solovey (1890), "Inside Kasrilovka", "The Old Country", "Tevye's Daughters", and Mottel Peyse dem Khazns (1907-16; translated as Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son, 1953), about a spirited character who refuses to come to terms with the world of adults. He moved to New York at the start of World War I and died there.

  In November 1959, Israel issued a commemorative stamp (Sc#154) honoring the 100th birthday anniversary of famed Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. At the same time, another issue from Israel (Sc#156) depicts, in sharp contrast, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who was the leader of the movement to revive Hebrew as a modern literary and spoken language. Now the great adversary of Yiddish had to share the honorary place in the stamp set with Yiddish writer.


To most people he is best known for his stories that formed the basis for the musical "Fiddler on the Roof (1964)." His writings are filled with the pathos of Jeremiah, but also a fine sense of humor.... which is one way of handling pathos and tragedy. He says, ".... As you know, I'm a great believer. I never have any complaints against the Almighty. Whatever he does is good. As Scripture says, `Trust in the Lord'--put your faith in God and he'll see to it that you lie six feet under, bake bagels and still thank him....I say that we have a great God and a good God but, nevertheless, I say, I would like a blessing for every time God does something the likes of which should happen to our enemies."  


  Stamps issued in Russia (Sc#2164) and Rumania (Sc#1268) also mark Sholom Aleichem’s 100th birth anniversary. In Russia it was time of short Khrushchev “thaw” when the violently cruel, anti-Semitic policy of the last dark years of Stalin’s dictatorship looked like it was gone forever. There were changed to limited openness, new development in art and science successes in space exploration and modern technology. Sholom Aleichem was admitted into the Russian pantheon of literary classics (who already couldn’t say anything wrong about Soviet Union.) Such attitude to a Jewish author supposes to prove appearance of good Jewish life in Russia despite it was not so good in the reality.


Official cachet and standard stamp from Ukrainian postal card issued to 140th Sholom Aleichem birth anniversary


Statue of Sholom Aleichem in Kiev, Ukraine


  • Last Modified: 02-20-2012
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