Friday, November 16, 2012

I haven't posted anything here for a while, but I received the most remarkable letter recently, and just got permission to share it. The letter is from Bel Kaufman, perhaps best known as the author of "Up the Down Staircase," but she is also the granddaughter of Sholem Aleichem, a "leading Yiddish author and playwright" (Wikipedia), one of whose stories was adapted into "Fiddler on the Roof." He was widely celebrated for writing about Eastern European shtetl life (with which most of us are familiar only through "Fiddler on the Roof") and his sense of humor, which led him to be compared with Mark Twain.
Several months ago, while visiting my mother in L.A., I was going through some of the old Jewish books that my father collected -- not for the purpose of making money on them, but because when he saw Jewish books in a second-hand store, whether in Germany before the war or in the U.S., he always bought them, just to make sure that the books weren't destroyed. One of the books I came across was a 1927 Yiddish comic dictionary by Sholem Aleichem (who had passed away before that date). Knowing who his granddaughter was, I wrote to her and told her about the book, which I couldn't translate, though my brother could translate enough of it to let me know what it was. We began a correspondence, and I told her about my book, which I sent her. Here is an excerpt from her thank you note for the book: "[I] was about to write you a thank you note, then decided to wait until I head rread a few pages. A few pages? It immediately swallowed me up, sucked me in, so that I could not stop reading it until 4:30 in the morning. Up at 8 AM, I skipped brushing my teeth, skipped breakfast, grabbed your book, and continued to read without a stop: I could, simply couldn't put it down." "In my 101 years of age I have read countless books. But I do not remember ever before being so inside a book, living the story. It's a remarkable story of a remarkable character by a remarkable writer." It gets a little more personal from there, and almost makes me cry when I read it, knowing that the book connected with her in such a strong way. She invited me to lunch in NY, and I'll have to schedule a trip to take her up on it.

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