Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

In the small theater where the Movie Slut saw this inspiring documentary, there is a tradition. Before the movie begins, theater personnel amble down the center aisle to greet moviegoers and announce the name of the film they're about to see. (On the outside chance they're in the wrong theater? Or just a nicety? Whatever.)
On this day, the young man who had this job admitted he had no clue how to pronounce the name of the movie. Still, the tradition continued.
It was a fitting beginning for the story of the renown Yiddish writer whose most famous character, Tevye, the milkman, the man who sang about tradition, is probably known to the theater greeter, even if he didn't realize that this "Fiddler on the Roof" character sprung from the pen of the man whose name he could not pronounce.
Yiddish, btw, is defined in the documentary as the "in language of those on the outs." (Not necessarily a direct quote.)
It was the language of Eastern European Jews — part Hebrew, part German with a little Slavic thrown in — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the chosen written language of the man whose stories entertained these Jews at a time when their traditions were threatened.
The film introduces him as a man with bushels and baskets of stories and shows how his life was many stories, each with its highs and lows.
"Laughing in the Darkness" is not for every moviegoer but it will enrich every moviegoer who sees it.
P.S. It's Shah-lum A-lech-hum.

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