Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Laughing in the Darkness"

Tonight we saw the film "Laughing in the Darkness," a documentary about the life and work of Sholem Aleichem (IMDB entry here). The Michigan Theater showing was advertised among the beer taps on the bar at Red Hawk where we had dinner first -- I thought the juxtaposition was amusing so I took the photo above.

The film was very intense: it included interviews with a number of heavy hitters of Yiddish literary scholarship as well as with Bel Kaufman, Sholem Aleichem's granddaughter, now 100 years old. The development of Yiddish literature within the constantly changing environment of Jewish life in Eastern Europe was a predominant topic. A large collection of photos and a few moving pictures from shtetls and Russian cities provided very interesting visuals -- though sometimes the Ken Burns effect was exploded into a dizzying zoom around the street scenes and vivid faces of the subjects.

The end of the film summarized the continuing reaction to Sholem Aleichem's work in Soviet Russia, Israel, and the US. Interestingly, our friend Baruch, who was with us at the film, said that as a young man in the Soviet Union he read Sholem Aleichem in Russian translation, which was his only window on Jewish culture. This corresponded to the information in the film.

Of course the musical and movie of "Fiddler on the Roof" was noted as major evidence of recent American love of Sholem Aleichem. The scholars summarized how American Jews first turned their backs on Yiddish culture and the works of Sholem Aleichem and then revived their interest in a search for Jewish identity.

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