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Stories and Pictures   By:

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My heartfelt thanks are due to all those who, directly or indirectly, have helped in the preparation of this book of translations; among the former, to Professor Israel Abrahams, for invaluable help and advice at various junctures; and to Mr. B. B., for his detailed and scholarly explanations of difficult passages explanations to which, fearing to overload a story book with notes, I have done scant justice.

The sympathetic reader who wishes for information concerning the author of these tales will find it in Professor Wiener's "History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century," together with much that will help him to a better appreciation of their drift.

To fully understand any one of them, we should need to know intimately the life of the Russian Jews who figure in their pages, and to be familiar with the lore of the Talmud and the Kabbalah, which colors their talk as the superstitions of Slav or Celtic lands color the talk of their respective peasants.

A Yiddish writer once told me, he feared these tales would be too tief j├╝disch (intensely Jewish) for Gentile readers; and even in the case of the Jewish English reading public, the "East (of Europe) is East, and West is West."

Perez, however, is a distinctly modern writer, and his views and sympathies are of the widest.

He was born in 1855, and these stories were all written, quite broadly speaking, between 1875 and 1900. They were all published in Russia, under the censorship a fact to be borne in mind when reading such pages as "Travel Pictures" (which, by the way, is not a story at all), "In the Post Chaise," and others.

We may hope that conditions of life such as are depicted in "The Dead Town" will soon belong entirely to history. It is for those who have seen to tell us whether or not the picture is correct.

The future of Yiddish in a Free Russia is hard to tell. There are some who consider its early disappearance by no means a certainty. However that may be, it is at present the only language by which the masses of the Russian Jews can be reached, and Perez's words of 1894, in which he urges the educated writers to remember this fact, have lost none of their interest:

"Nowadays everyone must work for his own, must plough and sow his own particular plot of land, although, or rather because we believe that the future will represent one universal store, whither shall be carried all the corn of all the harvests....

"We do not wish to desert the flag of universal humanity.

"We do not wish to sow the weeds of Chauvinism, the thorns of fanaticism, the tares of scholastic philosophy.

"We want to pull up the weeds by the roots, to cut down the briars, to burn the tares, and to sow the pure grain of human ideas, human feelings, and knowledge.

"We will break up our bit of land, and plough and sow, because we firmly believe that some day there will be a great common store, out of which all the hungry will be fed alike.

"We believe that storm and wind and rain will have an end, that a day is coming when earth shall yield her increase, and heaven give warmth and light!

"And we do not wish our people, in the day of harvest, to stand apart, weeping for misspent years, while the rest make holiday, forced to beg, with shame, for bread that was earned by the sweat and toil of others.

"We want to bring a few sheaves to the store as well as they; we want to be husbandmen also."

Whenever, in the course of translation, I have come across a Yiddish proverb or idiomatic expression of which I knew an English equivalent, I have used the latter without hesitation... Continue reading book >>

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