…and we're original?

On this Christmas Eve, I figured it would be alright if I brought back a Yiddish youth who grappled with the Jewish relationship with Christianity: Sholem Asch, a rebel novelist, dramatist and essayist who went from Poland to New York to Bat Yam.
The son of a cattle dealer and inn-keeper, Asch left Kutno, Poland and moved to Wloclawek to make a living as a letter writer for the illiterate Jews in the area. (Illiterate Jews! a shunda!) He began writing in Hebrew and then was urged to write in Yiddish by I.L. Peretz. Throughout a long and prolific career, he wrote in Yiddish about Ashkenazi life in Eastern Europe and America that were translated into Russian, Polish, German, English and Hebrew among other languages. His plays are filled with rogues, rebels and the decadent figures of the Jewish underworld.
In 1939, Asch began a trilogy about the founders of Christianity: The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943) and Mary (1949). The work was well regarded by the English language press but the Yiddish Daily Forward, a paper that regularly benefitted from Asch’s journalism, decided not to publish the work and openly attacked Asch for heresy and encouraging conversion. His essay in response, “What I Believe” affirmed his Jewishness and the need for improved Christian-Jewish relations. Most of the Jewish press attacked Asch for the trilogy and it remained largely ignored by the literary critics of the period.
Luckily, Asch’s work received a boost from the obscure but amazing Yiddish theater in New York. Caraid O’Brein, an amazing actor, playwright and translator staged her new translation of his Motke Thief, at the University Settlement in November and December of 2005.
So as we wake up tommorow morning to empty streets, Chinese food and Spielberg’s Munich playing at the local theater, lets also think of Sholem Asch, that badass youth who wrote about real taboos; a Jew writing honestly about Christianity, Christians and the seedy pimps, criminals and hookers in the cities we call home. Happy Hanukkah!

One thought on “…and we're original?

  1. Your blog makes a great point. I believe we can all study the beauty that exists in other traditions without forsaking our own. The world’s three major religions all derive from Abraham, yet we all have things to learn from one another. Happy Hanukkah.

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