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What to read? Recommendation of the week

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Zalman Vendrov (real name David Vendrovsky) was one of the oldest Jewish writers in Yiddish in the USSR. He was born in 1877 in the Belarusian town of Slutsk and died exactly 50 years ago in 1971 in Moscow. In his youth, he experienced all the hardships of a poor Jewish youth: he worked at a textile factory in Lodz, was fired, in search of a better life with false documents, crossed the border and left for England. There he joined the revolutionary and later the Jewish anarchist movement.

From England in 1906 Vendrov left for America, where he collaborated with various Jewish newspapers and magazines. There his literary talent is fully manifested, especially the skillfully honed style of realistic storytelling in short stories on social topics. Already in his first collection "On a Heim" (Without a Home), he fully reveals the acute problems of the life of Jewish emigrants, social inequality, the oppressed position of workers, etc.

In 1909, Vendrov left America, and as a correspondent for New York Jewish publications went to Warsaw, where he collaborated with the largest Yiddish newspaper of the time, Hint. In 1911, on the instructions of the newspaper, he visited Eretz Yisrael. In 1913, he published his second collection of short stories, "Government", which depicts the bitter lot of the Jews of the Russian Empire, driven into the Pale by discriminatory laws and police arbitrariness.

Since 1915 Vendrov settled in Moscow, after the revolution he worked in the Commissariat of Nationalities, then in the Jewish News Agency, in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.

In the JAC case, he was arrested and exiled to the Gulag, where he stayed from 1950 to 1956. Released at the age of 79, subsequently rehabilitated.

Vendrov was an extremely prolific writer. For the last fifteen years of his life, he had the tacit status of an elder of Jewish writers in the Soviet Union. He managed to combine two creative styles, remaining to the end both a prose writer and a publicist with a sharp pen. He was less interested in polishing linguistic nuances, but he was completely occupied with the reliability of the description, down to the smallest details. He remained a purely Jewish writer, and even under Soviet censorship he managed to perpetuate in his work a huge number of elements of Jewish tradition and folklore.

On the eve of Passover, I recall his story titled "Dos groise gevins" (big win), included in his last book "Undzer gas" (our street), published in Moscow in 1967 and translated into Russian in 1980. The author goes deeper into a motif that was popular in Jewish folklore, and in classical Yiddish literature, in particular, by I. L. Peretz and Sholem Aleichem. We are talking about a description of a poor Jew who dreams that a miracle will happen, and that he would have something to prepare and celebrate the Passover holiday, which is so important in the Jewish tradition.

In the story, Vendra recalls the custom that was widespread in many cities and towns of Eastern Europe: before the holiday, buy a turkey, fatten it up so that it is fatter, and cut it on the eve of the first seder. In the poor family of Zimla, a firewood merchant, sadness and despondency reigned on the eve of Passover, for the winter was unusually warm, and the sale of firewood was minimal. Ziml earned very little during the winter, so there was no question of buying a turkey ...

Most of all, the wife of Zimla Malka was killed because of this, literally did not dry out from tears. She did not so much need a turkey for food as it was for her a symbol of Passover, an important attribute that was a kind of harbinger of the holiday in the house. “And so,” sobbed Malka, “what have I lived to be? For the first time in twenty years of family life, there will be Pesach without a turkey. There will be conversations in the town, especially in the shchita (a place for traditional bird cutting)” ... that nothing terrible happened, because you can do with matzo, onions and eggs, God forbid, so that the whole year would be no worse ...

And then the "miracle" happened. There was a certain Getzl in the town, who earned money by always playing something in the lottery, however, few people remembered that someone won something in his lottery ... A few days before Passover, Getzl showed up at Ziml's house with a live turkey and said that this time a turkey is being played. Malka's heart literally stopped, and a spark of hope lit up. She decided that her prayers were heard in the sky, that she and her husband would certainly win this turkey, and thus the honor of the family would be saved. Having persuaded her husband to scrape out the last pennies for a lottery ticket, Malka looked forward to hearing from Getzl the results of the lottery. Meeting him in the town, she lamented: "Reb Getzl, why are you carrying a turkey with you, he doesn't eat or drink with you, look - he is wasting away before our eyes. Wouldn't they buy a lottery ticket from you if you leave him at home?? ", to which she received a sharp answer:" Do not interfere. The turkey is not yours yet "...

And then the day came on the eve of the holiday. Getzl came to Ziml's house with the news: "You won." Malka glanced at the turkey, and he was barely alive. Grabbing him, she, out of breath, ran to the shechita and began to beg the shoikhet (a traditional butcher) to slaughter the turkey as soon as possible, but ... it was too late.

The women looked at the crying Malka and nodded their heads with regret: "The lottery is gone. Such a misfortune, such a misfortune" ...


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