When Sholem Aleichem Met Mark Twain


The Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) was an author and humorist whose 40-plus volumes famously combine high intellect with a raucousness and a Jewish redneck sensibility. His style was uncannily reminiscent of another writer of his time, an American, who also had a knack for satire and irony: Mark Twain.

In Aleichem’s novel The Bloody Hoax (1913), a non-Jewish nobleman and a Jewish pauper switch places—just like in Twain’s book The Prince and the Pauper. Unlike Twain’s all-ages parable, however, Aleichem’s story is distinctly adults-only, combining bawdy humor with a trenchant look at anti-Semitism.

Twain and Aleichem’s meetings were not limited to the realm of the literary. When they first met in real life, as the story goes, at a Manhattan hotel in 1906, Aleichem was introduced as “the Yiddish Mark Twain.” Upon hearing this, Twain halted the speaker: “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.”

Watch a trailer for Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Dark:

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