Thursday, June 29, 2006

When I'm Warren Buffett... (If I were Rothschild) by Sholom Aleichem, my translation...

So here is my first attempt at translating a Yiddish story. It's by Sholem Aleichem, creator of Tevye and the fictional world of Kasrilevke (i.e. Fiddler on the Roof land). The main character is a poor melamed, a teacher of children. Well, I think actually all the teachers were poor.

Here's more about the Rothschilds. I like thinking about this story in view of Warren Buffet's recent move.

"When I'm Rothschild," the Kasrilevke melamed let loose on a Thursday -- when the rebbetzin demanded money to make Shabbos, and he didn't have it - Oy, when I'm Rothschild! ... Guess what I'll do! In the first place, it'll be guaranteed that a wife always has a three-ruble note with her so she doesn't have to bother a man when Thursday rolls around ... secondly, I'll get my Sabbath kaftan out of hock - or, no, I'll buy back the wife's catskin burnoose - she'll stop poking her head in here and telling me she's cold!

And I'll buy this house, entirely, all three rooms, with the larder, the cellar, the attic, and this that and the other thing - let her not say she's feeling crowded. She can take two of the rooms, boil, bake, wash, and shred away, and leave me alone. I'll be able to teach my students with a clear head. No worries about livelihood. One won't have to worry about where to find money to make Shabbos - what a delight to the soul that will be!

As for my daughters, they'll all be married off, that's a load off my shoulders... So that covers my needs - so then what? I'll get started...

First, I'll pledge a new roof for the old study house - let it stop dripping on the heads of praying Jews. On a different subject entirely, I'll rebuild the old bathhouse, good as new. One of these days - maybe even this morning - there's going to be a disaster - maybe it will fall apart exactly when the women are washing themselves... Along these lines, I'll tear down the poorhouse [the word also means filthy place!] and establish a hospital - and what a hospital! With little beds, with a doctor, with medicine, with chicken soup every day for the sick people. As it's done in decent towns. And I'll establish an old folks' home, so ancient learned Jews won't lie all alone near the stove in the house of prayer.

And a chavurah (an organization) called "Clothing the Poor," so poor children won't walk around with, I beg your pardon, their belly-buttons hanging out. And a chavurah "Charitable Loans" - so any Jew, whether a melamed or an artisan, or even an ordinary tradesman, can borrow money and not have to pay a percent and pawn the shirt off his body...

And a chavurah "Portioning the Poor Bride" - it's where an indigent girl, poor thing, one who's growing older, shall be fitted out properly for getting married.

And afterwards I'll create similar societies in Kasrilevke, one after another. But what makes us here in Kasrilevke so special?! I'll set up similar societies everywhere the Children of Israel are found, everywhere in the whole world!

And to ensure everything is done correctly, guess what I'll do? I'll establish one big chavurah, an Oversight Board, to take care of all the societies, to take care of all the Jews that is to say, all of Israel, and Jews everywhere will have a livelihood, and live in unity and sit in yeshiva and study: chumash and rashi and the gemara, and from all those schools I'll create one big academy, in Vilna of course.

And all the sages and scholars will go out from that academy into the world, and everything will be free of charge, paid for out of my pocket, and everything will be carried out in an organized manner, and everybody will have "the good of the public" first, there won't be all this "gimme-gimme" stuff.

In order to ensure the common good, we'll have to take care of the details. And how? By providing a living wage, that's the gist of it. Without a living wage, there can't be any kind of unity. Struggling for a piece of bread, sad to say, poor men ruin each other... capable of slaughter, of poisoning, of hanging ... Even the anti-semites, our Hamans all over the world, what have they really got against us? Nothing. It's all for the sake of a livelihood, they need a livelihood. If that weren't a problem, things wouldn't be so bad. It's all for the sake of a living. Making money leads to jealousy, jealousy to loathing, and so on. Therefore, with money I can rid the world of all its troubles and persecution, all the murder and war...

Oh, war, the war - that's, listen, that's the world's massacre! When I'm Rothschild, I'll get rid of war completely, it will be absolutely gone!

So you ask: "How're you going to do that?" Simple - with money! Try to understand. Here's an example: two kingdoms quarrel over some stupidity there, a piece of ground, it's worth a pinch of tobacco: "territory" they call it. One king says the territory is his and the other says: "No, it's mine." You'd think God created that little piece of ground especially for them. A third comes along and says: "You're both idiots, the territory belongs to everyone." In summary - territory here, territory there, eventually the cannons and guns shout out, and men slaughter each other like sheep, and the blood, the blood pours out like water...

But if I come to them from the outset and say: "Quiet down, little brothers, what are you gaining by this? From this whole dispute? What's your goal here? You think I don't understand your intention? Of course I do - but this isn't what God intends.

"It's all about the dumplings. Territory is, for you, no more than a pretext. The essence for you is that old story, the 'Contribution'!"

Well, and since we're talking about 'contribution,' to whom do folks come for a loan? To me, to Rothschild that is. Here, take it, Englishman with the long legs and checkered pants, a million! Here, take it, you foolish Turk with the red yarmulke, a million! Here, take it, auntie Reyzl [Russia], also a million! In any case, God will help you. And when you pay me back, there won't be a lot of interest to pay, because we shouldn't become rich off others...

Now do you understand? I make a little business deal - and men stop shooting each like oxen! And without war, why would men need weapons, an army, all that noise? And so without weapons, without an army, without all that ruckus, there's no hatred. Without fury, without "Turk," without "Englishman," without "Frenchman," without "Gypsy," it'll be so different. The whole world will have an entirely different face, as it is written: "And there will be deliverance" ... when the Messiah comes...

And it's possible that when I'm Rothschild, I'll disdain money entirely. Let's do away with money! Let's not be stupid - what's it good for? Money, friends, is only an agreement, a ludicrous thing. You get a piece of paper, draw up a little picture, write on it: "Three Silver Rubles." Money, I tell you, is nothing more than an Evil Inclination, a passion, a lust from the material world. It's what everybody wants and nobody has. If there were absolutely no money in the world, the Evil Inclination would have nothing to do, and lust would not have to be lust. You understand, right?

And what? So the original question was: where will Jews find money to make Shabbos? (he thinks for a while) So the answer is: what's the difference? Where do you find it now?"

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At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Sylvia said...

That is a most excellent tale, and so timeless. Thank you very much for sharing! I look forward to reading more when you have the time to translate and post them. Nice job!

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous said...

i loved it! it was exactly what i was looking for -- for my yiddish club in allentown, PA. a groisen dank eich! paula


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