Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Intro to "The Old Story" by Mendele Moykher Sforim

I know I said I'd blog every day this month but I've had a huge number of projects on. Here's one of them - I've been translating a short piece by the famous Yiddish author Mendele Moykher Sforim - it's called "the Old Story" and here is the preamble...

And so sayeth Mendele Mokher Sforim, the story I plan to tell you is at first glance an old one, but whatever, gentlemen, it still serves us Jews quite well in these modern times. "What are we? What is our life?" I ask you! What, then, is Jewish life as a whole? In essence a long, old story, repeating itself forever anew, in various forms and appearances according to the fashion of every epoch. Always the same story with different uproars, nuisances, pressuring, rushing about, with botherations and disputations, muddled machinations, squeezing, itching and bedevilment.

Every generation has its sages, good pious folks, as well as the languishing, crestfallen, down-trodden, poor things, and fools, and up and coming newly minted fools, and strivers, aggrandized insolent faces, boors, busybodies stirring the pot something dreadful... that Korukh, the long-ago rich man, leader of a gang, the bully who pushed himself toward the priesthood in order to be the great elder, the uppermost - Korukh is still with us today, too, his name is Yonkl, Berl, Yotsmakh, Shmerl, just with a tiny twist: he also pushes his way to the head of the table (place of honor) and wants to be indispensable.

That long-ago traitor Sonbalat with his gang of backbiters, liars, schemers, skillful at dismissing anyone with tedious monologues, with slander, not slow to whip out a pen and write a "song of praise" to make things worse, to destroy someone with a wall of words -- those fine people, oh well, the devil hasn't taken them away from us in these modern times. They're here, they grow and sprout, thank God! The point is, really, as the saying goes: "That which was, will be," there's nothing new under the bright sun. The thing is, something comes along - colonies, for instance - and people say, "See, this is new!" No, brothers, it's already been with us in the world for a long time, just take a look, if you will, at this story here, you'll see that Jews have had their heads buried in the dirt for a long time already ... you'll also see that just as every town has her village idiot, her ruffians and pranksters all around, so she also has her wise man, her sage advisor, and - set against him - her immensely powerful nabob, a fine skillful fellow, who will, for spite, turn everything upside down and backwards, and beyond that is oy, okh un vey iz mir!



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