Bontshe Shvayg

Y.L. Peretz

Several times these past chilly months I’ve had recourse to an old apartment-dweller’s trick; which is to heat an empty stove for ten minutes or so, then turn off the heat and crack the stove door. Warmth flows upward. I’ll find myself rubbing my hands in it, like a traveler come from icy roads into an inn heading straight to stand before the fireplace. Then my thoughts go to people with no firesides in their lives, no gas stoves, no warmth, no shelter.

Which brings me to Bontshe Shvayg, the hero of a most beautiful Yiddish story by Y.L. Peretz (1852–1915), which one of the young characters in LAMENT uses for an audition piece at the State Yiddish Theater in Birobidzhan. (Tears–and success, a place in the youth troupe–ensue.) The story is renowned but generally unfamiliar. So here it is, as I first read and loved it, a contemporary translation from Leo Wiener’s great 1899 History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century

Jacob de Littemont, Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d’art du Moyen Age, de la Renaissance et des temps modernes, OA 12281 –