Shalom Aleichem (Shalom Rabinowitz) was born in Pereyaslav, the Ukraine, and moved as a child with his family to Voronkov, a neighboring small town which later served as the model for the fictitious town of Kasrilevke described in his works.
Shalom Aleichem received his early education in a traditional heder in Voronkov. His father, a wealthy merchant, was interested in the Haskalah (Enlightenment) and in modern Hebrew literature. A failed business affair caused the family to move again. Days of poverty and want followed, and in 1872 his mother died of cholera. In 1873, at the age of fourteen, he entered a Russian gymnasium from which he graduated in 1876.
Though he began writing in Hebrew, his first "serious work" -- a dictionary of the curses employed by stepmothers -- was written in Yiddish. Later on he wrote Hebrew biblical "romances" similar in style to those of Abraham Mapu, of which his father was particularly fond. In 1879 he began publishing. For about three years, he wrote reports and articles, mostly about Jewish education, for two Hebrew publications.
In 1883, Shalom Aleichem married Olga, and decided to write in Yiddish rather than in Hebrew. One of his first stories appeared in a Yiddish paper under the pseudonym "Shalom Aleichem," which in Hebrew means "Peace be unto you." From this time on, this became his pen name. He explained the pseudonym as a guise to conceal his identity from his relatives, especially his father, who loved Hebrew. In those days, Yiddish literature, greatly despised by the maskilim (enlightened) who wrote in Hebrew and the Jewish intelligentsia in Russia who spoke Russian, led Yiddish authors to write under pseudonyms or to publish their works anonymously.
He wrote stories, sketches, critical reviews, plays and poems in both verse and prose. Shalom Aleichem did not limit his creative scope to Yiddish, but published stories, sketches and articles in Hebrew and in Russian. In 1888, his financial situation enabled him to realize a long-cherished dream: the founding of a Yiddish literary annual through which the standards of European taste would be introduced into Yiddish literature.
Following a pogrom in 1905, Shalom Aleichem
decided to emigrate to the U.S. This was the beginning of a period of
wandering which continued until shortly before his death. His immense
popularity did not decline after his death but rather increased
beyond the Yiddish-speaking public. In 1910 his son-in-law, Hebrew
author Y. D. Berkowitz, began translating his works into Hebrew. His
works have also been translated into most European languages, as well
as Russian and English. His plays and dramatic versions of his
stories have been performed by the best Yiddish and Hebrew theatrical
companies in America, Israel, Russia, Poland, and many other
countries. The dramatic version of Tevye's Daughters has been
performed by the finest Yiddish actors, and in the 1960s these
sketches formed the basis of the stage and film musical, Fiddler
on the Roof.
Shalom Aleichem's main work was written in Yiddish
and published among others in:
Source: Copyright The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. Reprinted by kind permission of The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, Ramat Gan Israel. The Institute web site contains biographies of 300 Israeli authors.