STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
A YEAR LATER
"A dull story!" says the reader, apparently quite dissatisfied, for
he's been raised on those modern romances, where people hang themselves
and drown themselves, poison themselves and shoot themselves, or where
a heder teacher becomes a count, a serving maid becomes a princess, and
a belfer (school assistant) becomes - a dragon. Now can I help it if we
have no counts or princesses? We have only ordinary Jewish men and women,
Jewish girls and Jewish musicians .... But why bother with justifications?
By now, the reader can say what he likes. I've brought him this far, and
he'll certainly go further with me, he'll want to know what happens in
the end and what becomes of Rachel, and what becomes of Stempeniu.
We will now skip a year (what is one year in a human life?) and we
will visit Isaak-Naphtali's home for the dinner concluding the Sabbath.
And there we find the same people as a year ago, and hear the same conversations
as a year ago, with not a hair changed. And everyone keeps talking about
the fair, business, profits, children - until the conversation turns to
Moyshe-Mendel and Rachel, who live in Yehupets now.
"Dvosse-Malke, show us the letter from the kids. in Yehupets," Isaak-Naphtali
cried to his wife. "Here, read it Yudel."
"Let him read it!" said Yudel, pointing to the cross-eyed young man.
The cross-eyed man took the letter and read it fluently; the salutation
was in Hebrew:
Peace and all good wishes to my beloved Father, the wise, learned, enlightened,
and eminent gentleman, the highly esteemed Lord Isaak-Naphtali, son of
Moses Joseph, may he rest in peace. And to my highly honored and pious
"Stop that!" they all shouted. "Stop that! That's all rhetoric, for
God's sake, kid stuff, it's their foolishness! Read the rest, on the other
side!" The cross-eyed man turned the letter over and continued reading
its mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian:
And since you have asked me, Dear Father, to tell you about business
and commerce here in Yehupets, I must inform you?
"Oh, so that's what it means!" the company cried happily. "Keep reading,
I must inform you that dry goods do particularly well here as does haberdashery,
though haberdashery does not do as well as dry goods. And groceries likewise
do not do badly, no worse than in Mazepevke. Woolens are worth their weight
in gold. Sugar, flour, and bran are also a business here, they are exported,
and Jews earn tidy sums thereby. In short, Yehupets is a blessed land,
the city itself is enormous and worth a visit. It is altogether another
world here in Yehupets, you can meet Jews here of whom you would never
have dreamt that they were Jews. Paper is also a business here, everything
is business here. And Jews frequent the stock exchange, buying and selling
all kinds of stocks, and brokers earn money galore.
And my beloved spouse Rachel sends you all her fondest greetings. She
writes to you herself below. May the Good Lord grant that we hear good
news from you - amen. I must also inform you that the store which I rented
is located right
on Alexandrovsky Street, and the money I take in is not at all bad,
praised be the Lord. My beloved spouse Rachel, long may she live, has already
mastered the trade and can already talk to the customers. But I go and
buy at the fairs myself. I have credit with merchants in Moscow and Lodz.
Dealing with Moscow is not difficult, Moscow sells with a conscience and
likes Jewish clients. Even when a businessman goes bankrupt, Moscow helps
him out and will not let him fall.
Dwellings are extremely expensive here. For two alcoves and a kitchen
- one hundred seventy-five rubles a year, not including wood and water,
and everything costs a fortune here. Jews are mostly agents and brokers
and there are an enormous number of these Jewish agents and brokers here,
and a Jew can thereby earn a respectable ruble. In short, Yehupets is a
place to earn one's living. May God give us health and strength and grant
that we hear the same from you, which I wish you, I your son, who wishes
you peace and happiness in your lives,
son of the highly esteemed Isaak-Naphtali of Mazepevke.
My very best to my dear uncle and my dear aunt with all their offspring
and their household.
My very best to Reb Yudel with all his offspring and his household.
My very best to the highly esteemed Reb Simkhe-Hersh with all his offspring
and his household.
My very best to the highly esteemed Reb Dov-Ber with all his offspring
and his household.
My very best to Stisye-Beyle with all her offspring and her household.
Rachel's letter followed, in a Germanicized Yiddish:
I too send greetings to my highly esteemed father-in-law and my dear
mother-in-law. I hope you are well. I am in good health, may God preserve
me. Also my Yossele greets you and thanks his dear grandmother for the
blouse many times. He promises you that God will give life for that and,
God willing, in three or four years he will begin going to heder and, God
willing, he will learn eagerly and, God willing, he will be a good Jew,
may God grant him a long life,
amen. Dear father-in-law, if you could make Yossele a skullcap and
a pair of woolen socks, I would be very thankful, for I am very busy in
the store, and I do not want to hire a nurse for Yossele, it would not
be right. I have only taken on a girl and I pay her four rubles out of
my household money, she looks after the baby and pastures the cow - you
should see the cow I bought! She gives a whole gallon of milk, excellent
milk, and I get cheese and butter from her, thank the Lord. But my dear
Moyshe-Mendel has suddenly started hating dairy products. Give him a good
talking-to, please, he doesn't take care of himself at all! Yossele is
bawling his head off now, the poor thing wants to eat may I hunger in his
place! I will conclude my letter, please send heartiest greetings to all
our friends and relatives and please write to us, God willing, and I remain
your devoted and well-wishing daughter-in-law, Rachel.
"Well," said Fat Beryl. "My own children should do no worse!" "You're
sinning, Dvosse-Malke, you're sinning!" said Yudel. "I swear, you're sinning!"
"Of course, thank the Good Lord, they're doing well - knock on wood.
But I miss her so much - I can't forget her, Yudel, I can't forget her."
And Dvosse-Malke started listing all her daughter-in-law's virtues
and all her manners and showed him why she couldn't forget her. Everyone
talked, they talked about Yehupets and about business in Yehupets. Then
they poured themselves drinks, they toasted, l'chaim, holding the
cups for a long time, and they wished one another all the luck in the world,
and glad tidings for all Jews and salvations and consolations. But then
the borsht came to the table, spreading a marvelous fragrance through the
house, and the company became merry. 'they were absorbed in their conversations
and forgot all about Moyshe-Mendel and Rachel and the city of Yehupets
and all of them together.