Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Tevye the Milkman, the central character of Fiddler on the Roof, is far better known than his creator, Sholem Aleichem. Yet Aleichem’s contributions to Jewish culture are far greater than just giving voice to Tevye and his laments over rapidly changing shtetl life. Aleichem chronicled the wrenching shifts that dramatically reshaped eastern European Jewry as a whole in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Often referred to as the “Jewish Mark Twain,” Aleichem came of age as the cloistered culture of the shtetl was being punctured by an increasingly globalized economy. Industrial production was displacing small-town craftsmen and the younger generation was being pulled by a desire to assimilate into Russian culture. Aleichem captured these challenges with an acerbic humor that was evident at the age of 13 when he created an alphabetic glossary of the epithets that his stepmother frequently hurled at him and his siblings. Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness presents a riveting portrait of the man who transformed Yiddish from a vernacular language into a literary one. Interweaving excerpts from his work (read by the actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch) with interviews, photographs and archival footage, the film brings to life a lost world of Yiddish culture on the cusp of a historic transformation.
Joseph Dorman, (Producer/Director/Writer) is a winner of the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence. His latest film, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness was one of the 2011’s highest grossing documentaries and received 100% positive reviews according to leading industry website Rotten Tomatoes. The New York Times called it “a rich modern history of Eastern European Jewry” and The Washington Post as “superb…like Dorman’s earlier work.” He directed two films for the new Museum of Jewish History and Tolerance Center, which opened in Moscow in 2012. Mr. Dorman also directed the documentary, Arguing the World, about the sixty-¬‐year political journey of the eminent political writers and thinkers, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer. The New York Times described it as “enthralling… one of the deepest portraits of… of ideas ever filmed. It was named one of the best films of 1998 by The New York Times, and New York Magazine and was short-listed for an Academy Award. He also co-¬wrote the script of the documentary blockbuster, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Journey, which was named the best documentary of 2001 by the National Board of Review. Mr. Dorman, who teaches at New York University, was also invited to give Harvard University’s annual William E. Massey Sr. Lecture in the history of American Civilization in 1999.
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