Melting a Heart of Ice

by Mark Chmiel

Late in life, I got around to reading Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman
(translated by Hillel Halkin, who suggested it was “possibly the greatest of all Jewish novels”). It sounded funnily familiar….

Flogging a dead horse won’t make it run any faster 3

As long as a Jew lives and breathes in this world and hasn’t more than one leg in the grave, he mustn’t lose faith. 3

Not counting suppers, my wife and kids went hungry three times a day. 4

We’re God’s chosen people; it’s no wonder the whole world envies us. 5

The shadows of the trees were as long as the exile of the Jews. 5

With my troubles I was six feet underground already! 6

They’ll pay with back interest for everything they’ve done, except God has a long memory. 6

If you’re looking to buy something, I’m afraid I’m all out of stock, unless I can interest you in some fine hunger pains, a week’s supply of heartache, or a head full of scrambled brains. 7

“To Boiberik,” I say, “it’s not a long way at all. Only a few miles. About two or three. Maybe four. Unless it’s five.” 8

I know my way around Boiberik the way you do around your own home! 11

Why, it’s enough to make the Devil jealous. 13

Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt? 13

Good evening, it’s a pleasure to meet you all! Enjoy your meal; I can’t imagine why you shouldn’t. 13

There are people who have money and I have daughters. 14

I’m sure grandma Tsaytl is enjoying her stay in Paradise, but that doesn’t make her an expert on what’s happening down here. 18

God in heaven, if only I had ten percent of what I see here, You’d never see me complaining again. 22

He could never make up such fairy tales in a million years. 27

Golde: “The whole world knows what a professor of Bible you are.” 36

Lazer-Wolf: “But what good does all that book learning do you?” 37

It’s all very well to know the Bible by heart, but you still can’t serve it for dinner… 39

“For God’s sake,” she says, “out with it! Do I have to pay you money for each word?” 41

“Spare us your Bible!” 42

If it didn’t work out God mustn’t have wanted it to. You, Tsaytl, just weren’t meant to be a fine lady with a house full of grand things and two parents who could finally enjoy themselves a bit after keeping their nose to the grindstone all their poor, luckless, miserable, penniless lives… 45

… while they, the same Jews, can stretch and yawn without lifting a finger, and be served with roast duck, juicy knishes, varnishkes, and blintzes? Am I less of a Jew than they are? When will justice be done, so that Tevye too can spend a summer vacation in a dacha in Boiberik! 47

I wouldn’t have jumped to my feet any faster if he had poured boiling water over me. He jumped up too, and we stood facing each other like a pair of fighting cocks. 48

What exactly do you propose to live on after the wedding—the money you’ll get from pawning your stomachs, since you won’t be needing them anyway?

Golde: A house full of growing daughters is all the Talmud I need to know! 53

Why, a cow can sooner jump over a roof than a Jew get into a Russian university! 54

As usual, I was thinking about the world’s problems… 54

I’m not God’s policeman. 56

He was a decent sort, a simple, down-to-earth boy who would have shared all his worldly possessions with us, just as we shared ours with him, if only he had any… 57

“She’s perfection itself.”
“So what else is new?”

Before a body can talk with you, he has to spend a year boning up. The world is nothing but a page of Talmud to you. 59

You should see the letters she sends me, it’s enough to melt a heart of ice. 70

Let me tell you, I’d have been better off if they all were as ugly as sin 70

This tsaddik is your Rabbi Gorky? 72

Chava: It’s beyond belief how you have a verse from the Bible for everything! 72

Golde: You Bible a person half to death and think you’ve solved the problem. 76

Are you crazy or are you crazy? 77

Why, look at your sister Hodl! She hasn’t a penny to her name, she lives in a hole in the wall at the far end of nowhere—and yet she keeps writing us how happy she is with her schlimazel of a Peppercorn…. 103

WHAT A MISERABLE TIME TO BE A JEW! 117

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