Sholom Aleichem (ah-LAY-kehm) was the pen name of the Russian Jewish writer Sholom (or Solomon) Rabinovich. He was born in the Ukrainian town of Pereyaslav, but the family soon moved to nearby Voronko, the model for the fictional town of Kasrilevke in his writings. For a dozen years the young Sholom lived a comfortable life as the son of a wealthy and respected merchant, Menachem Nahum Rabinovich. However, his father suffered a financial reversal when Sholom was not yet thirteen, and soon after that Sholom’s mother died of cholera. His father remarried, and the sharp tongue of his new wife gave rise to Sholom’s first literary production, a collection of his stepmother’s Yiddish curses.
His next literary production was a Hebrew-language novel written while attending a Russian-language high school in Pereyaslav. After high school Sholom found a position as a tutor for the daughter of a wealthy Jewish landowner. He promptly fell in love with his pupil, and her father sent him away. He eventually found an administrative position in the town of Lubny and while employed there began writing articles in Hebrew for various periodicals on social and educational issues.
He and his former pupil, Olga, reunited and were married in 1883. Now reconciled to the match, Olga’s father invited his new son-in-law back to his estate and supported him while he devoted himself full time to writing. That same year he published his first story in Yiddish, “Tsvey Shteyner” (“Two Stones”), and adopted the name Sholom Aleichem, which in Hebrew means “peace unto you” and is a traditional Jewish greeting.
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