L2L Isaac Leib Peretz (ft. Jennifer Rich)

Isaac Leib Peretz, Stories and Pictures

In a nod to the season, Leigh E. Rich and P. T. Bridgeport discuss the just-completed Chanukah holiday, with expert help from Jennifer Rich, executive director of Mickve Israel, and a story by Isaac Leib Peretz. The Festival of Lights goes back more than 100 years before Christ, when the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV made a grave political miscalculation. A. E. Houseman tells us the emperor died old, but what did he do before that and why has it echoed through history to this day? The L2L hosts create a mare’s nest of literature, culture, history, and poetry, with Jennifer Rich to help straighten it all out. Plus, Leigh and P. T. look at some last-minute literature worthy of gift-giving.

In 1906, Helena Frank translated Isaac Lieb Peretz’s tales from Yiddish into a collection called Stories and Pictures. While Frank states that some at the time “feared these tales would be too tief-jüdisch (intensely Jewish) for Gentile readers,” she calls Perez “a distinctly modern writer.” And indeed he is. The short story “The Chanukah Light” is a tale about a young tutor (perhaps a yeshiva student) who visits the household of a Jewish merchant to give his young son a Hebrew lesson. Present that night is the whole family—including the merchant’s more traditionalist father and the merchant’s daughter, who has caught the tutor’s eye. In the glow of the Chanukah light, the tutor recounts the story of the Maccabees.

Isaac Lieb Peretz (1852–1915, also spelled Isaac Loeb Perez, with discrepancies about his birth year) was a Polish author and playwright who was part of the Jewish enlightenment. He is considered “one of the three great classical Yiddish writers” (the two others being Mendele Mokher Seforim and Sholem Aleichem). Currently, Perez appears as a cameo character in Paula Vogel’s play Indecent (about Sholem Asch’s Yiddish drama God of Vengeance), which is completing a run at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

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L2L December 14, 2018 I.L. Perez
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