Tarzan? Sherlock Holmes? Winnie the Pooh? Sure you know them.
Edgar Rice Burroughs? Arthur Conan Doyle? A. A. Milne? Perhaps not.
One measure of great authors is that their works are better known than they are themselves. Add one more: Sholem Aleichem, creator of Tevya and writer of "Fiddler on the Roof."
The life and thought of the great Yiddish writer is the focus of a new documentary, "Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness." The film is scheduled to open in six theaters in southeastern Florida on Oct. 21. (A list of theaters is at the end of this article.)
The 93-minute documentary is laced with archival photos and footage, with narrations by actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch. You’ll also hear from experts like Dan Miron of Columbia, Ruth Wisse of Harvard and David Roskies of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
But don’t expect a mere trip down memory lane. As essays on the film's website say, Sholem Aleichem was an unknown for more than one reason. Even his name -- Hebrew for "Peace be with you" -- was a nom de plume; his real name was Sholem Rabinowitz.
More than that, Sholem Aleichem is often misunderstood as a mere nostalgia writer, spinning tales of shtetls and milkmen and anti-Semitism and immigration in the folk tongue of Yiddish. As director Joseph Dorman and others say, the author used those elements to probe deeply into questions of what it means to be a Jew in a non-Jewish world.
Dorman himself writes as a modern Jew who had a kind of spiritual awakening from reading the master's works. His comments are themselves so vivid, they just might make you want to rush to a library to check out Sholem Aleichem's books.
He praises Sholem Aleichem as "a writer of complexity and depth," producing "psychologically and sociologically complex portraits of a deteriorating world and its poor and disoriented inhabitants . . . He could, in short, stare directly into the darkness and laugh, and, miraculously, make others laugh with him."
Dorman also perceives parallels between the changing world of of a century ago and the equally shifting ground under modern Jews. In examining shtetl Jews, he says, Sholem Aleichem helped him re-examine his own relationship with Judaism at a time when traditions are eroding.
"The important thing, in the end, is to wrestle with the ambivalences of identity," Dorman concludes. "Only by doing so can we hope to hold on to our ever-shifting identities in any meaningful way."
These South Florida theaters have announced plans to show the film:
Palm Beach County
Regal Shadowood 16, 9889 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Tickets: $10.50 for adults, $7 for seniors, $7.25 for children, $9 for students.
Livingroom Theaters at Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Tickets: $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for matinees (before 5 p.m.), $6.50 for military, students and educators (with ID) and seniors (65+). Mondays and Tuesdays, (except public holidays), $5.
Movies of Delray, 7421 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Before 5 p.m.: $5 for all. After 5 p.m.: $7 Adults, $5 for seniors and children.
Movies of Lake Worth, 7380 Lake Worth Road. Before 5 p.m.: $5 for all. After 5 p.m.: $7 Adults, $5 for seniors and children.
Frank Theaters Sunrise 11, 4321 NW 88th Ave., Sunrise Tickets: $7.50 for adults, $6 for seniors and children younger than 12. Tuesday senior special: $5.
Frank Theatres Intracoastal 8, 3701 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach. Tickets: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for children. Matinees: $8 for adults, $7.50 for children.
James D. DavisCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun