Everyday Jews was first published in Poland in 1935 by Yehoshue Perle in an attempt to document the daily experiences of Polish Jews. It is a story of love and sex and spirit, a beautiful testimony to a strong and enduring people. Although originally chastised as crude, the novel quickly became a canonical work in explaining this time period. Although the story’s narrator, Mendl, is only a child, this work catalogs the intricate lives of Polish Jews. As he works though the stuff of twelve-year-old boys – puberty, sexual identity, family drama –the world around him also drastically changes. The result is a complex, interwoven tale told in a simple and precise tone, which is neatly captured in this translation.
Perhaps even more important than the book’s characters is its incredible sense of prehistory. Published just before the outbreak of the war, Perle’s text speaks to the experience of Jewry before the Holocaust. The Holocaust’s omnipresence can be felt throughout, a terrible foreboding of what is to come. And yet, this is still a story of hope, built on the believe that sharing a cultural history is of the utmost importance. Yehoshue Perle’s slice-of-life fiction provides a resonating voice to this population.
In his introduction, editor David G. Roskies writes:
We now offer Everyday Jews to the English reader is Maier Deshell’s masterful translation… Whether looking for vanished Jews or for a window into the everyday, the English reader will here – for the first time – discover a modern master. This is no everyday occurrence.
This March is the perfect time to explore the life of Mendl and the history of the Polish Jew through Everyday Jews, translated by Maier Deshell and Margaret Birstein and part of Yale University Press’s New Yiddish Library series.