Yiddish prose master Ikhil Shraibman died on December 9 in Kishinev, Moldova. He was 93.
Shraibman’s life and work were rooted in Bessarabia, a Romanian-speaking section in eastern Moldova that was home to a dynasty of important Yiddish and Hebrew writers. His literary debut was at age 17. When a novel of his, published in 1938, caught the eye of Soviet literary star Perets Markish, his place in Yiddish literature was secure. For most of his life, the longtime contributor to the Yiddish Forward lived in Kishinev, winning renown for his short fiction, known as prose miniatures, as well as for his autobiographical essays, novels and literary criticism.
Shraibman wrote his miniatures in the first person. Although the narrator’s milieu is Bessarabian, his doubts, yearnings and self-searching are recognizable to any Jew of the 21st century. Shraibman’s “Chumash novellas,” biblical stories retold in Yiddish chapter and verse, straddle faith and skepticism while transporting their biblical characters into 20th-century Jewish Eastern Europe.
His death is a loss not only to his family, but also to his students, the postwar generation of Bessarabian Yiddish writers who are the lifeblood of modern, secular Yiddish literature, including Boris Sandler, editor of the Yiddish Forward.
In an autobiographical story, “A Chapter of Rashkev,” referring to his birthplace, Shraibman tells how his father, a tradesman and seller of roasted nuts, wept when he was shown his son’s first published story: “Till today I can’t understand what my father meant with his crying… . Could it be that an uncultured Jew, a normal man, could experience or conceive of a joy like mine? Could it be that somewhere in his depths, an unimagined power let him feel the path of thorns, the pain and suffering, the rises and falls, all the trials that await a writer…? It has remained a mystery for me till this very day. To ask, ‘Dad, why are you crying?’ would have made the whole story commonplace. Perhaps his crying was a mystery to him too.”