A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
The modern period in Yiddish prose began with Yisroel Aksenfeld’s novel “Dos Shterntikhl” (“The Headband”), written some time in the 1820s, which opens with a detailed description of the shtetl “Loyhoyopolie.” The name, which can be translated as “Nosuchville,” is a neologism, made up of the Hebrew words meaning “never was” and the Slavic geographical suffix, “polie.”
Aksenfeld’s artistic intention was to create a literary portrait of a shtetl that was both general and concrete. Loyhoyopolie, which incorporates features of real places, represents a typical shtetl in the Podolia region of Ukraine in the first half of the 19th century. In the decades that followed the publication of “Dos Shterntikhl,” Aksenfeld’s device was taken up by the classic Yiddish writers Mendele Moykher-Sforim and Sholom Aleichem, in the form of Glupsk and Kasrilevke, also symbolic Jewish towns.
This is one source of Forverts editor Boris Sandler’s new novella, “Keynemsdorf.” The other comes from Yiddish folklore, namely, the tales of the Wise Men of Chelm. Putting the two together, Sandler tells the story of Keynemsdorf, a shtetl located “in a forgotten corner of Arizona.” It’s inhabitants, who call themselves the “Free Citizens of Keynemsdorf,” speak a language similar to Yiddish, made up of archaic Daytshmerish and vestiges of Galician or Bessarabian dialect. The book is provided with a short glossary, ironically intended, since almost everything is understandable anyway.