If I Were Rothschild

By Lisa Higgins

In Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem: Tevye’s Daughters, Tevye chronicles his family life and the social conflict in the last days of Tsarist Russia in the early 1900s. Some of the characters, scenes and stories translate directly into the musical, while others serve as inspiration.

Tevye fantasizes about what he would do with his riches in Aleichem’s short story, “If I Were Rothschild.” He would buy the whole house “from foundation to chimney” and “no more worries about making a living.” He would provide a “new roof for the old Synagogue” and “throw down the old poorhouse and put up a hospital.”

But he is not content with just buildings and schools. “If I were Rothschild I would do away with war altogether. I would wipe it off completely from the face of the earth.”

“If there are no more weapons and armies and…trappings of war, there will be no more envy, no more hatred, no Turks, no Englishmen, no Frenchmen, no Gypsies and no Jews. The face of the earth will be changed.”

Imagine that.

Aleichem was often referred to as the “Jewish Mark Twain” because of the two authors’ similar writing styles and use of pen names. Both authors wrote for both adults and children, and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. When Twain heard the writer called “the Jewish Mark Twain”, he replied, “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.”