A not to be missed Haaretz news article detailing the letters of a Yiddish author and his experiences in the boom/bust periods of the Eastern Europe stock exchanges (ca 1890).

Riz Din responds:

Excellent stuff, Vince. This is a sad story of deluded ambition and greed, but it is smashingly told and packed to the brim with moments of hilarity, and at least this one is a fiction! Menakhem's wife is a truly wonderful creation. Her exchanges with Menakhem are packed with wit, scolding comments, and pleas for her husband to see good sense and come home. Alas, Menakhem's only concern is with the chase for riches.

You know things are going to end badly when Menakhem writes:

"….the word from Petersburg is, buy Transports for all you're worth! The whole world is holding them: Jews, housewives, doctors, teachers, servants, tradesmen - who doesn't have Transports? When two Jews meet, the first question is: 'How are Transports today?' Walk into a restaurant and the owner's wife asks: 'What's the latest on Transports?' Go buy a box of matches and the grocer has to know if Transports are up or down. In a word, there's money to be made here. Everyone is investing, growing, getting rich, and so am I."

A few lines from his wife:

"Shares, shmares! I'd rather own a rotten egg. No one ever made money by counting on his fingers."

"I wasn't raised in a home where we bought and sold air and God keep me from doing it now. From air you catch cold, my mother says. Who ever heard of a grown man playing in a market?"

A quick Google search for this legendary character brings up a few more pages of equally entertaining writing from the fictional Menakhem-Mendl, his wife still by his side. Here, Menakhem has quit trading and is looking to take up writing as a profession. Menakhem starts off writing a letter to an editor telling his story, of 'how I played the market in Odessa and Yehupetz, and how I sold my soul for fool's gold, Londons and stocks & bonds and every horse I could bet on, and how I went from rags to riches and back again, seventy-seven times a millionaire and seventy-eight a beggar.' His wife keeps calling him home and she is once more on the right side of the trade, for Menakhem's venture ends in tears and he soon writes, "I'm flat broke and in debt to my landlady.Not only have I run up a large food bill, I owe her for paper and ink."

Great entertaining reading for the weekend. The pdf of these letters is here. The pdf is wrongly presented in portrait instead of landscape so you may have to download it and then flip the view in your pdf reader.


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