Hon­ey on the Page: A Trea­sury of Yid­dish Chil­dren’s Literature

  • Review
By – January 12, 2021

Miri­am Udel states in her intro­duc­tion to Hon­ey on the Page that her goal is to chal­lenge tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing by design­ing a multi­gen­er­a­tional col­lec­tion of Yid­dish sto­ries and poems, one which par­ents, grand­par­ents, edu­ca­tors, and chil­dren can read togeth­er and dis­cuss. The book is designed with this goal in mind, a con­cept intrin­sic to the con­ti­nu­ity of a lan­guage which used to be wide­ly spo­ken and the source of a great body of lit­er­a­ture for both chil­dren and adults. A fore­word by renowned schol­ar Jack Zipes explains the need for reviv­ing and study­ing Yid­dish lit­er­ary works for children.

Udel’s com­ments are so illu­mi­nat­ing as to make her intro­duc­tion a work of inde­pen­dent val­ue. Her tone is not so much schol­ar­ly, but rather as if an expert in the field were giv­ing a per­son­al les­son to inter­est­ed read­ers. She con­tex­tu­al­izes Yid­dish as a resplen­dent­ly hybrid tongue draw­ing on sev­er­al of the oth­er lan­guages that vied for its speak­ers’ and read­ers’ alle­giance.” Threat­ened by assim­i­la­tion, the Yid­dish lan­guage unique­ly devel­oped in an atmos­phere of urgency…not only to bring about an affir­ma­tive vision but also to fore­stall a cat­a­stro­phe of neglect.” Under­stand­ing this unusu­al cir­cum­stance, read­ers are pre­pared to delve into the trea­sures ahead, each one designed to attract the atten­tion and alle­giance of the young peo­ple who can keep Yid­dish vital in the future. Udel’s com­pre­hen­sive intro­duc­tion to her sub­ject pre­pares read­ers to enjoy texts which reflect the themes of Jew­ish hol­i­days, his­to­ry and heroes, folk­tales, fam­i­ly life, and oth­er foun­da­tion­al topics.

There are many gems in this col­lec­tion. In some, such as Kadia Molodowsky’s The Bak­er and the Beg­gar,” the peren­ni­al theme of one mitz­vah lead­ing to anoth­er is giv­en a detailed set­ting of social inequal­i­ty. Chil­dren read­ing it today will note the wide dis­par­i­ties in expec­ta­tions in a world where the baker’s signs of pros­per­i­ty includes such fam­i­ly lux­u­ries as a new woolen jacket…their chil­dren now wore shoes with­out holes…they had bought drink­ing glass­es and spoons by the half dozen.” Isaac Metzker’s his­tor­i­cal tale, Don Isaac Abra­vanel,” was pub­lished dur­ing the Holo­caust, draw­ing on the lega­cy of the great Span­ish schol­ar and phil­an­thropist who came to the aid of his peo­ple in a time of cri­sis. The sad par­al­lels of the 1940s to the medieval era’s per­se­cu­tion would have been evi­dent in the words “…we resist­ed the mur­der­ers, and many Jews were killed on the spot…I left my home and my prop­er­ty in the bloody hands of the robbers.”

One of the most appeal­ing selec­tions is from the series Labzik: Sto­ries of a Clever Pup,” by Khaver Paver, the pen name of Ger­shon Ein­binder. Set in New York City dur­ing the 1930s, these are linked tales about a sec­u­lar fam­i­ly of labor union activists meet­ing the chal­lenges of the Great Depres­sion with com­mit­ment and opti­mism. When Berl, the father, informs his fam­i­ly that there will be a strike at his fac­to­ry, every­one is sup­port­ive. Even Labzik joins their litany of com­plaints about harsh con­di­tions by bark­ing along enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. Wak­ing to learn that the rest of the fam­i­ly has left to join the pick­et line, Labzik man­ages to board the Lex­ing­ton Avenue Express train and catch up with the chil­dren, so over­joyed that he didn’t know what to do with him­self.” The sto­ry offers a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to explain the con­sis­tent pres­ence of social jus­tice which at one time char­ac­ter­ized Jew­ish life, and which is still of tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance today.

Hon­ey on the Page: A Trea­sury of Yid­dish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for both chil­dren and adults. In addi­tion to the fore­word and intro­duc­tion, Udel includes a spe­cial intro­duc­tion writ­ten specif­i­cal­ly for children.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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