‘The City of Light’ Describes Theodore Bikel’s Vienna Childhood
The City of Light By Aimee Ginsburg Bikel. Illustrated by Noah Phillips (Mandel Vilar Press/MomentBooks, 64 pp. $16.95; ages 10 and up)
For most people, Paris is the City of Light. For iconic folk singer, actor and political activist Theodore Bikel—who died in 2015 at age 91—it was Vienna. To remember and honor the prolific beloved performer, his wife has created a beautifully designed and illustrated book about his life.
Te’o had a happy childhood growing up in Austria’s capital. He loved the Jewish holidays, when his Papa sang songs in Yiddish and read him stories—especially about his Hanukkah hero, Judah Maccabee. He enjoyed going with his Zayde to visit the Stadttempel, an old and grand synagogue that had an enchanting eternal light. His family taught him that Israel was a land where Jews could live at peace.
Sadly, by the time young Te’o had his bar mitzvah, bad things were happening. People were no longer friendly with Jews, he was bullied at school, the Nazis rolled their tanks into Austria and synagogues were destroyed. It was time for Theo’s family to move to Israel.
Even though Te’o later became famous and had a wonderful life in America, he once said, “He felt like a refugee for the rest of his life.”
Adding to the poignancy of the story are evocative line drawings, a glossary of Yiddish words, a recipe for his Oma’s honey cake, and the words and music for the song “Little Candle Fires,” one of the last songs that Bikel recorded.