Yiddish Stories for a New Generation
Honey on the Page: A Treasury of Yiddish Children’s Literature Edited and translated by Miriam Udel. Illustrated by Paula Cohen (NYU Press, 352 pp.)
A welcome and important addition to any home or school library, the title of Miriam Udel’s wonderfully translated and impeccably edited anthology of almost 50 Yiddish tales recalls the tradition of dripping a small dash of honey on the pages of a child’s primer to make learning sweet. Divided into eight discrete sections—including Jewish holidays, folktales and fables, among others—the selected stories are vested with wistful humor and wisdom. The ubiquitous Chelm stories are, of course, featured, as is the work of Shalom Asch and a panoply of stories by lesser-known writers, including several female writers who were completely ignored in Irving Howe’s classic compendium from the 1990s, Treasury of Yiddish Literature. Tales from Zina Rabinowitz, Kadya Molodowsky, Ida Maze and others remind us that Yiddish is indeed mamaloshen—a mother tongue.
Happy will be the child who is introduced to the aleph bet by Moyshe Shifris, author of the story “The Alphabet Gets Angry,” in which the letter lamed, with its long neck, is likened to a giraffe. Indeed, each letter is gifted with its own whimsical similes. Readers young and old will delight in Levin Kipnis’ “Children of the Field” in which “…the kind sun sends her golden rays onto their little heads.” But then almost every page abounds with its own delights.
Jack Zipes’s introduction is instructive, giving the background for some of the stories and noting that many appear here in English for the first time. Meanwhile, Cohen’s illustrations add charm to this important and long-awaited literary smorgasbord.
Gloria Goldreich’s newest book is The Paris Children.