"America is like soup. Everyone mixes together..."
Young Aaron wants to learn how to speak to the chickens like his Zayde (grandfather) said the shochet (butcher) did in the Old Country. Zayde's stories and his many books, with their mysterious worlds and their guarded secrets, fascinate Aaron. But always Aaron is too young to learn Yiddish. Zayde thinks that Aaron, and all the new generation of American Jews, should speak English and play baseball–just like all Americans do. When Zayde becomes very old and can no longer see well enough to read his precious books, Aaron decides it is time that Zayde teach him to speak to the chickens before it's too late.
This poignant tale about preserving a dying language and the memories of the people who spoke it is also an eloquent tale of America. The importance of heritage and culture, and of honoring the past while building a future, is instilled in young minds through this touching story.
Neil Waldman's warm, evocative illustrations elicit a sense of nostalgia and personal pride for readers young and old.
An author's note about Yiddish language as well as a glossary and pronunciation guide of Yiddish terms are included. Read an interview with author Richard Michelson on www.roddenberry.com.
About the Yiddish Language
Yiddish, a mixture of primarily German, Polish, and Hebrew, was the everyday language spoken by three-quarters of the world's Jews for over one thousand years. Hebrew, with its exalted cadences, remained the language of choice of prayer. With its earthy rhythms, by turns sarcastic and sentimental tone, and wit and passion, Yiddish mirrored the daily life of hte Diaspora (those Jews living outside of Palestine, their traditional homeland). But between 1939 and 1945, Hitler and the Nazis virtually wiped out the Yiddish language and the culture that spoke it. Six million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps.
Many Jews who escaped to the Soviet Union were later slaughtered by Stalin. As part of his anti-Jewish campaign, Stalin ordered the execution of his country's major Yiddish writers and intellectuals on the single night of August 12, 1952.
Those Jews who escaped to Palestine, modern-day Israel, adopted Hebrew as their everyday language. Yiddish seemed a language of defeat and shame. It was, as the great Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer often boasted, "a language without a word for weapons." Zionists, Jews intent on founding their own country, felt they needed to look to the future and forget the recent past, so the speaking of Yiddish was suppressed.
In the United States, Yiddish-speaking Jews were welcomed. But these Jews wanted nothing more than to fit in, and they willingly learned the English of their newly adopted country.
Yiddish remained a language without a home. The great Yiddish poets and storytellers seemed consigned to the dustbin of history, their worlds of Jewish wisdom and humor buried with them. Over time, however, as younger generations of Jews began to feel more assimilated, their attitude toward Yiddish began to change. Jews have always relied on historical memory to know who they are, where they came from, and where they might be headed. The Yiddish language provides a crucial link to the ancestors and culture that nourished the Jewish people for more than a thousand years.