Friday, September 01, 2006

Karl Yankel

My father-in-law asked me recently if I had ever heard of Isaac Babel. It was a strange sounding question, though it wasn't his fault, like asking me if I'd ever heard of James Thurber or Arthur Miller.

Babel was a fairly well known Soviet writer, known for two areas of work. He was embedded with the Budyonny's Red Cavalry and chronicled the rather bloody and turbulent progress of the Soviet Civil War in the Ukraine and Poland. His other well known body of work was a collection of stories about the Jewish underworld in Revolutionary era Odessa. Perhaps it was for this reason that Babel was especially beloved by the Soviet Jews, and by extension, the Soviet Jewish immigrant community in which I grew up.

In one of his stories, a young couple has a baby boy. The father, a staunch Bolshevik, names the child Karl in honor of the father of Communism. However, while the father is at work, his mother-in-law and his wife take the boy to a mohel, where at a bris he is named Yankel. Hilarity ensues, but the end result is that the boy becomes known as Karl Yankel.

Wait for my next post when I relate this story to some heavy philosophical ideas... For now, everyone have a good Shabbos!


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