The folks at Kar-Ben asked if I’d be willing to write a blog about my new book, A Book About Bupkes. (*Nothing.) I gladly agreed. Let me say that I think the book is lots of fun, with an essential message about the small acts of kindness that are within everyone’s reach. And Roxana De Rond’s illustrations are terrific.
Nevertheless, when I tried to imagine a unifying idea for the blog. . . well, nothing. Bupkes! Maybe, I thought, I’d write about how I got the idea for the book. But when I tried to remember how it happened . . . bupkes! I could only recall that I loved the way the word sounded—which, for me, is true of almost any Yiddish word.
I looked up the etymology of bubkes. It’s thought to be a shortened version of kozebubkes, which means “goat droppings.” Kind of a dead end—like, what more can I say about that?!
I thought about a story my father used to tell me: Before I was born, my grandfather and great-grandmother had a discussion, in Yiddish and on one of those old reel-to-reel tapes, about what a fine boy I’d be (I was the second of what turned out to be four girls!). But the tape’s long gone, and there’s no one left whom I can ask about it. So . . . bupkes!
I thought about the impact Yiddish has had on my life. But my Yiddish vocabulary is small, words collected from reading Jewish literature and hanging out with other Jewish people.
I didn’t want my book to be about nothing, of course. In my story, bupkes keeps turning out to be anything but bupkes: An empty and forlorn-looking vegetable garden, for example, turns out to mean a full basket of vegetables for an appreciative neighbor. An unoccupied bench turns out to mean a hopscotch game for two new friends.
It seems that there isn’t much that’s truly bupkes. What means nothing to you may mean a lot to someone else. What means nothing to you now may mean a lot more later. What looks like bupkes may simply mean you aren’t looking hard enough. That’s all I have to say. Except . . . I hope that in writing about bupkes, I I’ve actually written something a bissel more substantial. And I hope you have fun with my book!