Hanukkah/Christmas Eve, New York City, 1938
Revisiting Oskar and the Eight Blessings – Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, and Mark Siegel, Roaring Book Press, 2015
It’s 1938. It’s the seventh day of Hanukkah for Oskar, a young immigrant boy fleeing Nazi persecution. It is also Christmas Eve, and Oskar must navigate his way through Broadway, which “stretched before him like a river,” as he seeks the refuge of his Aunt Esther’s home on 103rd St. Oskar has left his parents behind in war-torn Europe, not knowing if the adults he encounters will repeat the brutality and hatred he has come to expect, or offer the blessings promised by his father.
One year ago, I wrote a review of this moving story for Jewcy. During that past year, the terror confronting immigrants fleeing Syria, regions of Africa (can you add a specific region?) and other parts of the world has not diminished.
In addition, our own country, traditionally a refuge, if only an imperfect one, has reverted under the “leadership” of Donald Trump to the dark years after 1921 when increasingly restrictive legislation closed the doors to refugees, even to those fleeing Hitler. Oskar’s story is even more relevant as children remain pawns in the manipulations of Trump and his enablers, even as they cynically try to reclaim Christmas from the “war” supposedly fought against in a multicultural America.
Oskar meets people who reassure him and help him along on his journey. They offer him not only physical safety but emotional support. A kind news dealer gives him an issue of Action Comics, which he cannot afford, so he has the chance to read about Superman fighting totalitarian evil. Count Basie gives him the gift of a whistled tune, and a magnanimous woman named Eleanor Roosevelt urges the doorman at her luxury apartment building to let Oskar pass in front of her without suspicion or fear.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings is not a political parable, although it may serve as one. Its simple text, surprising cast of historical figures, and nostalgic but accurate images of New York make it a perfect book for adults and children to share this season.