For a young daydreamer, nothing is more beautiful than the unspoken, which becomes the focus of desire. And the Jewish unspoken of my childhood was so vast that, within it, the imagination could reach near-spiritual proportions.
When I was 12, my parents bought me a gigantic Yiddish-Russian dictionary. Maybe this was their way of compensating for the fact that they had not told me I was Jewish until second grade, when I came home singing a Ukrainian ditty with the word “zhid.”
Harvey Shapiro, who grew up in an observant Jewish family, was a connoisseur of distances and silences.