“Grandpa’s been arrested for hitting a Nazi with a salami!” So begins Robert Rand’s engaging novel of growing up in Skokie, Illinois, home to one of America’s largest communities of Jewish Holocaust survivors and to Rand’s alter ego, Bobby Bakalchuk. In 1977 Skokie made news as Nazis sought to march down its main street. The enraged citizens ignited a storm over the First Amendment, spurring Bobby’s Grandpa Abe Yellin to the front line armed with an all-beef 100% kosher projectile.
Under Bobby’s keen eye, the 1960s and 1970s are resurrected via the characters and curiosities that shape his young life-from the Cuban Missile Crisis to radioactive Ping Pong balls; from a prayer shawl abandoned in Auschwitz to the racial divide.
This utterly American story describes an immigrant community grappling with the same cultural issues and moral choices faced by previous and subsequent newcomers. Perceived as different, Skokie’s Jews and their offspring struggle to comprehend—and fit into—the political, racial, and cultural stew that is the United States.
With characteristic wit and insight, Rand explores their plight. In so doing he sheds light on the complexity and consequence of intolerance, and the meaning of ethnicity—and home.
Robert Rand is a New York-based journalist, writer, and public radio producer and editor. A senior editor of National Public Radio's (NPR) Weekend All Things Considered from 1989 to 1997, he is now producing a series about Russia to be broadcast on NPR this summer.