The klor vays tsigele—the small white goat—is a familiar figure in Jewish folklore, art, and literature, from “Chad Gadya,” the Aramaic song we sing each year at the Passover seyder, through the present day.
Goats float through Chagall’s paintings, they snore through Yiddish lullabies, and they appear in poems and stories by Mendele, Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Kadia Molodowsky, Avrom Sutzkever, Chaim Grade, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many other Yiddish writers. Jews celebrated goats because they lived with goats: even the poorest shtetl family kept a goat tethered in front of the house to provide milk for the children. The beloved Yiddish song “Rozhinkes mit mandlen" ("Raisins and Almonds”) tells of a small white goat asleep under a baby’s cradle. The image is less fanciful than it appears: on cold winter nights, Jews often invited their heymishe bashefenish, their innocent creature, to sleep inside the house. Jews identified with their small, humble, intelligent animals, until the tsigele, the small white goat, became a symbol of the Jewish people—and of the Yiddish Book Center as well.