CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006
Yossi and his family are poor Jews who escaped pogroms in Russia in 1891 and landed in Montreal, hoping to rebuild their lives. They, along with thousands of others, arrived with nothing. Several families had to share small decrepit tenements. The adults worked in garment factories day and night for starvation wages and did piece work at home. Children worked at menial jobs to add a few more pennies to the household income. Poverty and terrible working conditions caused disease, and Yossi's father shows signs of illness that threaten the future of their family.
This is the setting for Ellen Schwartz's story which occurs at the same time in history as when her own family came to Montreal. The city was full of new Canadians who had to learn English and French as well as the different customs of their new homeland. Schwartz does an admirable job of presenting a complex topic in a brief novel for younger or struggling readers. She captures the misery of the poor, their aspirations as well as the arrogance of those who had already 'made it' - Uptowners - the owners of the garment factories, Jews who had arrived a few generations earlier. The brutal working conditions are even harder to bear because the owners are their own landtsmen (from the same community) and drive Miriam, Yossi's sister, and her fiancé, Daniel, to fight for their rights.
Even though he works before school, Yossi is still a boy who longs to play. And when he sees some boys playing street hockey, he is hooked. The problem is that they are French-Canadian, which means they are Catholic, and, therefore, from a different world than Yossi. He knows that foolish myths were perpetuated in the Church - that Jews killed Christ, that Jews murder Christian children and use their blood in religious rituals. Yossi speaks Yiddish, with only a smattering of French. Even worse, he has no skates and scant hope of ever being able to buy a pair.
The difficult situation escalates, fueled by the hostile actions of Max, the son of the garment factory owner, towards Yossi and the Quebecois boys, whom Yossi has befriended. The struggle for higher wages and working conditions erupts in a strike, full of tension and unpredictability. Yossi's new friends, whose parents are also exploited in the same garment factories, combine with him to act in solidarity. The different threads of the story are resolved positively for Yossi, his family and his new friendships. The improvement in their lives is only marginal, with many more struggles, strikes and political actions to come in the succeeding decades. For Yossi, the feeling of being accepted and of participating in the exciting game of hockey means that his world is expanding, mirroring the inevitable experience of immigrant youth.
Boys will enjoy this engaging, fast-paced novel. Schwartz incorporates a handful of Yiddish words, which are defined at the end. She also attaches a brief history of the movement for economic and social progress by workers in sweatshops.
Yossi’s Goal will fit into several genres: sports, history, early chapter books, or high interest/low reading level.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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