Putting Away the Goat-Kid

I am a literature professor and a rabbi. One of the ways in which I bring together my scholarly and rabbinic vocations is that every Tuesday morning at my local morning minyan, I offer a class called “Shir Ḥadash shel Yom” (New Poem of the Day), where I translate and teach a modern Hebrew poem of relevance to prayer or to matters of the day. This past semester I also taught a brand-new course on Jewish Children’s Literature, which included a unit on early Hebrew children’s poetry. So for this week’s pre-Passover “Shir Ḥadash” I selected a Passover-related poem by Anda Pinkerfeld-Amir (1902-1981), the 1978 Israel Prize Winner for Children’s Literature:

 “You Know What I’m Going to Do?” (Passover 1962), translation by Wendy Zierler

Dedicated to Yehuda Gabbai, children’s poet and founder of the Ohel Theatre Troupe

You know what I’m going to do, aright,

On this particular Seder Night?

I’ll hide the Haggadah kid away;

The cat will not know which way

The kid stole, and won’t devour him whole:

Instead he’ll declare: the kid isn’t there!


And that cat– the dog won’t eat,

Neither stick, nor fiery heat

Neither water, nor charging bull

For I myself, that kid I’ll pull,

And hide him in a secret place,

No bad will come, no, not a trace.

הֲתֵדְעוּ מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה

?בְּלֵיל-שֶׁל-סֵדֶר זֶה

;אַסְתִּיר הַגְּדִי שֶׁל הַהַגָּדָה

וְהֶחָתוּל כְּלָל לֹא יֵדַע

:הֵיכָן הַגְּדִי וְלֹא יֹאכְלֶנּוּ

!יָבוֹא, יֹאמַר: הַגְּדִי אֵינֶנּוּ


,וְלֹא יִקֹּם אוֹתוֹ הַכֶּלֶב,

,וְלֹא מַקֵּל, לֹא אֵשׁ אוֹכֶלֶת

.לֹא מַיִם, וְלֹא שׁוֹר נַגָּח

,כִּי אֶת הַגְּדִי אֲנִי אֶקַּח

,אַסְתִּיר אוֹתוֹ בְּתוֹךְ מַחֲבוֹא

. וְכָל רָעָה לֹא עוֹד תָּבוֹא


Anda Pinkerfeld Amir Credit: Kluger Zoltan / Wikimedia Commons

“You Know What I’m Going to Do?” straddles the line between children’s poetry and that for adults. One might say, actually, that all good children’s literature sits on that line, appealing both to kids and adults alike, and moving between its imagined child and adult audiences. In the case of this poem, despite its light-hearted rhythm, sing-song rhyme, and seemingly simple, childish content, closer inspection reveals a dead-serious, adult message.

Pinkerfeld- Amir was well acquainted with Jewish suffering and war. Born and educated in Galicia, she immigrated to Palestine after World War 1 (in 1920). After World War 2, she was sent by the Jewish Agency to work in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany. Later, she worked in the archives of the Ministry of Defense, assembling records of those who were lost in the 1948 War of Independence. Her experience with Holocaust survivors and the fallen soldiers of the IDF resulted in some of the first Hebrew poetry written about the Shoah, including an epic poem entitled Aḥat (1952) that brings together the experience of the Holocaust with the founding and the fighting for the Jewish State. Amir’s own brother, Yaakov Pinkerfeld was killed in 1956 by Jordanian fire.

Given all of this, what do we make of the poet’s idea for Passover 1962? In announcing her plan to hide away the goat-kid of the Haggadah, Pinkerfeld-Amir basically declares a determination to reject the entire economy of sacrifice that has undergirded the Passover ritual from its inception, including the sacrificial blood on the lintel that enabled God to pass over the Israelite homes, enabling their escape from the fate of the Egyptians. The poem reflects a recognition that bloodshed breeds more, not less bloodshed. The sacrifice of one goat catalyzes more such sacrifices. Amir seems intent on blocking the cycle from the outset.

According to her re-reading or undoing of the logic of “Ḥad Gadya,” if the goat-kid can’t be found, the cat won’t eat it, and the dog, in turn, will not need to seek revenge for the original killing of the kid. Rather than allowing the kid to succumb to and initiate the sacrificial cycle, the poet declares her intention to hide away and keep him for herself, thereby blocking all subsequent evil. Accompanying all of this, perhaps, is a wishful desire to do away as well with the history of the scapegoat, that which atones for our sins, in its earliest Yom Kippur biblical iteration, but which also transforms into the Jews’ historical position as the scapegoats of antisemitic societies. Hiding away the goat kid thus represents a dream to end all violence perpetrated by but also against our people.

In the lead-up to Passover in 1962, after the Holocaust and two Israeli wars, Pinkerfeld-Amir dreamed in poetry about bringing the cycle of violence and revenge to a halt. What does it mean for us to read it now? What might it mean for us to hide away not just the Afikomen but also the goat-kid on this Seder year of the Gaza War against Hamas, just a few days after Iran’s unprecedentedly brazen but resoundingly unsuccessful attack against Israel this past Saturday night?

For those schooled in the doctrine of military deterrence and the harsh geopolitical realities of the Middle East, this poem may read as a ludicrous, unrealistic bit of singsong fantasy — mere child’s play. Set in the context of the goals of our Seder storytelling, however, one might consider a different view. After all, what constitutes a higher, more responsible, religious task and a better expression of what we want to read to and teach our kids – that’s the other word we use in English for children – than a poem that attempts to imagine a way beyond sacrificing kids?

Elsewhere I have written that the Haggadah is best seen as a Children’s Literature festival, with a full program of literary genres, all designed to narrate and teach the Exodus story of freedom: to engage, amuse, drill, and thrill the Children of Israel in matters of peoplehood and its religious / moral mission. This Seder Literary Festival for Kids includes Bible storytelling, acrostic Aleph-Bet poems, number games, songs, fantasy, folktale, historical fiction and immersive hands-on narration, and like this poem, rhymed, instructional verse, all meant to inculcate the Children of Israel, of all ages, our highest Jewish hopes. That, too, is one of the agreed-upon conventions of children’s literature: that it is meant to teach ideals. Children’s literature typically serves up happy endings, because we adults want kids to believe that goodness, resolution, and salvation are possible in this world and thus worth pursuing.

To be sure, Israel, like every state and human being, has the sovereign right and responsibility of self-defense. Israel must protect its citizens and make clear that it is no easy prey, no mere scapegoat-kid. But might our religious, ritual, social, and political energies be enlisted as well in the pursuit of finding some way to end rather than perpetuate the cycle of violence? Sixty-two years after this poem’s composition in 1962, it urges us, with that blend of playfulness and seriousness, typical of “dual address” to do just that.

About the Author
Wendy Zierler is Sigmund Falk Professor of Modern Jewish Literature and Feminist Studies at HUC-JIR in New York and is Co-Editor of "Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History. Her most recent book, "Going Out with Knots: My Two Kaddish / COVID Years with Hebrew Poetry, " is forthcoming from the Jewish Publication Society.