“Who Knew?!” is a collection of about 200 short stories, most less than a page long, that are defined as “unusual stories in Jewish history”. As the back cover of the book says, this collection of facts and anecdotes are “the pepper and spice that enliven the story of history”.
The stories are divided into six categories: Early Times, Western Europe, Central/Eastern Europe, Holocaust, America and Israel. They range from the mundane, factual kind to the truly bizarre kind. An example of the former is the well-known story about Moses’ horns in the statue by Michelangelo, a result of a mistranslation of the Hebrew workd karan in the Bible (p. 3). An example of the latter is the story about the 19th century Jewish woman who registered as a prostitute in order to attend university in St. Petersburg (p. 88).
Most stories lie somewhere in the middle by pointing out facts that, whilst not well-known, are not that surprising to read about. Many deal with the pivotal role played by Jewish people in certain historic occasions, although I felt that in certain cases the fact that the person was Jewish had little or no bearing on the historic significance of the story.
This is the kind of book that is best read over time – a story here, a story there – rather than front to back. When read in continuum, it is more difficult to appreciate each individual story.