Rare Books Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library; Photograph: Ricardo Barros

What: During World War I, thousands of Jews, including many Americans, fought with the British Army in Palestine against the Ottoman Turks. To help them make their way in a strange new land, an editor of the New York Yiddish-language newspaper “The Tageblatt” wrote a colloquial Arabic phrasebook, the first for a Jewish audience.  

He was Getzl Zelikovitz, born in his mother’s leather shop in Lithuania. By age 10 he knew 500 pages of the Talmud. Trained in Oriental languages at the ­Sorbonne, he served as a translator when Horatio Kitchener (later to become Lord Kitchener and a British national hero) fought with rebels in the Sudan in the 1880s – until he was expelled for sympathizing with enemy prisoners. ­Coming to America, Zelikovitz was hired by Republicans to stump for William McKinley.  

Using his book, one learns to say many things: “Can you speak Arabic?” “Friend, do you have a needle?” “Onion and garlic are good with beans.” As Princeton librarian Rachel Simon points out, his phrasebook also offers ­surprising suggestions for chatting up the locals: “We want to buy land.” “Jerusalem is the fatherland of the Jews.” “God will give us a republic in Zion.” A little ego is evident, too: “Did you see President Wilson? ... I have already been to the White House.”

Where: Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library