Books: Golems, Menoras and Chicken Soup, For Kids Young and Old
Mama Doni’s Jewish Holiday Party
Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg give kids not only a whopping good time musically and in storytelling but offer a hidden bonus: In three foot-stomping episodes, they teach kids how to celebrate Hanukka, Passover and Shabbat—from the rules for playing dreidel to directions for making the best matza pizza and saying the blessings over the Shabbat candles. The bonus is a CD of all the holiday songs from the DVD, so you can expand your own dance routine. Mama Doni Productions and ACIEM Studios (www.mamadoni.com).
These eight toe-tapping Hanukka songs are family-friendly fare. Dan Bern sings his country-accented songs about “Latkes” (a recipe), “So Many Ways to Spell Hanukka (one for each night of Hanukka),” recalling “Hannukahs of Long Ago,” “Sevivon, Turn Around.” His folksy, guitar-backed tunes cover the gamut of the holiday, from lighting the menora to the story of the Maccabees to getting presents. Available at https://danbern.bandcamp.com/album/hannukah-songs or on iTunes.
Author and illustrator Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new edition of her family’s beloved tale. The wonderful story is like the quilt itself: colorful, warm and with multiple uses. The quilt, which began life as a babushka worn by the author’s great-grandmother Anna, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havala’s nightdress and Aunt Natasha’s apron, has served as a Sabbath tablecloth, wedding huppa and welcoming baby blanket.
This expanded anniversary edition brings the family story up-to-date, noting the latest marriages and newest birth. For Polacco’s birthday, her family had the quilt duplicated after photographing it digitally—so that the treasured quilt could continue to be part of family tradition into the future. The original has found a home in the Mazza Museum in Findley, Ohio.
With its mix of charcoal black and white and color illustrations—depicting the old and the new—this delightful book inspires us to share our own treasured legacies and secure our family’s stories. Ages 4 to 8.
Sam’s teacher takes his Hebrew school class to the park to collect found objects in nature—acorns, pinecones, twigs and rocks—to decorate a menora they are making out of clay. But will Sam’s parents like their secret surprise—after all, they already have seven menoras! When Grammy, who just moved into a new apartment, tells Sam she can only light a real menora in the community room, Sam knows exactly what to do with the menora. This sweet story with its equally sweet pictures shows how love and tradition bring fulfillment. Ages 4 to 7.
Thirteen-year-old Jordan and his younger brother, Ziv, live in Kfar Keshet (Rainbow Village). Founded by Miss Sara, the village is unlike any other because some of the children there are born with special powers. Those powers are usually connected to the name Miss Sara gave them when they were born. Jordan doesn’t know what his power is yet but he is about to find out. Hopefully soon—because Miss Sara’s brother has created a “bad” golem who he is using to harm the inhabitants of Kfar Keshet. Jordan and his friends Ellah, Noam and Nadav must unite to outsmart the threat he poses.
The story has fantastical and kabbalistic elements, but at its heart it is about a boy finding his inner strength and protecting his friends and family. Ages 9
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Amulet Books, 236 pp. $16.95)
Tara Feinstein, 12, is a Hin-Jew living in New York. Her mother is a Hindu convert, her father is Jewish and she lives comfortably with both cultures, enjoying chicken soup as well as chaat masala on popcorn. But her bat mitzva is approaching and she must decide what, if anything, God means to her. A conversation with a schoolmate helps her make an unexpected decision. Ages 10-14.
Mira Levenson is also a Hin-Jew, but she lives in England. A shy girl, she is anxious about turning 12. Her grandmother, Nana Josie, is very ill, but everybody is surprised when a coffin she ordered arrives in the middle of Mira’s birthday party, which is being held at Nana Josie’s house. On that same day, Mira suddenly gets her period. It is all too much for Mira, but her Nana tries to teach her that she can be open to experiences that are hard but still keep her heart tender inside. Ages 9
The JGuy’s Guide: The GPS for Jewish Teen Guys by Joseph B. Meszler, Shulamit Reinharz, Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman. (Jewish Lights, 208 pp. $16.99)
In 2005, Jewish Lights published The JGirl’s Guide: The Young Jewish Woman’s Handbook for Coming of Age by Penina Adelman, Ali Feldman and Shulamit Reinharz. In 10 chapters, it helped young girls explore friendship, relationships with parents and coping with stress, among many other topics. Now, happily, The JGuy’s Guide is available to address the issues that boys face using Jewish sources of wisdom and common sense. The titles of the 10 chapters describe the content: Frenemies: I like my friends, but not always what they do; True to Myself: Sometimes things bother me, but I am not comfortable speaking up; God…Really? I am not sure I believe in God because the world is pretty messed up; The Torah of Everything: Now that I think about it, that’s amazing. Plus looking at sexuality, self-esteem and figuring out what kind of man to become.
This slim paperback has worksheets and exercises and can be used in the classroom and boys groups, but it can also be valuable for parents and their sons to read together at home. There is so much to figure out socially, intellectually and spiritually when you move into your teens, but both these books can help disperse the fog of self-doubt.
Most of us know that Hanukka, a minor Jewish holiday, now has greater significance in America than anywhere else that Jews live. And most of us realize that much of the reason for its prominence is its proximity to Christmas. This year, of course, Hanukka does not have to compete with Christmas. Instead it is having a comfortable—and rare—collaboration with Thanksgiving.
But for anyone wanting to know the many ways in which the holiday of the Maccabees’s victory over the Greek-Syrians—celebrated with the eight nights of candle-lighting, dreidle playing, latke eating and gift-giving—attained its current status, it is all detailed in Deanne Ashton’s painstakingly thorough book. Ashton, professor of religion studies, is the author of four books, and currently editor of the scholarly journal American Jewish History, shows the holidays transformation drawing on songs, plays, liturgy, sermons and other material, giving a picture of various rabbis and communities across the country.
Fascinating tidbits show the diverse ways Jewish communities celebrate: In New Orlean, people decorate their doors with a menora made of hominy grits. In Texas, latkes are spiced with cilantro and cayenne pepper. In Cincinnati children eat oranges and ice cream. Not a bad way to celebrate!