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Friday, September 19, 2014

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Books educate children about Jewish festivals

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I love starting out the Jewish New Year by adding to my kids’ Jewish book collection. Jewish literature is a great way to educate kids about the festivals without overtly appearing to do so, and this year Kar-Ben has four new books that do just that, specifically focused on Rosh Hashanah.

In What’s The Buzz by Allison Ofanansky, readers get to accompany a group of Israeli children on a visit to a bee farm. Along the way, they learn to temper their fear of being stung, and they find out how and where honey is made and extracted.

The text is accompanied by informative colour photographs that help explain pollination and give kids age three through eight an appreciation of the complex process that results in the sweet treat we enjoy on Rosh Hashanah. The book concludes with some fun facts about honey in Israel, including the fact that there are more than 90,000 beehives in the country. To make a single pound of honey, bees must collect nectar from two million flowers.

This is the third in a Jewish holiday series by Ofanansky, an American writer who made aliyah in 1996. Her previous two books, Harvest of Light and Sukkot Treasure Hunt, were named Sydney Taylor Notable Children’s Books.

The Rosh Hashanah customs at my holiday table have been identical since I was old enough to remember, so I was thrilled to learn about other customs in Apples and Pomegranates: A Family Seder for Rosh Hashanah by Rahel Musleah. Musleah, an Indian Jew, reminds us that far from restricting our symbolism to apples and honey, there are other foods that are rich in meaning and tradition that we might wish to include. She discusses pomegranate, green beans, beetroot leaves, leeks and lettuce, adding a shopping list and recipe ideas for their incorporation at the Rosh Hashanah seder table.

Her recipe suggestions are practical and tasty, and for each of the ingredients she includes a prayer, a story and an activity appropriate for parents and children. Each chapter also contains a sidebar titled “Think!” wherein families can explore some of the concepts at the heart of Rosh Hashanah.

Musleah concludes with a list of the prayers to be recited at the table on the Jewish New Year, complete with Birkat Hamazon and music and lyrics for songs. She’s added a couple of informative pages on New Year’s food customs around the world, from the American South to China, Japan and Spain.

Apples and Pomegranates is a great resource for families looking to extend the symbols they include at their Rosh Hashanah tables and teach their children more than just the applies-and-honey basics of the holiday.

In Talia and the RUDE Vegetables by Linda Elovitz Marshall, a young girl tries to help her grandmother by digging vegetables from the garden for a Rosh Hashanah stew. Only problem is she misunderstands the instruction, and instead of “root” vegetables, hears “rude.” So she finds the most twisted, ornery carrots and parsnips, figuring they must be the rude ones. Anything that looks remotely good she hands to the rabbi for redistribution to other families.

She returns to the kitchen with “rude’agabas,” a terrible turnip, a lumpy bumpy potato, a garish garlic, a crooked carrot and an ornery onion. The story is comical, with cute illustrations by Francesca Assirelli.

Tashlich is a tradition rich in meaning, and in the book Tashlich at Turtle Rock, Susan Schnur, a Reconstructionist rabbi, discusses one family’s exploration of the custom. “My friend Fanny who lives in New York does it in the fountain at Lincoln Center, and my brother’s friend, Matt, says he once did it in a toilet,” notes Annie, the protagonist. “My family has its own tradition.”

That tradition involves a hike with four stops along the way, and at each stop family members contemplate their plans for the new year and the milestones, good and bad, of the year past.

 “We have written this book so that your family has the confidence to add to Tashlich, too,” writes Schnur, “[with] songs, a real hike and honest thoughts about yourselves at the New Year: what you’re grateful for, what your last year was like, what you vow to do better in the months ahead.”

It’s a sweet story that inspires some thought about Tashlich and what it means to truly reflect on our behaviour and achievements.

The toddler crowd may be familiar with the Sammy Spider series of stories, which covers Pesach, Chanukah, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat, Shavuot and Sukkot among other Jewish themes. If your children are fans, consider ordering Sammy Spider’s Jewish Calendar, which comes with illustrations relevant to Jewish holidays, recipes, craft ideas and more. The glossy calendar retails for $8.95 and is a colourful, age-appropriate addition to the kitchen, bedroom or playroom.

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