2011-09-07 / Columns

High Holiday books to enlighten the spirit and entertain the mind


The blistering heat of summer is behind us; now our thoughts turn to the upcoming High Holidays. With several weeks remaining before Rosh Hashanah, there’s time to prepare for this period of introspection. Our libraries feature a wide selection of High Holiday books for all ages, from young children to adults. We gathered recently to discuss books about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

AMY: It’s great to see a new Rosh Hashanah chapter book that will appeal to elementary school children. “YaYa & YoYo Sliding into the New Year” by Dori Weinstein is the first entry in a proposed new series. It’s the story of Ellie Silver (YaYa), who has waited all summer to visit the town’s new water park. She is thrilled when her best friend, Megan, invites her to go, and all seems set until Ellie’s twin brother, Joel (YoYo) reminds her that Megan is going on Rosh Hashanah. What will Ellie do?

JUDY: Another new book, this one aimed at the preschool set, is “Talia and the Rude Vegetables” by Linda Elovitz Marshall. Talia misunderstands her grandmother’s request to gather seven root vegetables from the garden. Seven is lucky, and her grandmother is planning to make a delicious stew to welcome the New Year. “Rude vegetables for a Sweet New Year?” Talia wonders, but she takes a shovel and goes to dig them. She finds an ornery onion, garish garlic, a crooked carrot¸ etc.— and she also finds perfect vegetables that she puts aside because they are not what she thinks her grandmother wanted. She takes the “unrude” vegetables to give to the rabbi as tzedakah for another family, and then she takes the “rude” ones to her grandmother. Grandmother explains that the vegetables are “root,” not “rude,” and they are very sweet, like Talia. The book concludes with a recipe for “rude vegetable stew,” and I, for one, plan to try it—it sounds delicious. This is a humorous book with a sweet lesson for the New Year.

ANNE: “Sound the Shofar, a Story for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” by Leslie Kimmelman is for the very young. It describes the basic elements of the High Holiday celebration and observance with simple text and charming illustrations. For older children, “Sophie and the Shofar, a New Year Story” by popular author Fran Manushkin explains Rosh Hashanah through the eyes of Sophie and her cousin Sasha, including blowing the shofar, making New Year’s cards, attending synagogue services, as well as the themes of forgiveness, love, and saying, “I’m sorry.”

AMY: While Rosh Hashanah and even Yom Kippur find their way into children’s books, Sukkot often gets overlooked. Fortunately, there’s a new preschool book, “Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast” by Jamie Korngold that we can heartily recommend. In very simple text and watercolor illustrations, Rabbi Korngold tells the story of Sadie and her brother, Ori, who decide to serve breakfast in their family’s sukkah. But after preparing the food and setting the table, they remember that a sukkah celebration needs guests. Young children will love this one.

JUDY: Allison Ofanansky has two award-winning Jewish children’s books to her credit in a series of nonfiction books that are illustrated with wonderful photographs. The third of the series, just released, is “What’s the Buzz, Honey for a Sweet New Year.” The book follows a class of young children in Israel as they take a trip to a beekeeper to visit the bees and see how the honey is created. The children learn that female bees are the workers, and they work so hard that they live for only one month, and make only one teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.

AMY: That is an amazing fact, one of many the author shares. I love that this holiday book focuses on a different aspect—so many books for children talk about apples and honey for the New Year, but this one gets them thinking about where the honey comes from.

ANNE: We’ve been focusing on children’s books, but there’s plenty for adults, too. A good, basic choice would be “Every Person’s Guide to the High Holy Days” by Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs, who has written many useful books about Jewish observances and customs. In this book, he discusses preparing for the holidays, gives the hi s tory and an explanation of the shofar, explains prayers for the High Holidays, describes home and synagogue observance, and includes short stories and legends about the Holidays.

JUDY: Dozens of rabbis contributed to “Who by Fire, Who By Water; Un’taneh Tokef,” edited by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman. The Un’taneh Tokef is a central prayer of the High Holiday liturgy, and this book makes it accessible to modern readers.

For more information, and to borrow these and many more books, please contact us: Judy Brookover at Temple Beth Sholom (judybrookover@gmail.com); Anne Bressman at the Katz JCC and Temple Emanuel (abressman@jfedsnj.org), and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org).

We wish you a Shana Tova u’metucha. .

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