By Deb Silverthorn
Nicole Friedman of Dallas wanted to share the brightness of Hanukkah with her own family and others. But she struggled to find the perfect way to do that.
“In a secular society with lots of other lights it can be difficult and, while it’s not a competition, on the bookshelves I couldn’t find the joy I wanted to give them,” Friedman said. So, she collaborated with artist Soledad Cook and drew inspiration from her children Arianna and Asher to write and publish “Ezra’s Dreidel and the Candles of Kindness— A Hanukkah Story.”
“For my children, I wanted to light up the spark of Hanukkah, and our season of light,” said Friedman, whose book is available on Amazon and soon-to-be-released on Audible.
“Ezra’s Dreidel” shares the story of two children — Arianna and Asher, naturally! — who find a mysterious dreidel in the attic. When they spin it, they are transported to a new magical land and, through their adventures, they learn lessons of kindness and experience the true joys of Hanukkah.
“The holidays seem to center so much on gift-giving, and I wanted to help them focus on the idea of giving back,” said Friedman. “A gift can be whatever you want it to be and I hope my children, and anyone who reads this, leaves the story with that message.”
Modeling giving is something Friedman and her husband, Ryan Malphur, have done for their children. The family donates to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and the endangered animals the organization supports inspired those in the book.
Helping the snowy owl with his hurt wing, the penguin through his fears, the fox stuck in snow, and the bunny carrying jelly donuts are among the adventures of the book’s children on their mission. While making their way through the story, readers are encouraged to find candles embedded in its drawings.
“I love the animals, especially the snowy owl, and I like how they come out of the menorah,” said Asher, 6. He and Arianna, 9, offered input into the book. “I like that my Mom asked us what we thought and then used it.”
Including her children in the project was important to Friedman, who used to practice general dentistry. While she never considered herself a writer, it didn’t occur to her that it was something she couldn’t do, and that lesson was something she wanted to impart to them. A special project for them all, the children are proud to be sharing it with their friends and looking forward to whatever a second book might be.
“I really, really like the way my Mom’s book teaches about being kind and I like that the pictures look so much like our family,” said Arianna. “My favorite part is near the end when the menorah is lit with the magical animals. It’s really cool and pretty.”
Born in South Africa, Friedman has been a Dallas resident since she was a toddler. She is the daughter of Lorene and Dr. Lawrie Friedman and the sister of Dr. Brad Friedman and Dr. Dani Zietz. She grew up at Congregation Shearith Israel and is a graduate of Greenhill School, Tulane University and the Baylor College of Dentistry.
After its release in October, Friedman took to social media to share her book. Jeanne Zamutt, librarian at Temple Emanu-El’s Early Childhood Education Center and its religious school, was at first enticed by the book’s cover, and then its author’s name.
“Nicole’s father has been my doctor for years and this was a lovely surprise. The book is delightful and it draws children in and maintains their interest,” Zamutt said. “It does a beautiful job of introducing values and weaving a thread of kindness and light throughout its really lovely pages.”
After Michal Ness read the book to her children Leah, Rina, Shira, Sima and Yosef, the family copy made its way to Leah’s pre-K class at Akiba Yavneh Academy.
“It’s an absolutely untraditional adventure that has kids and grown-ups entering a magical world,” said Ness. “It’s enchanting and my kids, even though they are young, were able to appreciate the message of kindness and that there is always more light, more kindness, to give to others.”