My favorite way to start this column is to say, “I found a new book!!” Biblioholism is a terrible, wonderful addiction to buying and reading books and since the tornado took close to 1,000 books from my home, I have been busy. In addition to a huge collection of books on all Jewish subjects, my real love is books for children and especially Jewish ones. The pandemic has stopped the ritual visits to the bookstore but thankfully Amazon knows just what I love. Before you stop reading because you can’t imagine buying children’s books for yourself or other adult friends, think again. A really good book for children has lessons for everyone and just as Rabbi Ben Bag Bag said about Torah, “You gotta turn it and turn it — you will find secrets inside!” (That is a loose interpretation of the rabbi’s comment in Pirke Avot 5:26.)
So here is my recommendation for today — “Honey on the Page” by Miriam Udel. It is a translation of Yiddish children’s stories! Now Amazon is fast though I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but the recommendation came from kveller.com, which is a wonderful website connected to myjewishlearning.com. The article from author Miriam Udel shares how she found lessons from her children’s literature that could help kids (and adults) living during this pandemic. She recommends stories for dealing with everything from empathy to tantrums to PTSD and even politics! Yes, the tales are for kids but that is the beauty of it — we ALL learn from stories!
One of the folktales that came to mind (it could be in the book) is the one “It Could Always Be Worse.” There are numerous picture books of this tale. The basic story is about the man whose house is too small for his large family and he goes to the rabbi, who tells him first to bring in his cow, then his chickens, then his in-laws. It, of course, gets worse until the rabbi says to send all back, and the family is left with their own noise and is very happy. Main message? It could always be worse — but there is more to take from the story and I’ll leave that to your family to relate to.
Yes, Yiddish has given us great words and great stories and great words of wisdom, but don’t forget the Torah and the Midrash and Talmudic stories! Simchat Torah has just passed and we have begun the cycle of reading Torah again, and if you made a Jewish New Year’s resolution to delve into Jewish learning, the book of Genesis is a great place to start. And remember that each time we read, we are different, so the lesson of the time for us will be new. The bottom-line message? Don’t stop learning, interpreting and finding the messages that help us every day!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.