There is so much crap out there on the shelves of stores during this holiday season. So I thought it might be helpful to point people to some really lovely Hanukkah-related children’s books. At a new toy store that opened in our neighborhood with the impossibly precious name of Precocious (does that tell you about its intended clientèle), I found a lovely pop-up book called Hanukkah: a Three-Dimensional Celebration (where does that double ‘k’ come from I’ve always wondered). The paintings are vivid and bold and the pop ups, especially the one featuring Maccabees fighting Syrians riding on chariots, dramatic.
A few years ago my brother bought our son a touching book called The Gift, about a German Jewish girl who takes the five mark gold piece her father gave her for Hanukah and goes into town seeking a place to spend it. After shuffling through all the various downtown shopping choices she has, she finally comes upon a Wermacht veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad working the streets as an itinerant musician who plays the button accordion. In return for giving him her coin, he teaches her to play a mean accordion and they entertain people of the town during a snowstorm with a joint performance.
What is remarkable about this book is that the word Hanukah only appears in it once. There are no references to any Jewish rituals. Yet the book seems imbued with the principles of compassion that are at the root of Jewish tradition. Also, author Aliana Brodmann notes in her Endnote:
I have always derived inspiration and a great deal of hope from stories about people from ‘different sides’ coming together. The discovery of ‘common ground’ among people departing from ‘opposite sides’ has been a predominant theme in my own writings. The Gift is based on a recollection from my childhood in Germany in the 1950s, when two individuals from different backgrounds meet during the giving season. In my experience, the other person was a World War II veteran back from the Battle of Stalingrad of which there were many in those days. He earned his living as street musician. I remember understanding that Stalingrad in Russia was in the same geographic area as Poland, where my grandparents had been killed. Somehow I thought both of our lives, his and mine, had to have been so terribly impaired by the same evil. Mostly, however, this story is about music and the magic that happens when people come together to share each other’s gifts.
I don’t think I could think of a better way of approaching the Israeli-Palestinian divide either.
I’d like to do a little rant on our local Seattle toy stores Izilla and Precocious which seem ill-prepared to help their customers celebrate Hanukah. Izilla’s owner, who grew up celebrating Hanukah (I assume he is Jewish though he didn’t say so) simply forgot to order anything for Hanukah this year since he was busy opening the new book section of his store. His excuse was “Hanukah came so early this year.” I like Izilla very much and we shop there for most of our toys. But this an entirely lame explanation. A major portion of your clientèle celebrates this holiday and you simply forget about their needs? Not good.
As for Precocious, which just opened near our home–when I pointed out to the salesperson the almost total lack of Hanukah-related presents in the store I was told: “We’re not doing anything special to mark either holiday this year. We’re just focusing on the toys we sell all year round.” I’m mystified by this explanation. People spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on holiday gifts and you can’t be bothered to feature some dreidels, menorahs and Hanukah books and CDs? I just don’t understand what these two shop owners were thinking.