There is always something new on the shelf for the upcoming Jewish holidays, and this year we highlight a few nice children’s books and some worthwhile spiritual reading for adults. We celebrate the facelift of the Hillel machzor after 25 years, note a couple of worthwhile new adult volumes and give a nod to popular Jewish children’s book publisher Kar-Ben, who has pretty much cornered the market on holiday titles this year.
“On Wings of Awe: A Fully Transliterated Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” revised edition, by Rabbi Richard Levy (Ktav Publishing: $24.95).
Rabbi Richard Levy’s revolutionary High Holy Days prayer book, “On Wings of Awe,” was published 25 years ago and was considered enormously innovative. Allowing for transliterations of Hebrew text, including matriarchs along with patriarchs and providing translations that dealt sensitively with gender issues, it was welcomed particularly by Hillel congregations worldwide and many in the Reform Jewish community. Now, Rabbi Levy has revised the machzor to include more poetic translations, new interpretive readings and added prayers. Of particular interest is the transliteration of every Hebrew prayer in the service. Levy comments: “This is particularly important on these days when so many Jews who may have little contact with prayer throughout the year want to pour out their deepest thoughts and hopes, not only through elegant English offerings but by participating in Hebrew prayers that may carry deep association for them. If they cannot read Hebrew letters, this door is closed to them.”
“Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder From the Rabbis of the Talmud,” by Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky (Jewish Lights Publishing: $24.99).
Rabbi Burton Visotzky, popular author of nine previous books and professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, has collected 22 short narratives (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) that are perfect for bedside reading or for a holiday afternoon. Visotzky retells ancient biblical and midrashic tales with large doses of humor and wit, and opens up those stories to provide insight into important issues of modern life. Fascinating and informative, each story also highlights the history of the times, the nuances of the rabbinical discussion surrounding the tale, and Visotzky’s own take on the whole thing.
“Here I Am: Jewish Spiritual Wisdom for Becoming More Present, Centered and Available for Life,” by Leonard Felder (Trumpeter Books: $15.95).
For those looking for a way to find the calm within, Leonard Felder (the West Los Angeles psychologist who has written 12 books on Jewish spirituality and personal growth), has discovered how to draw upon centuries-old Jewish sources to focus the mind. The book is excellent for those who are interested in finding ways to relieve family tension and become more relaxed and loving. But Felder states that these easy-to-follow methods also help Jewish teens and young adults. “Young people realize you don’t need to search outside of Judaism for tools on mindfulness and centering. They can learn how to de-stress and refocus on days when they are feeling overloaded, rushed, or pulled in several different directions at once.”
“What’s the Buzz: Honey for a Sweet New Year,” by Allison Ofanansky, photographs by Eliyahu Alpern (Kar-Ben: $15.95).
Just in time for a Rosh Hashanah treat, kids learn about bees and how honey is made. This is the third book in a delightful series about nature in Israel and how it relates to Jewish holidays. (The others in the series are also highly recommended: “Sukkot Treasure Hunt” and “Harvest of Light.”) Life in Israel is explored through a child’s eyes as she celebrates the New Year by dipping her apples in honey that she has gathered from a local bee farm. It is a pleasure to visit typical Israeli families through this series. American children can be exposed to the side of Israel that is removed from the political conflict and focus on positive aspects of life in that country.
“Talia and the Rude Vegetables,” by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli (Kar-Ben: $16.95).
Talia doesn’t get it. Grandma wants her to go to the garden and gather “rude vegetables” for a Rosh Hashanah stew. “How can a vegetable be ‘rude’?” Talia wonders, but she is a city girl, and she does as she is told. After she finds an ornery onion, a crooked carrot, a terrible turnip and a peculiar parsnip to bring to Grandma, she devises a way to perform a holiday mitzvah to help a less fortunate family. Finally, she and Grandma boil up a delicious pot of (root) vegetable stew in this fun and colorful tale.
“Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast,” by Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben: $16.95).
In this simple story for very young children, siblings Sadie and Ori wake up quite early in the morning on Sukkot and problem-solve their way into making breakfast for themselves and their stuffed animal friends. The lovely, soft watercolor paintings that depict the joyous sharing of a Sukkot meal are the true stars of this pleasant, undemanding narrative.
Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.