Jewish holy days explained to the young

BOOKS FOR KIDS

September 19, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Hanukkah books may sell like hot cakes -- or is it latkes? -- but most of the big-name publishers don't offer children's titles dealing with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays.

It's easy to see why. The concepts of renewal, forgiveness, charity and repentance are central to the High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah at sunset on Sept. 27 this year and run through Yom Kippur, on Oct. 6. Adults think kids have a hard time grasping those concepts.

Even publishers of Jewish books have shied away from the subject. "I wish there were more for preschoolers," said Rena Rotenberg, director of the early childhood education department for the Board of Jewish Education in Baltimore. "Until recently, Yom Kippur was rarely discussed in books or in school. That's starting to change, but there are still many more books about the other holidays."

* The first source Ms. Rotenberg recommends is Kar-Ben Copies, Inc., a children's publishing house started by two mothers in Rockville. Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler couldn't find books on Jewish themes for their children, so they decided to publish their own. You can order their catalog by calling (800) 452-7236.

For ages 2-5, Kar-Ben carries a series of board books about all of the Jewish holidays, including "It's Rosh Hashanah!" by Ellie Gellman, pictures by Katherine James Kahn ($4.95).

For kids just starting grade school, check out "My Very Own Rosh Hashanah Book," and "My Very Own Yom Kippur Book," both by Judyth Robbins Saypol and Madeline Wikler (Kar-Ben Copies, $2.95 each). They are available at Central Hebrew Bookstore, 228 Reisterstown Road, and at Festival of Children's Books in Festival at Woodholme, 1809 Reisterstown Road.

* Mail order is the most convenient source for another series, which Ms. Rotenberg helped develop, called Home Start. fTC Actually, it's a curriculum program with a series of eight books -- "Our Holidays," including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- as well as audio cassettes of songs for the different holidays and workbooks full of lessons, crafts and other activities.

There are two packages: Level 1 for nursery school and kindergarten and Level 2 for first and second grades. Each Home Start program is $19.95 and can be ordered from Behrman House in West Orange, N.J., (800) 221-2755. The "Our Holidays" books are also available separately.

* It's harder to find a couple of other books Ms. Rotenberg recommends: "Sneakers to Shul," by Floreva Cohen ($3.95, ages 3-6) is available through the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York, (212) 245-8200, Ext. 321. And "What the Moon Brought," by Sadie Rose Weilerstein ($7.95, ages 6-9) is a collection of holiday stories available from the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia, (215) 564-5925.

* Finally, at least one big-time publisher has come through with an excellent new book available at most children's book stores: "Days of Awe: Stories for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Erika Weihs (Viking, $13.95, all ages).

Mr. Kimmel, who wrote the wonderful "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins," has retold three traditional stories here. "The Samovar" illustrates the virtue of charity. "The Shepherd" shows that the best way to pray is from the heart. And "Rabbi Eleazar and the Beggar" is about learning how to forgive.

Mr. Kimmel is a professor of education at Portland State University, and in addition to lecturing on Jewish folklore, he performs as a storyteller in the Pacific Northwest. "Days of Awe" is a testament to his talent as a weaver of tales, and Ms. Weihs' primitive oil paintings are haunting.

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