For the kids, beyond the questions

“A Sweet Passover” by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by David Slonim (Abrams: $16.95).

It turns out that little Miriam is not so different from the rest of us. By the final day of Passover, she gets sick of eating matzah and refuses to eat it ever again. Newman, a well-respected and prolific author of children’s books, created this heartwarming story about family traditions and Jewish cooking that would make a wonderful read-aloud for the 4- to 8-year-old set. When Grandpa prepares his famous matzah brei, which he also calls “Passover French toast,” Miriam finds it just a bit too hard to resist. “Essen in gezunt, shayneh maideleh” (eat in good health, pretty girl), he says. And she does. The humorous illustrations are a bit reminiscent of Charles Shultz and will amuse adults and children alike. A great matzah brei recipe is included, along with a useful glossary of Passover terms.

“What Am I? Passover” by Anne Margaret Lewis, illustrated by Tom Mills (Albert Whitman: $9.99).

The good folks from the “My Look and See Holiday Book Series” (previous topics: Christmas, Easter and Halloween) have now made the leap to Jewish holidays with this Passover book for very young children. Following the same format as the others, the bright and appealing thick cardboard pages contain a series of very simple holiday-related riddles. The flap can be easily lifted by children, who will enjoy guessing the answers that appear there in conjunction with brief explanations of Jewish terms. For example, “I am a mixture of apples, nuts and a little wine. I am tasty and sweet. What am I? What could I be? I am charoset on the Seder plate, that’s me!” The big, bright illustrations make this a must for an interactive Jewish preschool story hour and a sure hit with preschoolers everywhere. Kudos to the illustrator for depicting all the boys and men wearing kippot — a sight rarely seen in secular Jewish picture books.

“Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean,” by Yael Mermelstein, illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Kar-Ben: $7.95).

Forget the candle and the feather — here is a charming book for children that tackles the topic of chametz cleaning through a feat of magical engineering. It’s a funny, rhymed tale of a whiz kid, named Izzy, who wants to give his harried mother a break from Passover cleaning. He invents a robot-like Passover cleaning machine that he names “Passover McClean” and then tells her to go rest while the machine does its work. (She complains she has a bit of a “bread-ache.”) With somewhat of a nod to Sylvester McMonkey McBean, Dr. Seuss’ “Fix-It-Up-Chappie” who invents a “star-off” machine, the author imagines young Izzy as the same sort of mechanical genius. At first his machine performs admirably, but by the time he lets it loose on the living room, Izzy finds it necessary to locate the emergency hatch and press the red button to set things right for Passover McClean. It’s an entertaining story with clever rhythm and wordplay, and appealing cartoonish illustrations. A simple author’s note at the end explains the concept of searching for chametz before Passover.

“The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale” by Linda Leopold Strauss, illustrated by Alexi Natchev (Holiday House: $16.95).

Feuding families live in “side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia” in this original folktale that may be destined to become a Passover classic. Shortly after the Galinskys swap two fat geese for six of the Lippas’ laying hens, the geese die, and thus a feud is born. Were they sick before the swap or was it an accident? Who knows? Now the families refuse to speak to one another, although they had shared the Passover seder for many years. Young friends Rachel Galinksy and David Lippa, whose future betrothal has been thwarted by this turn of events, defy their families — Romeo and Juliet style — and enlist the town’s clever rabbi in a sophisticated ruse to bring the families back together at Passover. An artist’s note explains that the elaborate hand-painted woodcuts were inspired by traditional Eastern European folk prints from the 18th and 19th centuries. A couple of full-page spreads at the end of the book are particularly impressive: One serves as a joyous glimpse into the bygone era of village life at Passover time, and the other radiates the simple pleasures of “all the town’s Jews gathered with the Galinskys and the Lippas in one great celebration of love and freedom and family.” This beautifully illustrated book presents a wisely told tale with a new spin on what opening the door for Elijah can really mean.

“Let My People Go!” adapted by Alison Greengard, illustrated by Carol Racklin-Siegel (EKS: $10.95).

The original biblical story of Moses, slavery, Pharoah and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt is suitably translated for children in this beautiful paperback adaptation. The English translation is placed below the large-type Hebrew text, and the colorful accompanying artwork is outstanding. All the titles in this series of Bible stories for children, including stories such as “In the Beginning,” “The Tower of Babel,” “Rebecca,” “Noah’s Ark,” “Lech Lecha,” “Jacob’s Travels,” “Joseph the Dreamer” and “The Brave Women Who Saved Moses,” feature full-color reproductions of beautiful silk paintings that enhance the text. The imaginative depiction of the Ten Plagues is especially noteworthy. At the back of the book, each title includes a literal translation of the biblical Hebrew and a useful glossary in both English and Hebrew.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.

The Best of Passover Reading


“Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder’s Meaning Revealed, the Haggadah’s Story Retold” by Rabbi Nathan Laufer (Jewish Lights, $24.95).

Rabbi Nathan Laufer tells a story of his grandfather: Before his family was sent to a concentration camp, he buried the family’s silver. The grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz, and when the family returned to their town, they found that their silver had been ransacked, but an Elijah’s cup, used at the seder, remained. The grandmother gave the cup to her son who later gave it to his son, Rabbi Laufer, who has used it throughout his life.

At Laufer’s family seders, true stories of survival and liberation from the concentration camps were woven seamlessly into the text of the haggadah. A senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and president emeritus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, he has distilled more than 20 years of thinking about and studying the haggadah into his new book, “Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder’s Meaning Revealed, the Haggadah’s Story Retold.”

The book is different from other books in that it points to underlying meaning in the seder. By taking the reader through the different steps of the seder, offering his original interpretations, he shows a kind of inner choreography; in fact, he demonstrates how the different pieces of the haggadah fit together to form a coherent and powerful whole. In his reading, the text follows the chronological story of the Book of Exodus, and every item in the seder mirrors the order of the journey from slavery to redemption.

He draws parallels, for example, between the ceremony of yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah, and the story of Moses, as told in the second chapter of Exodus. The broken piece, which becomes the afikomen and is retrieved during tzafun, the hidden one, is like the baby Moses, who is wrapped in secrecy and hidden out of sight. Later on, Moses reappears and redeems the people from bondage. The Torah uses the root z-f-n to denote the child’s hiddenness; this is the only place where the root with that meaning is also used in the haggadah. Laufer believes is it no coincidence.

Moses is hidden not only symbolically in a napkin but also in the haggadah text. Laufer explains that the haggadah is intent on telling the story of the Exodus as “a tale of the unmitigated love between God and the Jewish people. The authors of the haggadah did not want to hinge that relationship based on the presence — or absence — of a human leader, not even one as great as Moses.”

Laufer, a resident of New Jersey who has spent the last few years in Israel, was back in New York recently. He said that the point of the haggadah is “not to read, but to tell. You bring your own imagination and experience to the story.”

“I always considered the haggadah to be the people’s Torah, the core story of the Torah told by the people, for the people,” he continued.

“If you get so much into the story that you lose yourself, then you have achieved what the haggadah and seder try to achieve, to get you to feel, for at least moments, that you were a slave.”

He describes the ideal state as one in which participants enter what psychologist Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi calls the state of “flow.”

“To engage in the Passover seder,” he writes, “is to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage through time. What Pesach gives us is the gift of our identities. It tells us where we came from, where we’re going, our mission, our goal. Our vision is about redemption, not a one-way vision but a vision that goes through cycles.”

“If we find ourselves in a narrow place, then we have to draw on who we are, pull ourselves up and out of it, resurrect our lives and find meaning,” he writes. “If we can do that, then we have lived the Passover story.”

This book is not a haggadah — although much of the text is included here, in English and Hebrew — but a book to be read before the seder, and then used to inspire discussion. Laufer’s approach is both learned and accessible, and he points out many intriguing connections — drawing on history, midrash, biblical text, visual imagery, language, gematria — that many readers will find new.

Also of Passover Interest

“Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Pesach, Sefirat ha-Omer and Shavu’ot” by Rabbi David Shapiro (Urim) includes the rav’s analysis of some of the mitzvot of the seder, along with insights into aspects of the counting of the omer and Shavuot. Shapiro explains that the Hebrew title, a phrase from the haggadah, mei-afeilah le-or gadol, reflects the national development of the Jewish people over the course of the seven weeks from the period of afeilah (physical and spiritual darkness) to that of or gadol, (of the ‘light’ afforded by the teachings of the Torah). Shapiro who is on the faculty of the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., and was its principal for 11 years, is also a staff member of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute.

“The Book of Passover” by Rabbi Benjamin Blech (Citadel Press) includes brief and informative explanations of holiday rituals, but this is a book that invites readers to become co-authors, to record their own favorite teachings and holiday memories. Blech, a best-selling author and professor at Yeshiva University, describes the book as a family album — not of photos but of words.

For Children:

“Had Gadya: A Passover Song” paintings by Seymour Chwast, afterword by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld (Roaring Brook Press) is a delightful evocation of the cumulative folk song, chanted at the end of the Passover story. Chwast’s paintings are at once whimsical and powerful, depicting life in a village as members of the community are preparing for the seder when a goat is eaten by a cat, and then the cat bitten by a dog, until finally God destroys the Angel of Death.

In an afterword, Strassfeld explains that “Had Gadya” was added to the text of the Haggadah sometime around the 15th century, and shows how the story of the song expresses the theme of the haggadah. In Chwast’s retelling, the goat and father return, as though “to suggest that there will come a times when the cycle will end not in death but in the death of death,” Strassfeld writes. “God represents the hope that someday this story and every story will end with the words: and they all lived happily ever after.”

“The Secret Seder” by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Hyperion) referred to in the title of this moving story is held in a mountaintop shack, outside of a small village in France, where a number of Jews are posing as Catholics during World War II. The seder is described from the point of view of a young boy named Jacques — the only child there — who closes his eyes and recalls his grandmother’s seder table, set with a lace cloth and traditional foods, as they face an empty table. Many sob as they pour the cups of wine; they have no bitter herbs to dip but agree that their lives are bitter. As Jacques recites the four questions, one man interrupts to say that the night is different because Jews are being murdered across Europe. But this group is glad to be together, marking the holiday as they can. Rappaport has written several award-winning books for children, and drew on true stories of Jews in hiding in creating this tale. McCully’s soft watercolors convey a mood of fear and hope.

“Shlemiel Crooks” by Anna Olswanger, illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz (Junebug Books) is an unusual take on the Passover story. Set in 1919 St. Louis, this is a tale of some thieves — “worms should hold a wedding in their belly,” as the author suggests, in a series of Yiddish-inspired curses — who try to steal a shipment of Passover wine imported from Israel from Reb Elias. He ran the kind of saloon where housewives and grandmothers felt comfortable buying kosher wine and brandy. Pharaoh, the prophet Elijah, a tailor named Perlmutter and a talking horse make cameo appearances. The author’s creative retelling is based on a true story she uncovered about her great-grandfather. Koz’s colorful illustrations reflect Olswanger’s humor. Olswanger teaches writing and helps Holocaust survivors to write about their experiences.

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for The Jewish Week.


Haggadahs for play to keep boredom at bay


Afternoon naps, a steady flow of food and the promise of an afikomen surprise might keep children awake during the seder, but there is nothing that makes them tune out faster than the formal language of an adult haggadah. Fortunately, there is a growing selection of haggadahs written and illustrated for children of all ages, and finding the right one just might be this year’s best Pesach investment.

Ages 1-3
Children who do not yet read might enjoy simplified haggadahs that include interesting pictures or funny songs.

“My First Passover Board Book” by Clare Lister (DK Publishing, $6.99). This is more of a children’s book than an actual haggadah, but it is great to read to preschool children in the weeks before Pesach and for them to use during the seder. It is a board book, so the pages do not tear, there are good pictures and the story is told in a straightforward way that young children can understand.

“My Very Own Haggadah” by Judyth Saypol Groner and Madeline Wikler (Kar-Ben Publishing, $3.95). This very simple haggadah doubles as a coloring book. The haggadah, which is almost completely in English, reads like a children’s book and includes songs and projects children can do to prepare for the seders.

Ages 4-8
Children who are just learning to read may want more text, while they continue to enjoy beautiful illustrations.

“A Children’s Haggadah” by Howard I. Bogot and Robert J. Orkand (Central Conference of American Rabbis, $12.95). This haggadah, which is published by the rabbinical organization of Reform rabbis, reads very simply, in a way that young children can easily understand. It is nicely illustrated and is almost completely in English, with some transliterated songs.

“Mah Nishtanah? A Passover Haggadah for Children” by Shaul Meizlish (Adama Books, $9.95). This haggadah reads like a children’s story, but it closely follows the structure of the traditional haggadah. It clearly explains what “mommy and daddy” are doing throughout each step of the seder. The photographs of a family preparing for and conducting a seder look a bit dated and the drawings are mediocre, but the text is nicely directed at children.

“The Artscroll Children’s Haggadah” by Shmuel Blitz (Mesorah Publications, $10.99). This haggadah is truly special. It features the full text of the traditional haggadah alongside a simple translation that is aimed at children. Each page includes boxes of stories, explanations and bite-size information that thoughtful children will enjoy using as topics for discussion. The illustrations, which were done by Tova Katz, are superb. They are sure to create excitement about the Pesach story and to capture the imaginations of many children who want to try to follow along with the adults.

“Uncle Eli’s Passover Haggadah” by Eliezer Lorne Segal (No Starch Press, $12.95). This haggadah is more like a funny children’s story that is told in verse by cute characters. For example, Uncle Eli says, “Tomorrow is Passover./You don’t look ready./ We have to remove/Everything that is bready.” Parents might want to read this book to children in the weeks before the seder and older children might enjoy reading this version to themselves or sharing especially funny parts of it out loud during the seders.

Ages 9-12
Preteens may feel that they have outgrown children’s haggadot, but they may not yet feel engaged by their parents’ books. While illustrations are probably still important, older children may enjoy haggadot with age-appropriate commentary, translations, games and humor.

“Torah Tots Family Haggadah” by Reuven A. Stone and Menachim Z. Shimanowitz, (Judaica Press, $10.95). Older children will like following along with this haggadah because of its colorful and jazzy pages, as well as its interesting commentary, fun facts and explanations, which are sometimes told by a cute little character called the Haggadah Maven. Precocious children will enjoy the Maven test at the haggadah’s end.

“The Animated Haggadah” by Rony Oren (Urim Publications, $16.95). This haggadah is based on a claymation film of the same name that children might enjoy watching before the seder nights. The haggadah includes a few recipes, some suggestions for discussion that adults can initiate, and some word games in the back.

“The Artscroll Youth Haggadah” by Rabbis Nosson and Yitzchok Zev Scherman (Mesorah Publications, $6.99). The haggadah features the full Hebrew text of the traditional haggadah alongside a clear translation that is aimed at slightly older children. Almost every page features interesting commentary and nice illustrations, although they aren’t as dynamic as the ones in the “Children’s Haggadah.”

“The Really Fun Family Haggadah” by Larry Stein (Ruach Books, $9.95). Stein, who serves on the Chicago cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary, gives his haggadah an irreverent tone, which preteens might enjoy. He paraphrases Maggid (the Pesach story) and includes many multiple-choice questions with funny answers. This haggadah, which does not have enough illustrations, also includes some standard explanations, songs and discussion topics.

“Uh! Oh! Passover Haggadah With Hidden Objects You’ll (Almost) Never Find” by Janet Zwebner (Pitspopany Press, $9.95). This one is the “Where’s Waldo” of haggadahs. Children who look throughout the fun illustrations, cartoons and mazes to find all of the hidden Passover characters and objects in less than 30 minutes are promised a surprise afikomen present from the publisher!

“Why on This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration” by Rahel Musleah (Simon and Schuster, $13.99). This creative haggadah has the most experiential activities for children, and parents can use different parts of this haggadah for every child. It includes recipes, menus, art projects, a short play to be read or acted out, and funny songs about the Pesach story to familiar tunes. The haggadah also includes interesting discussion topics that go beyond the standard ones. The text, which is mostly in English, but has some Hebrew with transliteration, is directed at children in a poetic, sweet and substantive way. The haggadah also includes artful and pleasing illustrations.


For the Kids


Passover is a holiday that celebrates freedom and the coming
of spring. And it is no coincidence that everyone does spring-cleaning. Life
starts anew. We need to clean out the old to make room for new beginnings. On
Passover, we conduct a seder to remind us of this. In Hebrew, the word seder
means order. During the seder, we ask: “Why is this night different from all
other nights?”

Why do we do things differently on this night? We change the
way, and the order in which we do things (we eat matzah instead of bread; we
recline while we eat) to remind ourselves, that this night is different and
that life is about change. It is exciting and wonderful to watch spring arrive.

Passover’s  Here by Michelle Moreh, of Beverly Hills. 

Passover’s here,

the matzah is ready to cook,

While we wait,

I think I’ll read a Passover book.

We say the blessings,

and eat the symbolic meal,

Because we want to keep

Passover for real.

For seven days we don’t eat

food with yeast —

Now my choices for breakfast

will be decreased!

When this holiday is over

I will not dread

That we will once again

be able to eat bread!

Michelle wins a Baskin-Robbins gift certificate.

7 Days In Arts


Make a play date today or tomorrow. The Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series performance of “Talley’s Folley” presents husband-and-wife team Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James reprising their roles in last month’s Pasadena Playhouse production. Once again, they take on the characters of Matt and Talley in Lanford Wilson’s story about a courtship between two not-so-young lovers.

7:30 p.m. (Saturday). Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310. 2 p.m. (Sunday). Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225. $10-$14.


Jewish music covers Los Angeles today. City folk should consider “Scenes of Worship: A Musical Celebration of Passover” at the Autry Museum. Passover and Women’s History Month share the thematic course of this concert of women cantors, and one token male. Or, for those living out West, Temple Adat Elohim welcomes the Moscow Male Jewish Choir, aka Hasidic Cappella, to the Canyon Club. Their repertoire includes classical Jewish liturgy and humorous American folk. Take your pick this evening.

“Scenes of Worship”: 6:30 p.m. $8-$18. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000, ext. 354.
Hasidic Capella: 4 p.m. $18-$25. 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 879-5016.


The girls of Ohr Haemet Institute prove that you don’t need a male lead to put on a show. Today, they present their for-women-by-women tsnius-approved production, “Chaverim,” which focuses on the theme of unity. With the help of their theater director, Elianah Mendlowitz, the girls have learned dance moves and songs for the musical. Women are invited to come and support this play about Jewish girls from around the world.

7:30 p.m. $10-$15. Emerson Middle School, 1650 Selby Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 854-3006.


The estrogen fest continues all week long. Today, and
every weekday morning this week, women need only turn on the tube for a dose of
wisdom about slowing down the aging process, from Dr. Judith Reichman. The
author of “Slow Down Your Clock: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You”
will appear in a segment about her book every day this week on NBC’s “Today
Show,” answering questions posted by women on Post your own, or just
tune in. 7-10 a.m. NBC.