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Extraordinary Passages - Through Pages
By ISJL Education Fellow Sierra Debrow
On Sunday, November 11, 2018, Jews all around the world will come together in their communities, homes, and online for the Global Day of Jewish Learning. The Global Day of Jewish Learning, started by Rabbi Adin Evan-Israel Steinstaltz and the Aleph Society, aims to engage Jews from every denomination and every background in study of Jewish texts, therefore transforming “a solitary event into a venture that belongs to everybody.” Each year there is a theme to this day. This year, the theme is “Extraordinary Passages.” This theme matches perfectly with National Jewish Book Month. Books, after all, take us through some of the most extraordinary passages of all, whether that be to the fictional castle of Hogwarts in Scotland to a little house on a prairie in the middle of the United States. Check out our suggestions for books about extraordinary passages for every age below.
For Young Readers: Some of the best children’s books are adaptations of tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. One such book is My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth. This storybook is based on a Yiddish folk song that has also been used in children’s books such as Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing and Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. My Grandfather’s Coat is told from the point of view of the main character’s granddaughter, who narrates the story of her grandfather’s journey to the United States, where he became a tailor and made a beautiful coat. Over the years, the coat becomes worn and must be transformed into other articles of clothing as it starts falling apart. This beautiful book ties together many generations of a family and may even encourage children to ask about stories about their own grandparents’ journeys.
For Middle Schoolers: A nod to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale tells the fictional story of an Inquisitor in 1242 who is searching for three children against whom the king of France has declared war. Much like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the story is told from multiple perspectives, with each section being told by a different character. It is through this mode of storytelling that we learn about Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future, William, the son of a Crusader and a North African woman, and Jacob, a Jewish peasant with healing powers. These three children seek to rescue a copy of the Talmud after the king declares that all Jewish books are destroyed. Overall, the book is filled with stories of friendship, adventure, and historical and literary references and comes highly recommended by the Jewish Book Council.
For Adults: Rashi is perhaps the most well-known Jewish commentator of all time. Born in Troyes, Champagne, in Northern France, he devoted his life to learning and teaching until he died in 1105. A set of books, Rashi’s Daughters, tells the story of another facet of Rashi’s life: his three daughters who sought to learn sacred texts at a time when it was forbidden for women to do so. The first book, Joheved, follows Rashi’s oldest daughter (of the same name) as we learn about her life and relationship to her father and his work. Well-researched and filled with creative exploration of what life might have been like in Rashi’s time, Maggie Anton’s trilogy is one that you definitely will want to check out.
Whether you are looking for a book to read with your youngest students or looking for a book to add to your own collection, there are many Jewish books to choose from. Who knows? Maybe one of these suggestions will take you on the next step of your own Jewish journey!