Jewish comic book hero

Sylvia A. Rouss has added a new activity book to her Sammy Spider series.

By NETANYA HOFFMAN
December 6, 2007 10:05
shabat fun book 88 224

shabat fun book 88 224. (photo credit: )

 
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Rashi Hakadosh: A Light after the Dark Ages By Rabbi Berel Wein Mahrwood Press 64 pages; $14.95 If your teenager is a Jewish history buff (or if you would like him to be), Rashi Hakadosh: A Light after the Dark Ages may be just for him. Produced by scholar, historian, educator and Jerusalem Post columnist Rabbi Berel Wein and written by J. Cogan and Aryeh Mahr, this comic book about the life of 11th-century talmudic scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki comes as a companion to other comic books on the lives of Maimonides and Shmuel Hanagid. Rashi's analysis is the most widely read Torah commentary, and he spent his life making the Torah and Talmud accessible to the layman. The book stirs up a sense of Jewish pride, displaying the level of education and industriousness of our people in a time when they were surrounded by a largely illiterate world. This is underscored by the title of the book, which contrasts Rashi with the Dark Ages in which he lived. Facets of Rashi's personal life, some of his important rulings and the background of the persecution of the greater Jewish community during the time of the Crusades are all explored. One story that will doubtlessly remain with readers long after they have finished reading the book is that of Rashi's mother, who was pursued by the bishop of Worms while she was pregnant with Rashi. According to legend, a synagogue wall bowed inward, sheltering the mother of the future scholar in an indentation that is visible to this day. The illustrations are delightful, though some pictures are a bit blurry and they might have been more engaging if a wider color palette had been used. The story is a bit hard to follow at times, and one finds oneself turning back to see if perhaps he skipped a page. A unique and helpful feature is a color-coding of speech bubbles. Narration appears in a beige box, Rashi's speech appears in blue, Elijah the prophet's in purple and all other speech bubbles are white. Instead of the modern Hebrew pronunciation, transliterated expressions appear in the Ashkenazic dialect, which may be confusing to young Israeli or day school readers unaccustomed to this American yeshiva usage. Asterisks at the bottom of the pages cite sources of some of the information used in the book. It is somewhat disturbing, however, that whenever one of Rashi's rulings is mentioned, an asterisk warns readers to consult a rabbi rather than using this as a source of Halacha. It is doubtful that readers would derive practical applications from a story in a comic book and questioning Rashi's rulings undermines his scholarship and authority that the book is trying to portray. The book truly humanizes the man behind the well-known commentary, and brings to life the way in which Rashi made his decisions and interpretations. A heart-warming scene portrays Rashi practicing what he preaches. Not only does he rule in court that a Jew who was forced to convert to Christianity and then repented should be treated the same as any other Jew, but he sets a public example by calling the man up for an aliya in synagogue. Readers both young and old will learn interesting little-known trivia about the life of one of Judaism's early heroes. Sammy Spider's Shabbat Fun Book By Sylvia A. Rouss Kar-Ben 24 pages; $4.95 Sylvia A. Rouss has added a new activity book to her Sammy Spider series. Sammy Spider's Shabbat Fun Book is full of games, coloring pages and projects for young children. Each page has a short rhyme introducing the activity, such as making a Kiddush cup or tzedaka box, mazes, connect-the-dots, and a paper doll to dress up for synagogue. There is also a Shabbat card game with open-ended questions for the whole family, such as "name some things you might find on a Shabbat table" and "Why do you like to celebrate Shabbat?" Observant families who do not want their kids coloring and cutting on Shabbat will be glad to use the book to keep their kids busy on Friday afternoons so they can prepare for Shabbat. My only complaint about this wonderful book is that it is too short. Kids will finish the fun activities in no time and be clamoring for more. Luckily the series also has Hanukka, Pessah and Israel-themed fun books. Dinosaur on Shabbat By Diane Levin Rauchwerger Kar-Ben 24 pages, $6.95 Dinosaur on Shabbat is vaguely reminiscent of the Jewish day camp song "There's a dinosaur knocking at my door," but less catchy. The third in a series about Dino the dinosaur celebrating Jewish holidays has the dinosaur joining a family in lighting the candles, blessing the wine and smelling spices at Havdala. The author tries to bring humor into the story by having the dinosaur get into trouble by spilling the wine and falling asleep in synagogue, but making light of these traditions probably does more harm than good. From the book's uninspired title to its flat, lifeless illustrations to its poor attempts at rhyming (such as "sizzle" with "giggle"), I didn't want to insult the intelligence of my one-year-old by reading it to her. Get your children a book about Shabbat or one on dinosaurs, but not this one combining the themes. Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree By Tami Lehman-Wilzig Gefen 32 pages; $12.95 A very special book about charity is Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree by Tami Lehman-Wilzig. A woman who earns her living making lemonade from her family's lemon tree discovers that every time they harvest the lemons a few mysteriously go missing. One day the neighbors thank her for leaving a bucket of lemons in the corner of her garden, and she realizes that her husband has been leaving lemons for neighbors less fortunate than them. "I know how much these lemons mean to you," Mayer Aaron explains, "but I also know that we have enough." The story teaches children not only about the importance of giving but also about appreciating what they have. Lotty's Lace Tablecloth By Tami Lehman-Wilzig Gefen 32 pages, $12.95 The same author has written another gem called Lotty's Lace Tablecloth. Long ago in Vienna, a poor woman named Lotty takes an apprenticeship in lace-making. She displays a beautiful lace tablecloth in her shop but brings it home every week to welcome the Sabbath Queen. One day an empress decides she wants the tablecloth for her Sunday receptions, and will not take no for an answer. When the empress sees how upset Lotty is about giving up the special tablecloth, she decides that it must be brought to the shop every Friday so Lotty can "check for loose threads" and then returned to the palace on Sunday mornings. Both books end with an opportunity for young readers to share stories and photos of heirlooms and special Judaica items their families own. Lior Wants a Dog (Lior rotzeh kelev) By Israela Banin Illustrated by Nurit Serfaty Korim Publishing House NIS 42 Lior of the title not only wants a dog, he is resourceful enough to think of a plan to enable him to get one. On the way he - and the reader - learns some important lessons about the responsibility involved in looking after pets, the work of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the joy and companionship a dog can provide. This charming book centers on the close relationship between Lior and his grandmother as a theme no less important than the love of a boy for a puppy. I read the story with my six-year-old son whose own Savta (and Saba) regularly help look after his pet dog. He pronounced it "great" and was particularly taken with the extra touches: At Grandma Rina's birthday party, for example, so many relatives ruffle Lior's hair that he thinks they have confused him with the puppy. The Hebrew is simple but authentic sounding and the illustrations, like the writing, show real affection for the subject. - Liat Collins

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